Jeannine Brutschin, a former client and a friend, who now works as a freelancer often uses storytelling in her work herself. She tells the tale of her ‘aha’ moment about organizational storytelling and of a recent story making commission organized round the metaphor of quilting.
Lasting inspiration from a storytelling workshop in 2003
In 2003, I was working as a communication and knowledge manager for the Swiss Agency for Development and Corporation, SDC, when I was invited to participate in a three-day storytelling trainer course facilitated by Sparknow. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it sounded interesting and relevant. I went with an open mind.
The workshop took place in a beautifully renovated castle with a historical and at the same time a modern ambience, an adequate scene for our storytelling endeavour.
Looking back, I cannot remember a certain moment or technique or method that stuck in my mind. But I do remember certain warm-up exercises that really broke the ice and made us all laugh and enjoy each others company.
(The picture shows the ‘x marks the spot’ exercise where people drew postcards of a moment in a project and we then patchworked t hem together, remarking on how the whole story came back when we put ourselves in the picture.)
There was an atmosphere of working together with joy and openness, the possibility of listening to each other and learning about each others’ perspectives without having to argue for what is right or wrong immediately. That atmosphere diffused into the room like a soft carpet right from the beginning and lasted until the very end.
The second day of the workshop was quite difficult. Some participants got discontent and didn’t understand the suggested approach. But the soft carpet was still there and we could metaphorically speaking stand on it to rest our feet. And with adaptations for day three, the workshop ended as a rich learning experience. That is one of the strengths organizational storytelling has, the one which fascinates me most: In my experience it can foster a secure framework for meetings or encounters, where difficult things can come to the surface and storytelling can add lightness and understanding, it can bring people in a mode of cooperation.
For me it is a big field for learning, there are many possibilities for new combinations that might fit a certain mandate or situation, looking back to the past, creating a vision for the future, sharing what is there in a certain moment. And storytelling invites me to become creative and playful - and hopefully people I work with as well.
Let’s move from 10 years ago to 2013, and let me give you an example of how I used storytelling in a working at an annual International NGO conference in Bern.
THE STORY QUILT
Guiding a collaborative storytelling process in 2013
I was asked to lead a storytelling workshop for FAWCO, a global network of women’s volunteer associations, active as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with consultative status to the UN Economic and Social Council. The workshop was part of their annual international conference, taking place this year in Bern. I was asked to support the members of the organisation in telling a cohesive story about FAWCO, which is involved in many different things.
Looking through their website I was searching for a metaphor, an image to work with. And I found out that member women from many countries work together every year, making a quilt that serves for fundraising purposes.
I decided to use the quilt metaphor for the workshop. We would create a story quilt, bringing all individual stories together into a bigger picture. Working in small groups we used the story template to deepen and enrich the women’s individual stories. Some of the women had already prepared “quilt pieces” with a collage on the front and the corresponding story on the back of a coloured piece of paper. These story owners were interviewed by a group member with the help of the template, asking any question that would help to achieve a deeper understanding.
One other woman of each group was chosen to be the storyteller. But first we had assembled all the quilt pieces on a beautiful cloth that was hanging on a wall and became our stage. The storytellers entered the stage and with great respect to the story owners did a great job telling the stories back to the audience.
‘illuminating inspiration’ ‘fresh growth’ ‘a happy heart’ ‘a piece of the sky’ ‘mothership’ ‘tears for water’
were just some of the story titles, all worth remembering. The stories showed how these women, being part of a global network, want to make a change for themselves, for others and for mother earth.
Storytelling in the way we did it was unfamiliar to many women in the room. In that situation using the quilt as a metaphor was very helpful, as every time I was talking about the quilt, it was clear to the participants what we were up to. The empty cloth always reminded us of where we wanted to land with our stories, and kept our attention on the common objective. And last but not least, the story quilt was a beautiful background for the storytellers’ stage, reminding us that every individual story is also part of a bigger story.
Jeannine Brutschin, March 11, 2013
Laurie Richardson, from FAWCO, who worked with Jeannine on this meeting, adds a little context.
More Quilts and Bigger Stories: FAWCO Quilts at the UN and Around the World
Making arrangements for the Bern conference, FAWCO’s UN representatives visited the Office of Public Affairs at the US Mission to the UN in Geneva. They told the story about the annual quilt raffle fundraiser for charitable causes, and learned that the US Mission had held a quilt exhibition the previous year. One of the quilters left her quilt to the US Mission, to be used for a “good cause.” After learning about FAWCO and its philanthropic activities, he knew that FAWCO was exactly the “good cause” he had been waiting for. In subsequent correspondence, they discovered that the quilter had been involved with FAWCO in Casablanca, and now belonged to a FAWCO club in Nairobi. Her quilt, first exhibited at and then donated to the UN in Geneva, found its way to FAWCO in Bern, and was the second quilt auctioned at the conference.
On International Women’s Day, March 8, the keynote speaker at the FAWCO conference was US Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Betty King. She mentioned that the US Mission would host another international quilt exhibition this spring. She was so impressed with FAWCO’s 2013 quilt (pictured) that she asked the conference organisers to lend the quilt to the UN exhibit.
The raffles for the two FAWCO quilts in 2013 raised over $5,000 for FAWCO’s charitable giving programmes.
I am an experienced facilitator and trainer. Born in Switzerland, with Swiss-Thai heritage, I am married and have three sons. My passion is to create spaces for encounter, using open space technology, storytelling and other participatory methods to engage and empower you to become creative. I guide groups in systemic constellation work and am schooled in nature therapy.
At the University of Bern, I did Masters Studies in Geography, focused on qualitative research and narrative techniques. I now use these methods to support people to tell their own stories in an engaging and structured way. As a communications and knowledge manager at Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development and at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), I worked in diverse organizational cultures. This has been an important enrichment and resource for my work in challenging situations. In my work with systemic nature therapy, I take groups of women outdoors to reflect deeply on the patterns in their lives, and I guide them to discover what Nature can teach us about our potential and about how we can gently achieve important changes in our lives.
Personal website (in German): www.stellaluna.ch
Nature retreats website (in English): www.personaljourneys.ch
The story template I used for the quilt workshop came from ‘Storyguide: Building bridges using narrative techniques’ by Stephanie Colton, Victoria Ward and Jeannine Brutschin; Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), 2006 can be downloaded from Sparknow’s publications and at www.deza.admin.ch/ressources/resource_en_155620.pdf
(hardcopy can be obtained through firstname.lastname@example.org, available in English, German, French and Spanish)