We are Investing in Building Narrative Power

Our Approach

We believe that transforming the narrative landscape around people of color, immigrants and refugees, Muslims, and Indigenous people– that shape hundreds of millions of people’s worldviews and behaviors– to affirming, pluralistic ones, is an essential strategy for all of us working toward a just and vibrant society where we can all flourish. 

For nearly a decade, Unbound Philanthropy has invested deeply in the immigrant justice fields in the US and UK to develop narrative and communications infrastructure, and over time our strategies have iterated and evolved significantly in response to what we have learned and as the field shifted.

We initially began by supporting and championing storytelling and communications infrastructure in the immigrant justice field. We then moved into cultural strategies that reached beyond our base, and that work at scale; and we made investments to expand the capacity of the immigration field to engage in narrative. We have supported organizations that offer new ways of combining traditional organizing with narrative. Over time, our strategies have evolved into a targeted effort to build narrative ecosystems that reach mass audiences, that recognize and honor the humanity of immigrants and advance freedom and justice for all.

Building infrastructure involves investing in the capacity of both individual organizations and leaders, and in coordinated networks. To achieve the scale required to influence and animate the national conversation about immigration– from our mostly deeply held mental models and beliefs; to how we treat our neighbors and talk about one another behind closed doors; to how we vote and the policies that are enacted– we must work in collaboration. Over the last several years, we have increasingly worked with funder collaboratives, and provided aligned and coordinated funding, so that we coordinate and scale investments. In the US, we were a founding member of the Pop Culture Collaborative, a leader in the narrative and culture change space, and in the UK, we were a founding member of the Power of Pop Fund

Today, a community of practice is emerging where advocates, strategists, and funders can learn from each other about narrative strategy and can shape narratives together. Our grantee partners like the Pop Culture Collaborative; the Butterfly Lab at Race Forward; CultureSurge; and Yes, And Laughter Lab in the US, and Counterpoints Arts and Heard in the UK, have helped build the knowledge and capacity of immigrant justice field leaders, artists, and funders to develop shared narratives. 

Guiding Principles of Our Approach:

  • We recognize that narrative power is built when narrative strategy is interconnected with other power-building strategies, like organizing, civic engagement, and policy advocacy. These strategies strengthen and complement one another. 
  • We support a narrative systems approach (see definition in Glossary below), where our grantee partners are in conversation and work in collaboration with one another, establishing a coordinated and aligned narrative ecosystem.
  • This coordinated network involves social justice organizations, entertainment artists, cultural strategists, and researchers, along with funders.
  • We champion intersectional work, engaging across and with a range of issue areas that are closely connected with immigrant justice, including racial justice, climate and migrant justice, and care, among others. 
  • We support lived experience leadership to shift narrative power and elevate diverse voices.

We invite you to listen, watch, and read from the collection of resources below that we’ve curated.

If you are a funder interested in learning more about our investments in narrative, please contact narrative@unboundphilanthropy.org. We would love to hear from you!

“We need to challenge our impulse to change the narrative on a particular issue and instead embrace the hard work of transforming whole narrative oceans.” 

  -Bridgit Antoinette Evans, CEO, Pop Culture Collaborative

Unbound Philanthropy Wins National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s Mover and Shaker Award for Bold Peer Organizing

What tiles are to mosaics, stories are to narratives. The relationship is symbiotic; stories bring narratives to life by making them relatable and accessible, while narratives infuse stories with deeper meaning.” 

                 – The Narrative Initiative

Grantee Partners Building Narrative Power

In the US:

Building Narrative Infrastructure:

The Pop Culture Collaborative and the Butterfly Lab for Immigrant Narrative Strategy have helped develop the frameworks, theories and built capacity.

CultureSurge; Harness; Opportunity Agenda, Yes, And Laughter Lab; Color of Change; the Immigrant Movement Visioning Project (IMVP); and Word Force have helped build the knowledge and capacity of field leaders, artists, and funders to develop shared narratives. These projects are weaving narrative thinking into a multidisciplinary field that utilizes a variety of strategies – grassroots organizing, communications, policy advocacy, and narrative and culture change – to create long-term shifts in hearts and minds.

A community of practice is starting to emerge, where advocates, strategists, and funders can learn from each other about how to improve their use of narratives. Groups like Color of Change and the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance have developed powerful narrative strategies that seek to advance racial justice and expand and protect the rights of domestic workers, but they have also been pathbreaking organizations that have forged powerful partnerships with Hollywood and have modeled best-in-class examples of narrative strategies.

