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Expert Blog 1: What’s your reason of being?

19 September 2016

Earlier in the year, the School For Social Entrepreneurs India team, Shalabh & Mohit, reached out to me regarding an opportunity to interact with their budding social entrepreneurs. They invited me to have an interactive session on story-telling. I was not sure what it meant and more importantly why – they were there to set-up a (social) business; what has that got to do with storytelling? I was sure they were not interested in Ramayana, Panchatantra or Mandrake. But they did end up convincing me and I got down to preparing for the session.

The session was at “Zorba The Buddha”, a beautiful community living space, which already helped in creating the mood for my session on The Art of Story-Telling.

I was tentative, not sure of what to expect. The moment I met them, I realized why the SSE India team was so keen on this session. I was simply amazed at the clarity they seemed to possess regarding what they wanted to do. Every one of them had a STORY – a moment or experience that had to a large measure shaped their purpose or if may say their being. That purpose was translating into the work they were doing to create social value for people in different communities across the country.

Shalabh, the chief executive of SSE India, calls this moment or experience an ‘encounter which seems to have impacted them deeply and led them to becoming social entrepreneurs. In essence it was all about the “WHY” and not just the “WHAT” and the “HOW”.

Those initial moments helped me realize the value of my session – as I saw it was to get the all-powerful “WHY” out of their stories and help them use it realize their purpose. The natural tendency is to focus on “what one wants to do and how would he/she make it happen”? But rarely does one hear about the why – Why should this be done? Why should I do it?  Some of the encounters were significant and had to be told. For example

The story of a young boy whose father was a migrant labour and the struggle he and his family endured to survive. How lack of awareness and knowledge contributed to the problem and how it led to exploitation which finally propelled him to work towards the betterment of migrant labours by creating a learning centre to run skill-development courses for them.

Or the story of a public health professional, a doctor by qualification, having spent 15-20 years with global health agencies, who upon having a chance encounter with quacks in low-income communities in urban areas was so moved that she decided to work on providing low cost high quality preventive healthcare for urban poor.

Or, the story of a former child labour, who worked in a brass factory for six years, upon being rescued turned on a new leaf and eventually ended up joining a PhD programme last year. Only to drop it for a larger cause. He realized that there were children just like him, who were still working as child labour in dangerous factories in UP. He had made up his mind. He was returning to his home-town to work for their rescue & rehabilitation.

As the budding social entrepreneurs reach out to different stakeholders to make their dreams a reality armed with their What & the How of their work, the real challenge for them would be sustain their enthusiasm and overcome the challenges that the world would throw at them. I guess it is the “Why” behind the story that would help them stand up when all that they would want is to lie down (a dialogue from the movie Invictus).

We spent hours refining the content of the stories, their encounters, and practicing the art of story-telling. The focus was on evoking the right emotions in the listeners.

I loved every minute listening to their stories. A profound and humbling experience. I realised that many of us are lucky while there are many others for whom life a daily battle. And yet, there are people willing to sacrifice comfort, luxury, wealth for the larger good of others. Simply Amazing!!

This is not just the case for social entrepreneurs but it is applicable for everyone, including all of us at PwC. The art of story-telling is a skill every leader, business or social, should possess to inspire people and drive action.

What’s your reason of being?

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