Background and power of storytelling

Under the titels below, you can find the history and latest developments, with story and storytelling. The stories below, are told by colleagues, customers and scientists. Learn to understand your organization through their sensemaking and experience stories, and the 15 years of working and studying storytelling, by Suzanne – as Stories of Change.

History of Stories of Change

Stories of Change today

Sustainable social change

The story behind this


Suzanne Tesselaar founded Stories of Change, when a second print of Storytelling Handbook hits the shelves. At the time she worked for 10 years as a consultant in strategic communication with story and storytelling. After completing her research for her study Master of Corporate Communication in 2005, she decides to focus on developing storytelling. Together with international scientists, scholars and approx. 30 of her customers she develops a unique intervention method. Suzanne describes its mobilizing effect in academic journals and further describes the power of storytelling in her PhD thesis (WUR expected 2015). She has written books, chapters and articles on the subject.(PIM link naar Publications).

As a guest lecturer Suzanne shares her knowledge and practice experience with master and PhD students at national and international universities. Meanwhile, storytelling hypes and she moves her focus from communication to organizational change. A practitioner to the bone, Suzanne loves to work with organizations and leaders on connections. For example connecting objectives with culture, management with its workforce, customers with the company, people with their community tasks etc. This creates a dialogue and engagement and one shared story that could, potentially, spread like a social epidemic.


In her practice Suzanne works as consultant with organizations (PIM link naar assignments) in change, transition and research projects. Because she not only believes but has proven in over 30 cases that intentional change is most successful when it is realized in dialogue, together with directors, management and workforce. Suzanne is frequently asked for presentations and workshops(PIM link naar Assignments) all over the world. She works under the name of Stories of Change, for medium sized and large organizations. (PIM link naar Customers). Her method is simple; storytellling as a connector between organizational structure and culture, makes organizations more effective and accountable. During the process of intervention leaders, directors and their workforce learn to listen differently. This helps them to recognize and enjoy the power of story and storytelling. Their biggest reward is that they themselves change during the process.


A leader narrates:

At this moment there are still millions of people contaminated on a daily basis. And every day, in the Western world, 50 thousand people in Europe and 50 thousand in the US are infected with hiv. And worldwide 1,3 million people die of aids. Per year! This is enormous. Just imagine: if that one little pill would have been the solution, we would, today, not speak of 1,3 million deaths or new infections. So it is just a small part of a solution. It is true that if you have access to that little pill and indeed take it, you have a solution. Providing you can live with the thought that during the next 30 or 40 years, as long as you live, you have to take that pill. Talking to aids patients, take “name’ for example, who works here. He takes those pills since the eighties and he says: I have had it up to here. Sometimes he thinks: would I not be better off dead? Because there is a lot more to it than just that small pill, you know. I have an infectious disease, that I can just about keep at bay but as soon as I stop taking that small pill the effect hits me in the face. And if that pill stops working I am dead because resistance hags over your head like the sword of Damocles. That feeling an aids patient has; I am dependent on this pill and if I stop taking it I die and infect others. And that stigma, of being dirty, revolts people. In Africa it is much worse. When we were there we saw young girls, 15 to 19 years old, all infected. We asked: why did you not use condoms? Yeah you cannot do that with African men. So what do you do, do you take aids therapy? No, that does not work either because if my friends would see e taking pills, they do not want me anymore. Plus I am young and doing well, I am infected but that a problem for later. As long as we have no vaccine, we cannot influence these adolescents. It is tough working with adolescents here and in Africa it is no different. They think: I am immortal.

So that explains why finding a vaccine is extremely important. That one small pill is fantastic but it stops there, we do not progress in the aids story. With hepatitis there is also one pill with the big difference that, in principal, that one pill kills the virus in six weeks. Hiv, applause, well done but we are stuck there – a vaccine is the only solution for it.

During a number of assignments Suzanne worked with doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, youth care professionals and patients. She discovered the passion and dedication of employees and their directors. This drove her to find funds and time to start a project, using her knowledge and experience, to research and develop a standard storytelling intervention method. The output of this 2 year project, will be a scientifically described, accountable and practical tool which is simple, fun and effective. The idea is to make it available to doctors, nurses and aid workers to influence attitude and behaviour of patients with infectious diseases. The tool be a part of their education and (field) training. Contrary to many other expensive therapies and medicines, this is free as a goods tory spreads like an infectious disease; it becomes a (social) epidemic. It is not arbitrary like taking a pill. Not difficult to get a holds of, there is no discrimination but available, as a natural form of communication, to all. Banking on this working, narrative based medicine (Trisha Greenhalgh) can make a contribution to a sustainable social change and might save lives, especially in low income countries where finding a vaccine takes too long.

For this project Suzanne is seeking cooperation with health organizations, scientists, practitioners, doctors and colleagues. In the first year focus lies on researching story, storytelling and epidemics. In the second year the methodology will be tested in the field by three students in Africa. Their input will be used to further develop and complete the tool, so doctors, nurses and aid workers can easily , playfully, and without too much trouble create a sustainable social change by influencing the infection from spreading further.


A leader narrates:

So if I want to make a difference, it is not good enough to say I have a nice ob but I would also like to mean something in vaccines.

What intrigues me there is that we could develop vaccines, especially for hiv. That is for me… I love Africa. And if you travel to Africa, the hiv story can only be stopped by a vaccine. That is one reason for me to go for it, actually that would be enough. But a lot of people think, mmm it will never pay off commercially. But that is all nonsence. It will work commercially and on top of that it will work humanitarian. The two will work perfectly together.