Engaging Conflicted Audiences: Grantees including the American Immigration Council’s Center for Inclusion and Belonging, National Immigration Forum, Resilience Force, People’s Action Education Institute seek to engage audience who feel conflicted about immigration. Grantees have created opportunities for people to express their concerns and provided forums for connection between migrants and their citizen neighbors to engage in conversation and activities, and addressed shared challenges.

Addressing Mis-and Dis-information: Grantees including Define American, United We Dream Network, Chinese for Affirmative Action, People’s Action Education Institute, and Grassroots Asians Rising address mis-and dis-information that can worsen polarization. Focused on creating accurate, nuanced, and informative content, these innovators have sought to bridge divides and deepen belonging and integration.

Climate and Migrant Justice: Grantees include Climate Justice Collaborative at the National Partnership for New Americans, Global Strategic Communications Council, International Refugee Assistance Project, Resilience Force, Taproot Earth, and The Solutions Project

In the UK:

Building Narrative Infrastructure:

Power of Pop Fund is a pooled fund housed at Comic Relief working with the power of pop culture to transform the narrative landscape in the UK.

IMIX is influencing the narrative about our society to celebrate people who make the UK their home and help us to live well together.

Counterpoints Arts connects arts, migration and cultural change; and through the PopChange program, it is influencing narratives about migration and displacement in popular culture.

Heard sparks stories that create change, working with people who have directly experienced different issues.

We Belong is changing the narrative on young migrants to ensure that they are treated fairly and can contribute to British society.

Engaging Conflicted Audiences: 

British Future is working to understand public attitudes and inform debates on issues that can often seem noisy and polarized.

More in Common is building united, resilient, and inclusive societies in which people believe that what they have in common is stronger than what divides them.

Larger Us is changing the narrative from ‘them and us’ to a ‘larger us’.

Addressing Mis-and Dis-information: 

Hope not Hate is tackling mis- and dis-information.

Climate and Migrant Justice

Climate Outreach is a thought leader in climate change communications and has a particular specialism around climate migration. Climate Outreach convenes the Climate and Migration Coalition, which is researching and investigating narratives relating to climate migration and climate displacement. 

People & Planet is working with students and university partners to change narratives around both climate and migration through its Fossil Free and Divest Borders campaigns.

Resources and

Food for Thought

If you want to go deeper into learning about narrative strategy and power-building, the following resources are a good place to start. 

Great Reads

Changing Our Narrative About Narrative: The Infrastructure Required for Building Narrative Power

By Rashad Robinson, Color of Change

 

Toward New Gravity: Charting a Course for the Narrative Initiative

The Narrative Initiative

 

Spotlight on Impact Storytelling: Mapping and Recommendations for the Narrative and Cultural Strategies Ecosystem

By Erin Potts, Dom Lowell, Liz Manne

How We Talk about Migration: The Link Between Migration Narratives, Policy, and Power

Natalia Banulescu-Bogdan, Haim Malka, and Shelly Culbertson: The Migration Policy Institute, RAND Corporation, National Immigration Forum, and Metropolitan Group

 

A Future for All of Us: Reports On Phase 1 and 2 of the Butterfly Lab for Immigrant Narrative Strategy

Race Forward

 

The Belonging Study

Race Forward and The Opportunity Agenda

 

Finding the Immigrant Story: Latinx Encounters with immigration stories in the US media

United We Dream Action and Harmony Labs

Measuring Narrative Change: Moving From Theory to Practice

Brett Davidson, Stanford Social Innovation Review

 

The Belonging Barometer

American Immigration Council

 

Watch, Listen, Learn

Shifting the Narrative Podcast

The Opportunity Agenda

Wonderland

Pop Culture Collaborative

Words to Win By

Anat Shenker-Osio

Glossary

Narratives:Narratives are patterns of stories that are held by individuals or groups and contain beliefs about the way the world works. They can be harmful, beneficial, or both.Narrative Strategy: The Basics

Narrative Power: The idea that the stories, images, films, games and media we produce and interact with are embedded with power. As such, they define whose voices are worth listening to, whose lives matter and what we imagine as possible for our society.New Brave World 

Narrative System:The coordinated system of desired behaviors, new mental models, narrative archetypes, and specific story experiences that together work to shift how people think, feel, and behave in the world.” Pop Culture Collaborative

 

Banner Image: United We Dream’s No Borders, Just Flavors

Second Image: Muffin Creatives, Pexels

Third Image: Refugee Week, Low Key. Photographer: Marcia Chandra

Fourth Image: Magda Ehlers, Pexels