The Power of Storytelling for Social Change

By Ian Frank, Ecuador ’15, Watson University Incubator for Social Entrepreneurship


“The culture of my father is being lost, the jungle is sick, the native people are sick, my father could die from the sickness he has.”


When I applied for Global Citizen Year during my senior year of high school, I said explicitly that one of my goals, with seven months in Ecuador, was to create a meaningful documentary. Now, over two years since I made that commitment — my movie Yaya the Wise Man has premiered at festivals in Montana, New York City, and San Francisco. In the last week it registered nearly 15K views online.


My ambition to create an international documentary was unleashed as a child thumbing through the alluring photos of National Geographic. The first risk I took with a camera was crappy stop motion animation in my basement summer before seventh. The process obsessed me. An itch I couldn’t scratch. In high school I studied advanced film for two years and learned the mechanics of film analysis. Yet, what was omitted from my experience was a sense of my own story.


I initially choose Global Citizen Year for the opportunity to be in foreign environment because I thought “this is what will make me special”. However, the emphasis that Global Citizen Year placed on storytelling was tremendous and I learned to think differently about what makes a story “special” – not in terms of “exotic” locales, but in terms of authentic, responsible and compelling storytelling. At the very first week of Pre-Departure Training,  documentary filmmaker Ian Slattery set a provoking agenda. The art of powerful questions.  What are the elements of a good story? How to act responsibly as storytellers? Why is storytelling crucial to the individual’s experience?


I don’t have all the answers and anyone that claims to is naive of the stories we all carry. What I know for certain is this — our stories matter. Human empathy is at the core of change. Our lives – our world constantly shuts us off from one another but storytelling unlocks that empathy.


My goal – with ethical storytelling – is to reject the single story’s dangerous effects on our perception and explore the intricacies of the human condition to convey our courage, adversity, and defiance. Curiosity is innate. Listening well – takes practice.



Click here to watch Ian’s film Yaya the Wiseman.