What is Regenerative Storytelling?
We need hope.
Today, people feel that they have no power to save our world. We face nuanced challenges that feel too big for any individual to impact. Youths have a tremendous ability to transform the future but we must believe that a bright future is still possible. When writing about the Anthropocene, Erle C. Ellis asks, “Is this a story of senseless destruction or a story of awakening and redemption?” Regenerative storytelling is harnessing the power of a story, a shared idea, to not only change hearts and minds but to create lasting and self-restoring action by inspiring hope and building agency. Hope is a regenerative state that can build capacity and scale from local capacity to a global grassroots movement. Regenerative storytelling uses an ecosystem of outreach, community engagement, and alternative forms of media to engage with audiences and partners to empower the subjects of the film and their peers in creating system solutions.
The filmmakers for The Elephant Queen identified a clear shortcoming in documentary filmmaking, a common failure to engage with communities most directly capable of creating lasting impacts. Communities on the other side of the world rally to a story’s message while the subjects of the story and their neighbors never experience it or its impact.
Regenerative storytelling overcomes that injustice by restructuring the relationship between the storyteller and subject from an exploitative to a regenerative relationship that enhances local capacity through partnerships with local leaders and stakeholders. Creating the film and the subsequent release and outreach campaigns for the film advance local capacity and solutions while building a network-of-networks of regional and international partnerships to advance efforts at the source of the story and replicate them in local contexts led by local partners. This requires robust collaboration between stakeholders, community members, NGOs, and other relevant entities. The film is the tent pole at the heart of this effort, supporting a collaboratively-managed ecosystem of transmedia storytelling, outreach, and local capacity building through community engagement.
Direct involvement by local people throughout the process promotes equitable outcomes through synergy that can spawn new opportunities for fiscal and in-kind impacts through the project’s network. Clear impacts can be seen locally through direct community response and activation, while wider impacts occur through inspired audience members recognizing similar issues in their own communities. These individuals then join the film’s partnership network to enhance their own local capacity while collaborating with regional and global partners to share solutions and resources through a self-sustaining web of relationships. This process can be scaled by a storyteller to enhance the story, its potential for reaching a wide audience, and its ability to elevate a core message.
Regenerative storytelling came from the development of our upcoming film “Healing the Garden.” The film will be impactful and authentic in respecting stories of indigenous youths restoring the natural systems that surround and sustain their communities. As a leader for the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, a network-of-networks of young leaders dedicated to elevating youth agency in the ocean-climate nexus, our founder Grey Gowder saw opportunities to use this film to create regenerative synergy between my subjects, network of partners, and my potential young audience to enhance local capacity for my subjects while creating widespread grassroots agency and engagement through our partners and outreach non-profit Enduring Curiosity.
We need regenerative stories that can inspire us and show us that we are not alone, that others have not yet given up. We have all of the knowledge and technology we need right now to transform this world into a place where we and our children and millions of other species can thrive, but we need to believe it and embrace the natural climate solutions and systemic shifts necessary to make that possible.
We need good stories.