The Story of Change: Revolution Begins in the Imagination

Sarah Puello Alfonso

Sarah Puello

Current Oxford DPhil Modern Languages student Sarah Puello gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘The Story of Change: Revolution Begins in the Imagination’.

‘From the places you have been instructed to ignore or rendered unable to see, come the stories that change the world, and it is here that culture has the power to shape politics and ordinary people have the power to change the world’ – Rebecca Solnit.

Speakers, delegates, students, coordinators and staff at this year’s Skoll World Forum share one thing that fuels our passion for social enterprise: we all treasure a personal story –  a personal belief that is at the heart of what we do. Through their personal stories, the panellists of ‘The Story of Change: Revolution Begins in the Imagination’ have come to understand that top-down leader-driven models no longer serve the collective – a collective increasingly reliant on visual queues to understand the world, but a collective that also hopelessly yearns for connection.

As Tabitha Jackson of the Sundance Institute expressed, story is the bridge between word and action. Story is also, according to Jackson, a vehicle for truth, transcendence and transformation. During their presentations, Pamela Yates of Skylight, Charmian Gooch of Global Witness, Carne Ross of Independent Diplomat and Dawn Porter of Trilogy Films met at the intersection of these three pillars in the art of storytelling: they each recognised the meaning and emotional resonance they derive from their lives in order to become agents of change, and they described the work in filmmaking and social enterprise they have been doing ever since in order to transcend the status quo and contribute to a different future.

Though they each expressed varying levels of optimism during moderator Jess Search’s masterful icebreaker, they all expressed a sense of wanting to move people to action for change because, yes – change is possible. Jess Search, of BRITDOC Foundation, made sure to keep the audience plugged in to this general message by drawing the attention throughout to insightful quotes such as Andy Warhol’s ‘They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself’.


The Story of Change: Revolution Begins in the Imagination, L-R: Carne Ross, Pamela Yates, Jess Search, Dawn Porter, Charmian Gooch

The discussion turned to presentations by each of the panellists. Pamela Yates shared her view that storytelling through film is her ‘granito de arena’ – her grain of sand in Spanish – the way that she helps to grow the movement for human rights change. Most recently, this was done through the movie Disruption, based on the work of Fundación Capital, an organisation that has empowered women across Colombia and later Latin America by helping them become more financially and politically conscious.

Similarly, Charmian Gooch saw the impact that a small undercover film about the corruption of one family controlling farming deals in Malaysia had in ‘making sounds’ about the situation. With over a million hits on YouTube, this small clip energised Global Witness to transcend the framework of their reports on human rights violations, environmental destruction, corruption and war. Today, Global Witness’s efforts include teaming up with Skoll and Sundance in order to explore different ways to report on the events they bear witness to all over the world, and providing details of the deals and corporate structures that threatened the Congolese National Park for the critically-acclaimed film, Virunga.

Dawn Porter also discovered the power of film through her years working as a lawyer and in the editorial room of ABC. She believes that films allow ‘the quiet people to stand up’ – like the deeply religious man turned abortion doctor in her documentary film ‘Trapped’, a film about the closure of abortion clinics in the south of the United States.

Moved by his desire to give representation to people all over the world who do not have a platform to speak for themselves, Carne Ross was the only panellist without a film under his belt (yet!). However, sitting ‘on the other side of the table’, on the side of independent and socially conscious diplomacy, providing council for the politically marginalised has felt to him like a much more fulfilling mission.

Each of these speakers expressed finding transcendence – forgetting themselves – in the transformations that their endeavours have yielded. They also coincided in one self-affirming fact: if they had known ten years ago what they know now about the power of personal story, commitment to a cause and storytelling, they would have started much sooner.

If change is contingent on us embracing our own stories in order to then find those of others that need telling, where does our story start and how will we harness it in order to effect change?