I recently got into a (heated) discussion with a friend who was distressed about how Cecil the celebrity African lion, who was tragically killed by an American tourist, was getting so much media attention. He rattled off facts of how many hundreds of lions are hunted, poached and killed each year, the demographic break-up of the killers and the quantified extent of the impact on the broader eco-system. Why should we get so worked up about Cecil with this injustice is happening every day to scores of other beautiful wild creatures?
While this makes for fantastic narrative for an educational report that a fraction of the world will read, an even smaller fraction will discuss and an even smaller fraction will actually ACT ON - lets get one thing straight. Data is powerful - but stories, stories can stir emotions that trigger action. Stories give birth to movements. Stories can shift paradigms by giving a face to problems and making them feel real to us. Cecil's story will act as an epitome that generated awareness about the plight of his kind and should be pushed, discussed and used as the basis for creating change at individual level and policy level.
Don't get me wrong, data has its own place but if it can be woven into a narrative that can accelerate immediate action - that is when we can truly unlock its potential and tap into its power to make demonstrable impact.
Read this wonderfully insightful little article which further discusses the power of storytelling for change.
Yet through our discussions, I realized that my own calling to global poverty began not with data, but through hearing the stories of fellow agricultural day laborers, whom I worked beside as I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. You see, I trace my initial interest and motivation for working on global poverty issues to a summer when I was ten years old, working in the berry fields along with Mexican migrant families. Interacting with the Mexican migrant children opened my eyes to social injustice – they worked so hard, yet had so little. Their landlessness and poverty in southern Mexico forced them to follow the promise of opportunity in the north, where they continued their struggle to feed their families, in fields thousands of kilometers from home.