2015 Leaders Forum Highlights: Yves Daccord’s Stakeholder Engagement Stories

May 13, 2015 | Blog-Admin1 | Learning Elsewhere |


Rating: 4.5 out of 5


The Leaders Forum is an annual event bringing together thought leaders on sustainable development from businesses, NGOs, public organisations, social enterprises, universities and the general public. This year’s event was held at the University of St. Gallen from February 5 to 7, and the focal point of discussions was multi-dimensional sustainability in Latin America. The first three speakers at this year’s forum were Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard, WWF President Yolanda Kakabadse and ICRC Director-General Yves Daccord. Following this thought-provoking beginning, the pace of fascination did not slacken.

By Lawrence McGrath, Institute for Media and Communications Management of the University of St. Gallen

It is rare to meet someone with a combination of organisational overview and genuine connection to the frontline. Yves Daccord, Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross, is one of those people. He was one of the most fascinating and moving speakers at the forum, and one of anecdotes is particularly relevant to the SDC.

After travelling five days through the Somalian landscape and checkpoints, an ICRC team delivering a field hospital to a typhoon zone was resolutely asked why they hadn’t brought more aid. Pointing to her smartphone, the inquisitor told them she know that five field hospitals had been delivered to the Philippine typhoon zone a day earlier. Did the ICRC care less about Somalians than Philippinos?

This story was the lead point of Yves Daccord’s presentation. Did this evocative narrative catch our attention, provoke thought and convince us of Daccord’s legitimacy as an expert? Indeed it did – as an audience, we were engaged.

Having captivated us, Daccord chose to steer our engagement into the point he wished us to reflect upon. The world’s relatively equal access to our profusion of communication possibilities is often invaluable to disaster relief efforts, yet new technologies also create new issues to be negotiated. We will not think of all these potential issues in advance, therefore we need to put even more effort into engaging with stakeholders.

Daccord masterfully used storytelling to prepare the audience for his message before sending it. The story resonated with the audience in a way that the facts about communication technologies simply cannot. Daccord used no slides – and before hearing Daccord’s point, we were ready to believe it. The veracity of the story was indisputable, and it had touched us. Daccord used a simple story to make his point so memorable, that it has now travelled beyond the conference. It should be remembered that Daccord was not even a firsthand witness to this story – there is nothing to stop you using stories to present points with impact.

Leaders Forum Stakeholder Engagement.docxPhoto: Yves Daccord, Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross telling a vivid story – without the distraction of slides.

Now that Daccord had our attention, he continued by making the point that the worlds of emergency response and sustainable development are merging. Conflict, social issues and climate issues are increasingly affecting the same points around the globe. In order to best deal with this powderkeg situation, Yves Daccord advocates collaborative response – he states that “You don’t impose an action, you negotiate.” Such co-creation builds customisation to local conditions into efforts.

After reading the example above, it will not be startling that Yves Daccord advocates personal contact instead of communication via electronic devices – especially with potentially difficult parties. In fact, he says that “We need to invest in proximity”. As a communications researcher, I firstly understand his position from an accuracy perspective – research shows that 80% of our communication is non-verbal. Humans largely communicate via gestures and expressions. However, I believe that Yves Daccord chose the word “invest” to carry more meaning. Stakeholders realise that resources are limited, and tend to more appreciatively cooperate when they are allocated ‘face time’.


Comments to“2015 Leaders Forum Highlights: Yves Daccord’s Stakeholder Engagement Stories”

  1. Riff Fullan says:

    Thanks Lawrence, for sharing this excellent example of the use of narrative to deliver a point and engage an audience. One of the bits of ‘magic’ in narrative that does not come through in many other ways of communicating is the human element: once we hear about real people, what happens to them and how they react, we easily feel a connection, an authenticity that exerts a powerful influence to draw us in and to stimulate our thinking about the key messages, questions and ideas being presented.

    There aren’t many other ways this can be done, especially in a short time. In an age where attention spans are getting shorter and we only have minutes at most to deliver many of our messages, it is worth exploring stories as a way to initiate engagement. That at least can create opportunities for deeper and more multidirectional dialogue.

  2. Lawrence McGrath says:

    Thanks very much for your comment Riff. You’re absolutely right about the human connection – the human element cuts past any reservations to go straight to the heart.

    I recently read the proposition that human thinking isn’t actually based upon logical arguments, or rational models (as we like to think). Instead we think narratively. Step-by-step. I find this an interesting notion.

    At a more practical level, I also read a few best practices for selecting stories that make an impact. Vivid stories. Apparently it is best to choose stories that are new to your audience in four main ways:

    1) The story describes difficult actions
    2) The situation described cannot be coped with in a routine manner
    3) A normal chain of events is interrupted by something completely unexpected
    4) An aspect of the situation is unusual is your own experience

    Stories that meet these conditions will disrupt your audience’s habitual frame of thought or ‘mental model’. Nothing is more attention-grabbing or memorable than this!

  3. Nadia von Holzen says:

    Dear Lawrence,
    Indeed an excellent post demonstrating the magic and power of stories and an invitation to strengthen our storytelling practice and habits. Thanks!
    I love the 4 way approach you shared in your comment to Riff. It underlines the power of stories, they are best used when we lack words to explain. Through stories we can share and inquire complex issues more easily. Stories carry experience and learning.
    From Anecdote I learned that storytelling starts with story listening and story spotting. Here Anecdote’s infographic:
    And last but not least I’m happy you mention the heart. I’m convinced that with stories we can touch an audience/ participants more easily than with any PowerPoint presentation. Emotions are an important learning factor. Our brains love stories too.
    Best, Nadia

  4. Lawrence McGrath says:

    Hi Nadia,

    Anecdote’s infographic is a great chart on how to spot a story, with some key points on how to tell a story with impact. In particular, time and/or place markers are a vivid way to grab attention and set the stage.

    Personally, I associate storytelling with cultures that developed and thrived without the written word, such as the Masai or Native Americans. These peoples’ entire histories and values were based upon stories passed from generation to generation.

    Modern organisations can learn from the storytelling practices of these timeworn organisations. I wonder what else we can learn from such cultures?


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