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What does it need to pick up a story and to share it?

May 11, 2016 | Blog-Admin1 | Change Stories, Let's Talk Visual |

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NadiaIn a work related context sharing stories happens spontaneously during coffee breaks. But what about more formal settings? Picking up a story during a meeting feels different; we hesitate, think twice, we don’t remember the stories and in the end the story disappears: we share our opinion and make statements. So what does it need to pick up a story? There are two essential conditions for storytelling: first, the belief that stories are valuable and can make a difference; and secondly the opportunity to remember and to share a story.

Nadia von Holzen, SDC

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Last autumn I was walking along a potato field with my dog. Many potatoes were still scattered on the field like lonely witnesses of a rich harvest. What the machine does not take is left behind. It looks like it does not pay off for the farmer to pick up these potatoes by hand. By now it is spring time and the fields are turning green again. Here and there I still see traces of some left behind potatoes. This makes me think about stories that are not harvested. How many stories of change are untold, unseen, unrecognized? What does it need to pick up a story and to share it?

We experience a lot in the workplace, but our experiences are mostly forgotten – except for the ones that we turn into stories. Stories give experiences a fighting chance to be remembered, translating them into narratives which contain the lessons.

Shawn Callahan Lessons learned when stories are told

Stories have a place in the work context if we see and belief in the power of stories. We share many stories – during coffee breaks; but less in meetings, presentations, newsletters and reports. Are stories not relevant? Not serious? Just anecdotal? Storytelling is a serious business. Just google how many business related storytelling books are published every year.

The leader’s role supporting storytelling is crucial. I experienced it myself. I remember the day Kuno, my superior, asked me for a meeting to explore the possibilities of making stories.

Without his vision and commitment we wouldn’t have produced 50 short self-made digital stories in one year that illustrate moments of change and learning.

We discovered the power of stories. And now we have colleagues who experiment with digital stories. These stories are more than illustration. They carry learning and add an additional layer of reflection. See for example the story by Thinley from the Bhutan office about how she is including digital stories into the annual report. And Soyolmaa’s story about a female leader doing participatory video with herders communities in Mongolia.

No story without storyteller; and no storytelling without listener.

What it needs is an invitation to the storyteller, an opportunity to share as we did for example in our digital storytelling workshops. A listener is crucial too. No story without storyteller; and no storytelling without listener. Shawn Callahan from Anecdote pointed in his blog post Five conditions that encourage stories that it needs a “caring listener”, someone interested to hear the story. The culture of sharing stories does not come along automatically in formal working environment. It needs encouragement that stories are relevant and some guidance how to remember stories.

So which story do we pick up in this blog?

The story Creating a hope and a future: Phumulani`s journey by Edson Mugore was produced in one of the digital storytelling workshop organized by the Learning and Networking team of SDC. It is a story about a child living with HIV/AIDS living and a teacher in Swaziland.

And by the way: When I was visiting a village on the Andean plateau in Bolivia some years back, the women were sharing their potatoes with us for the ‘coffee break’. Each women contributed to the share. The potatoes were colorful and tasty. And along came their stories…

What is your story you would like to share?

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Comments to“What does it need to pick up a story and to share it?”


  1. That’s a wonderful story about storytelling and I am wondering what is going on in digital storytelling workshops. Are these open to the public? I bet a lot of people (like me) would like to participate.

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  2. Thank you for this thoughtful and helpful reflection, Nadia. I like how you remind us of the importance of valuing stories, and how this is an essential first step. And I wholeheartedly agree that the role of listening is central to storytelling and the story production process. Your lovely story about encountering “lonely witnesses” on a walk reminded me of Agnes Varda’s film, Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse. Storytellers can also be gleaners – noticing what is left behind and unspoken and finding ways to tell those stories, too.

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  3. Nina Prochazka says:

    Thank you, Nadia, for this nice post.

    I would love to explore further the “caring listener” topic. How can the culture of inviting, and of sharing stories, but encouraged in a formal working environment.

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  4. Nadia von Holzen says:

    Dear Claudia, Darcy and Nina,
    thank you very much for your encouraging comments. Great storytellers taught me that storytelling starts with story listening and story spotting. And you Darcy are one of them. I realised that the art of storytelling has some silent aspects; listening to stories is not spectacular. But gleaning and harvesting is closing a circle. Offering a story is as much a gift as listening to someone’s story. Nina I would say sharing stories is indeed caring, from both sides.
    And Claudia, what we do in this workshops is not spectacular either, but what happens with the storyteller can be. Digging out a story is deep reflection and going to the essence.
    Best, Nadia

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  5. Thank you Nadia.
    One way to make stories being more read and watched, is to create the space for them. Nadia, you talk about situation of workshop or meetings. These are perfect moments for stories. – Another story telling space could be created on the SDC intranet. A place where SDC colleagues can go to and read or listen to stories. If such place could be placed prominently on the SDC Intranet (for example a “story telling” video channel where one could watch always the newest digital stories), this would promote greatly story telling within the organisation.

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