Sundance, so glitzy on top, is constantly and astonishingly substantive underneath. The best films are often documentaries and the best conversations, at least last week, were about social entrepreneurship not celebrities. Four Skoll awardees – Imazon, Mothers2Mothers, Tostan and Water.org – gathered at the festival in Park City, Utah from Monday to Friday for movies and merriment, but most of all for deep analysis of their own story-telling. The question: How can they more powerfully get the word out about their work?
The Stories of Change convening, led by the Sundance Institute and the Skoll Foundation, came to a really productive close on Friday, with all four awardees having significant breakthroughs. Each is at a crucial inflection point: Imazon has helped reduce Amazon deforestation from 60M acres a year ten years ago to 15M a year, and aims for less than 6M by 2020. Mothers2Mothers reaches 20% of HIV+ pregnant women and is poised to eliminate mother to child transmission of HIV in the next three years. Tostan has enabled 6000+ villages in West Africa come together to abandon practices such as female genital cutting (FGC), child marriage and domestic abuse and is set to rid Senegal of FGC. Water.org has pioneered the concept of water credit and now is in a position to lead a global movement to ensure that everyone in the world will have access to clean water and sanitation – in our lifetime.
The facts are undeniable. But getting them across is vital too. It was revelatory to watch social entrepreneurs, whose days are often spent in the field not at the laptop, realizing the value of words as well as deeds, narrative combined with fact. It is key, they learned, to bring the color of the field into any communications from it. And, always, to lead with story. Each organization’s media-expert advisor – one was assigned to each organization for the week’s work – has agreed to continue on with the awardees in future. The SoC partnership includes funding for that.
Some specifically spectacular results came out of the convening, too. Solar Momas, Jehane Noujaim’s movie about Barefoot College got a lot of buzz. And then, Bunker Roy (Barefoot College) and Molly Melching (Tostan) committed to working together to bring its solar grandmothers’ training to Senegal. Facts add to impact; stories multiply it.