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OverExposed: Ethical Storytelling in Conversation

In 2022, we pledged to tell more ethical stories as part of the #OverExposed campaign led by Chance for Childhood. 


#OverExposed aims to address the power dynamics that underpin the use of children's images, showcasing that the needs of children are better highlighted through positive and respectful communication practices. The campaign encouraged organisations to adopt more ethical storytelling approaches, and begin these conversations within their own non profits.


As an organisation, we are committed to continuing to improve our practices on ethical storytelling and the use of images of children within our campaigns and communications.


What is ethical storytelling?

Nonprofits have a special responsibility to tell stories in a way that respects the dignity and rights of individuals because of who they serve and the sensitive issues they address. This is a practice known as ethical storytelling (NonProfitPRO, 2023). Stories have the power to show someone a mirror-image of their best self. To encourage people to hold on when going through difficult times. And to inspire others to act (Ethical Storytelling, 2024). The power that nonprofits hold is why this conversation is so important.


Why is it important?

For years, some nonprofits working with children in Africa told negative stories and used images of “helpless” African children in their campaigns (Bhati, 2021, p.2). Some Fundraisers justified this by claiming that negative stories evoked more sympathy in Western audiences and raised more money (Dogra, 2013). Over time, the portrayal of African children as vulnerable became normalised through campaigns however, more recently, this approach to storytelling has been recognised as unethical and exploitative (Carpenter, 2020). Negative INGO storytelling has been found to reinforce racist stereotypes about African communities (Vossen et al., 2018; Ademolu, 2021).


As a non profit it is important that we recognise the power our language has, and respect those whose stories we are telling. Working with communities in Kampala, we aim to empower people through telling their stories how they would want it to be told, and sticking to the facts. Outdated charity campaigns can be known to have used degrading and disempowering language, which can be exaggerated and false and used as a means of raising funds or to front face fundraising campaigns.


Being truthful, respectful, and empathetic in your storytelling is essential to building trust with those you serve (NonProfitPRO, 2023)


Mama Hope is a great example of a non profit actively working to change the narrative, and hold all non profits, large and small, accountable for their language. The ‘Stop the Pity’ campaign by Mama Hope saw them picking apart outdated African stereotypes in Western narratives.



















Our responsibility 

During summer 2023, Sarah Wilson conducted research around our ethical storytelling practices, through interviews with stakeholders both internally and other stakeholders working for other small international development organisations.  


At the end of her research, she produced findings and recommendations to help us continue to better represent the communities we work in partnership with in Kampala. 


Here are some of her findings:

  • We tell positive, honest and empowering stories

  • Our storytelling practices are ethical, including how the stories are collected and shared

  • We regularly use positive photos and strength- based language when portraying children in Kampala

  • Some terminology which can be questioned are the use of words such as ‘slum’ ‘vulnerable’ and ‘beneficiary’ - all of which have been taken on board as part of our 2024 content planning.

(Wilson, 2023)


Since this research, we have initiated conversations and made changes within our organisation. These conversations included an in person training day with our UK team and Change Right partner, Jo Kipling. We have also pledged to remove all harmful images and stories that may misrepresent the communities we support, as well as updating our ethical storytelling approach. Next month our UK team is visiting Uganda, and will be discussing ethical storytelling with our Ugandan team, collaborating on ideas and understanding different thoughts and perspectives. 


Learning together

The ethical storytelling conversation is not one that can simply be had and forgotten, nor is it just a tick box for nonprofits to complete. This conversation is part of an ever growing landscape, and as an organisation we will continue to actively update our approach, and learn together as a community. 


We are committed to the communities we work with, particularly children but also the families and wider communities they are part of. Our work and sole purpose is to move these children from just surviving to thriving, but we cannot do that without respecting the rights and dignity of those we work with. 


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