September Inspiration: Back to School

Photo by Fabien. Some rights reserved.
Photo by Fabien. Some rights reserved.

“How was your summer?” August spills over into September and, in the Northern Hemisphere, that’s often the first question that escapes most people’s lips as offices and schools resume their hustle and bustle. It’s back to school. It’s global conference season. It can be overwhelming. But there are also some inspiring stories that come out of the summer.

Stealing my dad’s camera saved me. Ken Oloo stole his father’s camera when Ken was just nine years old. Rather than leading him on a path of delinquency, it led him on a path to help transform Kenya’s slums through photography. Read this story and others on the new Acumen Ideas site.

Transforming education and communities: A few months ago, I got to speak with Abhi Nangia of Better World Ed, an organization that provides toolkits for educators that integrate academic, social, emotional, and leadership lessons using the power of stories.

Another group that is using storytelling for social change is Women and Girls Lead. While I don’t know what the impact of their efforts is yet, it’s great to see organizations focusing on community-led change through storytelling.

Extreme Possibilities: USAID is trying to change the conversation about extreme poverty to one about the possibilities to end it. They’re using stories to do that. The new Stories. platform uses brilliant photos that place the challenges and solutions that USAID programs are working with. No poverty porn here – it’s all about combatting the stereotypes about people living in extreme poverty. You can read about Milk for Life in Ethiopia, or about education for girls in the West Bank, and more. And it’s all wrapped up in a format that allows you to scroll through as if you’re turning pages of a story book. At times it does feels little overly promotional for USAID, and perhaps makes it seem like single interventions will solve myriad problems. But it does turn complex problems into easily digestible stories. Above all, it tries to put human faces on what so often becomes a numbers game.

Small is PowerfulWhat happens when a French photojournalist takes on the challenge of telling the human and transformational side of small business? Beautiful stories, that’s what. See how waste collectors in Nigeria are turning trash into opportunity. See how local health workers in Senegal are offering high quality health care for less. These stories keep the focus on the real heroes: the local protagonists. The photos don’t sugarcoat poverty, but strike a balance in showing context, maintaining the dignity of the subjects, and retaining an artful, documentary feel.


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