The Power of Digital Storytelling


Shanell McCoy training Youthprise staff on the importance of social media as a storytelling tool

by Shanell McCoy, Youthprise Youth Fellow, Communications Coordinator

Storytelling can be defined in many different ways. For some, storytelling evokes childhood memories, sitting in circles as teachers read fairy tales and stories starring talking animals. For others, storytelling is simply the retelling of events through word of mouth. At Youthprise, we see storytelling as a powerful tool that can uplift the voices of the communities we serve.

In our view, storytelling isn’t just an action. Whether through word of mouth, written text, or presented on a digital platform, storytelling is a significant part of building a healthy community. Why? Because it holds the power to inform and educate others using stories that come from outside of each of our particular individual perspectives. At Youthprise, we therefore see creating socially healthy online environments for our communities as a core responsibility of our organization. And we’re proud to say that our youth staff owns this responsibility by leading our digital storytelling efforts.

Using a youth-adult, partnership model, youth on staff act  as content curators, brand managers, and communication coordinators—all while building their to tell stories.

Take Nancy Musinguzi, a recently hired youth artist. As part of her work, she wrote the story of our Community Ambassadors Initiative that operates in partnership with the city of St. Paul. Musinguzi interviewed and photographed the participants of the program including Police Chief, Thomas Smith and the young people involved. Youth fellow and Brand Manager, Adeeb Missaghi worked with  Musinguzi to design an interactive digital publication. This collaboration between youth and adults resulted in a unique storytelling opportunity unlike any other at Youthprise. And it evolved the way we communicate about our work to include the many perspectives of the communities we serve.

Ensuring young people have the opportunity to tell stories on their own terms, and following their own vision, also builds on five social-emotional learning behaviors like self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, self-management, and responsible decision-making. Youth are able to develop their unique voice, interact with different communities, both online and in person, work toward social media goals (like audience engagement, brand marketing, etc.), and make responsible decisions about the content they create and post.

All of this contributes to a socially healthy online environment—one that’s not only inclusive, but also authentic and engaging.

When youth-serving organizations and intermediaries in the out-of-school-time field engage young people using digital storytelling platforms, they’re not only giving those young people the opportunity to build their capacity as writers, they’re also pushing their own organization to be more reflective of the communities they serve. At Youthprise, we know that youth engagement isn’t a product, but a process. While messy at times, the process of engaging youth always yields results that can impact our field and our work in profound ways.

To further the impact of storytelling, Youthprise will be hosting our 2017 annual Summit in partnership with Intermedia Arts and GLITCH, a non-profit that works to educate, inspire, and equip emerging makers with the tools for success in the digital game and simulation fields. The goal of the Summit is to build the capacity of youth and youth-serving organizations in Minnesota to think differently about technology as a creative tool for advocacy, education, and collaboration. During the Summit, we’ll educate participants on the importance of digital storytelling through interactive activities, and address ways to incorporate young people in the process.

When we empower young people to control the narratives they’re most impacted by, we get authentic perspectives on our work. When we give youth the space and resources to use their voices to address issues and topics that matter most to them, we shift their role from story subjects to story authors. This process builds trust between the organization and the community,  and contributes to a socially healthy environment that invites youth to share stories and build their capacity as storytellers.

In the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize.”