The Story Behind the Stories: Theory Meets Sustainable Development Practice

When I was hired at ACGC for the summer the job description was hazy, but I was excited to be part of a “storytelling project,” however nebulous the project appeared to be. Conveniently, it was only a day later that I learned my supervisors were as uncertain about my job description as I was. Nevertheless, what I soon learned was that the uncertainty immediately became a wedge that we could leverage so that my tasks and responsibilities complemented my skills and interests. Thus far, ACGC has been entirely hospitable to working alongside me to nurture my professional goals.

I’m a communications intern at ACGC before I head back in the fall to complete my English Literature degree at the U of A. I don’t say this to rouse pity or admiration (possibly even a mixture of the two); rather, it explains why I come to ACGC with the term “intersectionality” floating above my head and permeating everything I encounter in the nonprofit sector. Intersectionality is a concept used in academia to describe the ways in which different prejudicial “-isms” (racism, sexism, classism, etc) are interconnected with one another so as to produce identity groups that face multiple modes of oppression. Originally a term used by black feminists to elucidate on the experience of being both a woman and African-American, intersectionality reminds us how strength lies in an understanding of diversity that acknowledges differences instead of homogenizing them. We can turn to Hollywood as an arena that battles out these ideas: some may congratulate DC’s latest blockbuster, Wonder Woman, as a feminist darling, when in reality the film offers us a very tepid version of feminism that is exceedingly white and nearly devoid of people of colour.

At ACGC, however, the concept of intersectionality is replaced with “partnerships” because amid the leap from academia to the nonprofit sector I’ve learned that people are less concerned with labelling and belabouring the causal source of dominance hierarchies than they are with embodying and solving how these issues can be addressed. “Partnerships” stems from the United Nation’s 2015 Sustainable Development Goals: from eradicating poverty to building affordable and clean energy, the 17 goals aspire to build a more sustainable future across the globe over the course of their 15-year long lifespan. “Partnerships for the Goals” is #17 and aims to address how the previous 16 goals intersect with one another so that they are not studied, addressed, or realized in isolation.

Currently in the works at ACGC is a storytelling initiative that will give a platform to members so that they can vocalize the international development work that is being done at the grassroots level, both in Alberta and abroad. In the spirit of SDG 17 we are employing a community-engaged approach in order to draw upon the strengths and talents of ACGC members, affiliates, and local professionals: Two weeks ago the marketing firm Zag Creative hosted a roundtable discussion to facilitate brainstorming for the project between ACGC, ACGC members, industry professionals, and academics; then last week we turned our eyes to our semi-annual Development Drinks evening, hosted at Café Bicyclette as an opportunity crowdsource ideas and potential obstacles for the project; and over the weekend I attended The Writing Stick: Sharing Indigenous Stories, a conference at the University of Alberta on editing and publishing Indigenous literature.

Over the past month at ACGC my job description is the clearest when I am forging these sorts of partnerships that enable collaborative thinking. It has also come to my attention that forming partnerships is diversity’s best ally, and we hope to construct our storytelling project as diversely as possible. From including alternative story forms such as biographies, poems, interviews, and comics to featuring the voices of diverse people saying diverse things in diverse ways, an intersectional approach, if you will, is the best salve to the belief that international development is “the white man’s burden.” Reciprocity and interconnectivity are the proper tools to build a future for ourselves that champions respect over and above supremacy in all its manifestations.
By documenting ACGC’s storytelling project I hope that you are encouraged to share with us a story that you believe promotes developing partnerships, and in doing so, further gleefully entangling the web of interconnectivity!

Go here for the call for story concepts (deadline June 10).

ACGC Intern Arden Burtnik