Making space for impact: from our storytelling to our investments

This week in the Pioneers Post newsroom: Should impact leaders take up space in media storytelling, or should the spotlight be shone only on community-led solutions? Also, reflections on why men need to 'make space for women' at Impact Europe summit.

Do we need heroes to feature as stars of the stories to engage people in storytelling about tackling the world’s social and environmental problems? This was a key question debated by panellists at our ‘Good Stories: New narratives, bigger impact’ event this week.

The event, held at Impact Hub London’s smart new venue near Euston Station, attracted over 50 journalists, communications specialists and social entrepreneurs to explore how to drive progress on social and environmental issues through better storytelling and ‘solutions-led’ journalism.  

Speaking on her team’s approach to environmental journalism, BBC journalist Isabelle Gerretsen said: “We don’t do hero worship, so we never spotlight an individual who’s seen as one campaigner or one activist. We prefer to cover community-led projects where many people in the community are getting involved.”

This sparked a discussion about whether it was more effective to produce stories centred on community-led action as opposed to highlighting individual trailblazers, and the risk of steering attention away from grassroots problem-solving by encouraging too much focus on individual leaders or personalities.

Tim West, founding editor and CEO of Pioneers Post, suggested that heroes can act as a magnifying glass into a wider issue. “Hero stories often are very prominent, and they do actually sometimes help to surface some really important issues,” he said.

Natalie Campbell MBE, co-CEO of social enterprise Belu Water, echoed this, drawing from her own experience of leading Belu alongside running for Mayor of London in the 2024 mayoral election. She said: “I wanted to use the CEO label to tell a different story about how people do business. I think we as individuals have to think about how we can be the message when there are so many other things going on. Could I be the community-based project? Could I inspire other people to do the same?”

In the second panel talk, Sebastian Rocca, LGBTQI activist and founder of social enterprise Micro Rainbow, emphasised the power of knowing when to take up space in storytelling. “If the story that we are asked to tell is not my story, then for me, it’s very easy to just say, ‘This is not my story. Who else would like to take the mic?’ For me, it’s about ownership. I want to own my story.”

Calls to ‘make space for women’ at Impact Europe summit

Sometimes being a hero can be as simple as being an ally. While Pioneers Post’s London event this week saw storytellers debate whether journalists should make space for collectives over individual ‘heroes’ in storytelling, Impact Europe’s gathering at The Hague, which we attended last week, saw impact investors and fund managers discussing why men need to “make space for women” in impact finance.

“We need more women in the top positions, making investment decisions,” said Marijn Wiersma, director of communication and innovation at 2X Global, in a roundtable discussion on gender-lens investing. She added that to achieve “50-50” equality, men need to be willing to give up some of their power, so we can have “equal representation around the decision-making table” and “get money into the hands of women”.

However, Nora Praher, innovative finance venture lead at the UN’s World Food Programme, cautioned delegates not to “disregard the risk” of “backlash” against women when they take up what men perceive as “limited space” in leadership positions – not just on investment boards, but in the home as well. Speaking from her observations on working with female micro-entrepreneurs in emerging markets, she said gender-smart investors “need to be mindful” of how women can suffer from gender-based violence from male partners who are intimidated by “shifting gender norms”: “Unfortunately, our gender transformative approach can have exactly the opposite effect of what we actually tried to achieve.”


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Top photo (left to right): Caroline Diehl MBE, ImpactMedia.Global, Isabelle Gerretsen, BBC Future Planet, Natalie Campbell MBE, Belu Water, Tim West, Pioneers Post.