Want To Lead A Movement? Start With A Story

Two children were born on the same day in Uganda.

Two children grew up in the same Ugandan village.

One boy

One of those boys dropped out of school.

He never learned to read.

He ended up cutting sugarcane.

He eventually struggled with alcohol abuse and parented many children out of wedlock.

The other boy

His friend also had trouble completing primary school.

But he had a mother who read the Bible to him and his brothers every night.

That ritual fascinated him. The family gathered together around a dim light to listen to his mother tell stories.

He dreamed of one day being able to read that Bible. And eventually he did. And so did his brothers.

The stories he read ignited his passion for education

In fact, he became the best student in his district. That opened up doors to Uganda’s prestigious Makerere University. And then on to the London School of Economics.

Later, this boy made his way back to Uganda. When he got there, he started an organization to pass on the gift of reading to more kids like him.

The boy’s name is Aaron Kirunda

The movement he started is called enjuba, which means sunshine.

Seven years after he started the movement, he came to New York. He was there to explain his foundation. And I was lucky enough to hear it.

Aaron’s organization provides literacy training to 1.5 million Ugandan kids. Their efforts are anchored around hosting spelling bees.

But that’s not where he began his presentation that day in New York.

Where to start?

He started by talking about those two little boys growing up in Uganda. And about his family, gathered together around a dim light listening to his mother’s stories.

And how he dreamed of one day being able to read that Bible.

But why did Aaron start there? Why did he start with a story?

Reason One: To Inspire Us

Stories start global movements all the time. The number one reason they do is that they inspire people.

After all, a movement is a group of people who all believe something similar. As a result, they form a tribe around that idea or belief.

Movements are made up of people. And people are moved by other people. But in order for people to move people there has to be some emotional, human element that pushes them to action.


Action requires people to feel differently than they did before. And the best way to do this is through a story. In fact, if you look deep enough, you’ll discover that every movement was started by someone who shared a story.

Stories have the power to inspire people because they are relatable. They’re something that people can grab hold of.

They latch onto your story by finding a story in their own life. One that connects emotionally with the story you’re telling.

Beyond facts and data

When you try to influence people with facts, chunks of data, and content, they get lost. They start to feel like they’re part of a boring PowerPoint presentation.

They need an emotional connection.

It’s the story that provides the emotional lever they needed to be inspired.

Reason Two: To Make It Personal

Why do we ask our friends about a product or experience? It’s because we’re more inclined to listen to a story about it from someone we trust.

Stories are powerful because they are personal. To share a personal story requires some degree of vulnerability.

Not everyone wants to share a personal story. They’re worried what others might think about them after hearing it.

But movements depend on vulnerability

Movements are about being real. And that requires putting yourself on the line. It means you can’t be afraid. You can’t be blocked by fear.

In fact, the more you share your deepest, darkest stories, the more people are likely to join your movement.

So stop being afraid.

And don’t just share stories; make them vulnerable and personal wherever possible.

Reason Three: To Make Us Feel Something

To get any person to take action towards anything they need to feel something.

To get someone to join a global movement, you must use emotion.

Emotion gets people involved. It taps into our human potential in every sense of the word.

Make me laugh, make me cry, make me mad

When you tell a great story, there should be raw emotion behind it.

As thick as your skin may be, it’s hard not to be moved by a story when it makes you feel some type of emotion.

People don’t make decisions based on logic. They make decisions based on emotion.

Stories create emotion. And emotion is like a magnet that brings people towards your movement.

Reason Four: To Help Us Remember

It turns out that when you tell a story, you’re speaking from experience. But you’re also speaking about things that you’re passionate about.

And that passion shows through. In fact, passion is hard to forget.

When you try to communicate without stories, it’s easy to forget things. That’s because you’re asking your brain to remember something that, frankly, you don’t care that much about.

Make it easy on yourself

Movement makers use stories because they don’t have to remember them. They can get up and tell a story for hours without forgetting any part of it.

An authentic the story, told from the heart, is something that is easy to remember.

Same for the audience

Well-told stories can attract people to a movement because they are very hard to forget.

People want to be inspired. And the best way to do that is to make them never forget you through the power of stories.

Reason Five: To Show Growth

The key reason leaders of movements use stories is because a story does one very powerful thing. A story can demonstrate growth.

Their stories have a starting point. And they have an ending. Together they prove some type of change or growth.

Change for the better

It’s this growth that people are attracted to.

When you hear such a story, it makes you wonder, “If they could do that then maybe I could do that.” Or, “Maybe I could overcome the same thing they did.”

What Kind Of Stories

But what kinds of stories work best to establish and grow a movement?

Marshal Ganz is a Harvard professor who has worked on that question. He’s put together a simple three-step narrative for action:

The story of self

The story of self gives you standing, a platform from which to speak.

Like Aaron, when you talk about your transition – from who you used to be to who you became – you are being generous with us.

The story of self is your chance to explain that you are “people like us.” That you did “things like this.” To show that “people like us, do things like this.”

The story of self tells of your actions that led to change. Change we can see, and hear, and understand. Change we can relate to.

The story of us

The story of us is your connection with the tribe.

Why are we alike? Why should we care? Can I find the empathy to imagine that I might be in your shoes?

The story of us is about being together. Not apart.

It explains why your story of self is relevant to us. And how we’ll benefit when we’re all part of “people like us.”

The story of now

The story of now is the critical pivot.

It enlists the tribe on your journey. It’s the opportunity of the journey. It adds the peer pressure of the tribe. Together, they provide the tension for all us to move forward, together.

I was like you. But then I learned something. And now I’m here.

Of course, I am not alone. I did not do this alone. And I see in you the pain I saw in myself. Together we can make this better.

But if we hesitate, or leave others behind, it won’t work. The urgency of now requires that we do it together. Without delay. Without remorse. Without giving in to our fear.

So what now?

It’s simple. Let stories drive your movement.

Create a storytelling culture. Begin with a story. Explain with a story. When in doubt, tell a story.

Just be sure it’s a real story:

  • A real story is not just anything you call a story.
  • A real story is a narrative.
  • A real story is aimed at a specific tribe.
  • A real story has characters – a hero and a mentor at the very least.
  • A real story has intention, obstacle and resolution.
  • A real story contains change.
  • A real story has a moral.

If you’d like a little more detail than that, check out What’s A Story, Anyway.

Do it today

Without delay.

Without remorse.

Without giving in to your fear.

But that’s just my opinion. What’s your take?