Storytelling to bring about societal change
What strikes me most about the good work that Prachi Rao does at Purpose, a global creative agency and campaigning lab merged into one, is the emphasis on storytelling. Whether it’s a campaign regarding poverty, climate change, or voting rights, Prachi’s focus is on narrative change. “My area of expertise,” she explains, “is how we use culture and storytelling to build awareness on issues that are hard to move. People like change in theory, but not in practice. Strategy requires real art and leadership. It is about narrative change and helping clients, foundations, and nonprofits really think through how they can accelerate their impact.”
A few years ago, Prachi worked with the Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge to change the narrative around poverty and economic mobility in the United States. The old narrative of people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps to achieve the American dream is faulty; not all bootstraps are created equally. “If you start seeing poverty as a result of circumstance and systemic inequalities, rather than an individual’s fault,” she tells me, “your understanding of the solution is going to be fundamentally different.”
Purpose also partnered with March of Dimes, a maternal healthcare nonprofit, on the campaign Unspoken Stories. March of Dimes was undergoing a shift to highlight the breadth of issues they work on, including the maternal and infant health crisis that affects far too many moms and babies. The campaign gave voice to the stories when everything doesn’t go to plan—honest experiences of pregnancy, parenthood, and loss. “These stories weren’t being told,” Prachi shared. “So it took a lot of bravery to lean into something that had been taboo for so long. In the end, it resonated with all sorts of folks who felt like their stories hadn’t been told. These are important life moments that we had to support.”
“We do quite a lot of different things,” Prachi adds. “But at the heart of what we do is try to make the world a more just and livable place through participation and mobilization.” The thread that runs through all of Prachi’s projects and campaigns is the ability to create a vision for social impact, something that can break through the noise of today’s world where we’re oversaturated in media and messages. “How do you actually create a campaign that is emotionally resonant, creative, beautiful, and yet also has impact on the issues that we want?” Prachi asks. “This creative aspect is what I find the most rewarding.”
Prachi Rao is a strategy director for Purpose, a global organization dedicated to making the world a more just and livable place through participation and mobilization.
About the Contributor
Howard Kaplan is an editor and writer who helped found Spiral magazine in 2017. He currently works at the Smithsonian and divides his time between Washington, DC, and New York City.
Artwork by Henk Loorbach