Storytelling Adventures from the Amazon: The Beginning

At the heart of your storytelling strategies are your allies.

Over the last year, Hattaway Communications has worked with RUNA Foundation to help tell the story of the Sapara and Shipibo people—indigenous people who live in the Amazon who hold the key to unlocking the healing power of medicinal plants. But destruction of the forest is pushing their communities to the brink of extinction.

Through RUNA Foundation, these groups have joined forces with scientists and entrepreneurs from the U.S. to build the world’s first centers for the practice, research and preservation of Amazonian plant medicine.

Doug Hattaway

Doug has nearly three decades of experience working with high-profile leaders in politics, government, business, advocacy and philanthropy. He leads and advises project teams to create research-based strategies, content and campaigns, and is passionate about adapting insights and innovations from the social sciences to enhance the power of strategic communications.

In this series of articles, we’ll introduce you to the wealth of knowledge that the Sapara and Shipibo people have to share, the work of RUNA Foundation, and a case study in strategic storytelling.

PART 1: The Allies and The Strategy

The Allies

Sometimes, it takes a village to tell a story.

In March 2015, I set out for Ecuador to tell the story of the Sapara and Shipibo people, indigenous tribes living in the Amazon who wanted to share their knowledge of medicinal plants with the world.

The village that helped tell this story included about 40 men, women and children living deep in the world’s largest rainforest.

It also involved a Hollywood celebrity and his business partner, two social entrepreneurs, a National Geographic photographer, a New York-based video editor, a music composer, project managers, translators and others.

All of these people came together to share the medical secrets of the Amazon with the world—and worked together to shape their story, in hopes of inspiring others to support the cause.

Shaping the Storytelling Strategy

Our journey was guided by a Social Impact Story Map completed by the folks at RUNA Foundation, which works with people in the Amazon to create sustainable livelihoods that benefit their communities and protect the rainforest.

The map is a tool built by the team at Hattaway Communications to help “social impact” organizations — including nonprofits, foundations and social enterprises— tell stories that inspire people to support their causes. Based on a classic model of storytelling used by Hollywood filmmakers, the story map helps users create a compelling storyline that captures people’s imagination and keeps them engaged.

For a story to have impact on the audience, it must be compelling. If people don’t find it engaging, they won’t be moved to act. A story intended to create some kind of impact in the world must also be strategic—and communicate ideas that motivate people to support the cause. Otherwise, it’s just storytelling for the fun of it.

We faced another important challenge in crafting a compelling and strategic story about the efforts of the Sapara and Shipibo people to share their knowledge of the Amazon’s medicinal plants. Telling a story about people of another culture must be done carefully to avoid putting words in their mouths and misrepresenting their realities.

The approach often taken in this type of video storytelling is to interview individuals and string clips from the interviews together, so that the story is told in the voices of the subjects. That’s a good technique for enabling the audience to experience the authentic voices of people who live very different lives.

But we couldn’t focus solely on the efforts of the Sappara and Shipibo people. The goal of our storytelling campaign was to encourage people in the U.S. to contribute money to support the medicinal plant program—and psychological research shows that people are more likely to take an action when they see other people like themselves involved in the cause. To achieve that effect, our story needed to include “characters” who reflected our target audience of potential donors.

So we decided that our storyline would not only focus on the indigenous people, but also feature Western people who supported the cause. This story would be about people from very different worlds coming together to achieve an ambitious goal.

Stay tuned for the next part in this series.

The Characters

  • Channing Tatum, American actor
  • Manari Ushigua, leader of the Sapara people
  • Kestenbetsa, leader of the Shipibo people
  • Tyler Gage, CEO of RUNA
  • Luke Weil, Chairman of the Board and Co-Founder of Rios Nete
  • Dr. Slawomir Wojtowicz, cancer researcher from Stanford University

The Team

  • Scriptwriting: Reid Carolin, Doug Hattaway
  • Voiceover: Channing Tatum
  • Videography: Lucas Foglia
  • Direction: Doug Hattaway
  • Editing: Justin Amore
  • Music: Alex Ballentine
  • Translation: Sydney Nilan
  • Location Logistics: Lindsay McGeehon
  • Project Management: Eliot Logan-Hines


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