What’s Your Story? is a story-based initiative to promote trust, understanding, and greater social cohesion in South Africa, a country with diverse cultures, languages, and races, and where suspicion, fear, prejudice, and racism forms a large part of people’s daily interactions. As explained by the campaign organisers, “The growing sentiment seems to be anti-black, anti-white, anti-rich, anti-poor, anti-foreigner...in fact anti-everyone who is not like us or threatens our comfort. We have a trust deficit that affects the quality of our relationships with others and hinders us from getting to know each other better.” Initiated by Heartlines in 2016, the campaign is based on the belief that personal storytelling has the power to create understanding, and ultimately trust, and that storytelling can break down prejudice and stereotypes, and reconcile people to each other. Only when people better understand the people they interact with on a daily basis, and see the human being behind the “other’s” race or ethnicity, can they see the commonalities that unite them. In order to encourage the sharing and exchange of personal stories, the campaign activities involve a film, materials to encourage group discussions, leadership engagements, and an online platform.

Communication Strategies: 

What’s Your Story? builds on best practice within the field of social and behaviour change, which shows that “stories are very effective change agents, as they impact on people both emotionally and intellectually. Hearing another’s story opens up the potential for reconciliation, mutual respect and understanding.”

The initiative uses the following activities to achieve its objectives:

1. The film, Beyond the River
To kickstart the culture of storytelling, the campaign launched Beyond the River in April 2017. This is the story of two men from vastly different backgrounds who are brought together by their determination to win gold in one of the toughest river races in the world, the Dusi Canoe Marathon. The film shows their determination, as well as the challenges they had to overcome – one is struggling to break out of a life of crime and poverty, and the other is dealing with a marriage on the verge of collapse. Inspired by the true story of Siseko Ntondini and Piers Cruickshanks, who together competed in the 2014 Dusi, the film is a story about the triumph of the human spirit.

2. Resources on personal storytelling
The campaign has produced a series of resources to empower people to share their stories in various contexts, such as at church, in bible study or small groups, in youth groups, in high schools, on campus, and in the workplace. The resources include lesson guidelines to promote understanding and trust through personal storytelling within the different contexts, as well as a DVD with stories from inspiring individuals.

3. Leadership engagements
The Bridge Leadership engagement is a 2-day, offsite initiative that uses personal storytelling and dialogue as tools to build bridges between key leaders of a system or sector. Once these leaders have gotten to know each other’s stories, they can work together to solve critical issues within their system or industry. Click here to find out more about these Bridge Leadership engagements.
4. Online platform
The What’s Your Story online platform allows people to read, listen to (audio stories), watch (videos), and share stories of ordinary people making an extraordinary impact in their communities. Stories include: those that help people to get to know and understand each other better; those that challenge people to look beyond their differences; those that are inspirational, of people who have overcome huge challenges; and those that remind South Africans that they really are better together.

5. Crowdfunding - “1 Million Voices. 1 Million Stories”

The organisation has also started a crowdfunding campaign to extend the reach of What’s your Story? and the film, ‘Beyond the River’. Through the fundraising initiative, "1 Million Voices. 1 Million Stories", they are hoping to take the film and the storytelling project to even more schools, places of worship, workplaces, sectors, families, and campuses across the country.

Development Issues: 

Values, Tolerance, Reconciliation

Key Points: 

Heartlines is a South African-based non-governmental organisation established in 2002. It is a social change organisation that aims to get South Africans talking, thinking, and acting on the good values they share. Heartlines believes that a bold and far-reaching intervention can achieve positive national transformation and impact substantially on the issues that face South Africa. It encourages people of goodwill to have the courage to do good. They believe that if enough people start living out good values they will reach a social “tipping point” that can transform South Africa. Heartlines uses the media, technology, and partnerships with key institutions to shift social norms by inspiring and encouraging people to become part of a national movement for good.

See video

Heartlines website, What's Your Story website, and “Bell Pottinger antibody. Garth Japhet: reconciling SA, one story at a time” article on BIZ News on September 18 2017, and email received from Nevelia Moloi, Heartlines, on September 28 2017.