by Rachel Dodd. Originally published in SoPact’s blog here.

“I am a creative” – not a phrase I expected to declare at a conference – especially not at the top of my lungs. However, that’s exactly what I did alongside a crowd of fellow creatives at the 5th annual Alliance for Girls conference (Together We Rise!). Prior to our encounter with Anasa Troutman, founder of eLOVEate, some of us never before dared assert our association with such a fluid – spiritual – magical – and intangible adjective as creative.

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Alliance for Girls is the nation’s largest regional alliance of girls’ organizations, with a growing membership that’s 170 strong. They work to positively impact the lives of more than 300,000 girls and young women annually. The 5th conference was sold out with a superstar cast of speakers (in the case of Genevieve Angelson, quite literally). The morning’s keynote of the Alliance’s 5th annual conference was opened by the Mayor of Oakland, Libby Schaaf, who spoke confidently and humbly of the story of the city that hosted us. She spoke of the power of women and girls telling our stories.

The crowd was easily persuaded – we had just listened to a story revealed through spoken word poetry by Michelle Ibarra, a teenager that wields a particularly beautiful vernacular as a venue to discuss her discernment of life. Ibarra’s poem maneuvered swiftly through the thorny edges of overt sexism – its roots buried in systemic bias, and how it all culminates in the vulgar expectations and considerations surrounding young Latina women and girls. Ibarra’s collection of phrases captured the hearts of her audience. She effectively communicated an experience that while deeply personal, speaks to an epidemic of negative behavior towards girls and women. The foundation set by Ibarra’s poem was a sturdy stage for the women and girls that came after her. Some contributed data, others, stories, and some gave a hybrid of both.

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That brings me back to Anasa Troutman, a woman who has elaborately and intentionally built up a personal brand that embodies Love. This brand is intrinsically woven into her language, her clothing, her body language, and her stories. Troutman opened her presentation with the story of her ancestors: the first entrepreneurs in her lineage that she is aware of. This entrepreneurial spirit, not their entrapment by slavery, was the context that wrote the path of the family and has flowed into Troutman’s own experience. Now an entrepreneur herself, it is the story of her family that sets the premise for a loving conversation for our time together.

In the course of that conversation, Troutman imposed upon us a belief in ourselves, as we declare, “I am creative!” It is a greater belief that creativity is an inclusive practice. While we might not possess the will or ability to curate thoughtful poetry, we do possess the ability to thoughtfully work through our story in a way that effectively communicates that experience to an audience. Creativity takes work – it takes practice.

One Way to Practice Creativity 

Here are the steps our Love-driven leader had us follow to put our creativity into practice:

  1. What’s the dominant narrative you want to disrupt?
  2. What is your vision?
  3. What is the result of that vision?
  4. Now, what’s the ‘but’ others might come back with? And how do you get around it?

As I followed Anasa’s steps for practicing my storytelling, I found that the experience unlocked my ability to open up to a challenge by facing it head on with hope. Members of Anasa’s audience spoke out as we began to grow comfortable with one another. They offered examples of how art and creative uses for storytelling not only helped them communicate their impact, but enabled them to have a greater impact. One woman talked to how the power of telling another’s story has facilitated empathetic discussions amongst the young girls she serves.

As the session came to a close, Anasa Troutman called us to share the stories we wrote that followed the steps listed above. The feeling of vulnerability in that exchange was confirmation that our stories were important and honest. In keeping with Anasa’s example, I will continue to practice my creative storytelling and lead with love.

Social impact storytelling is not as common a phrase as social impact report – but it’s a fundamental piece of our impact reporting. Storytelling plays an important role – hence, creativity’s role in impact storytelling.