the power of story in social change: amy braunschweiger

Amy Braunschweiger is the Web Communications Manager for Human Rights Watch, where she is responsible for the organization’s electronic newsletter communications, and helps oversee its website and social media. Previously, Amy worked as a freelance journalist, her articles appearing in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York and Village Voice, among other publications. She also served as a financial reporter for Dow Jones, covering stocks and the stock market. Amy has received the Congress-Bundestag scholarship and the Arthur F. Burns fellowship for journalists.

I sat down with Amy Braunschweiger to discuss how the seemingly simple act of sharing a story has the power to affect social change. We looked at three varying approaches demonstrated by her methodology, as a way to help writers think about how to engage larger audiences in effective discourse.

Amy’s first approach came in the form a of a book, Taxi Confidential: Life, Death and 3 a.m. Revelations in New York City Cabs, which is a collection of 50 gritty New York cab stories from the ’70s through present day. Hearing first hand stories about taking cabs in New York City during strange moments got her thinking, what about the other side of the story? She culled stories from drivers and riders in an effort to illustrate the different perspectives that can happen when two people come together in a small environment. It is her belief the book helps people understand each other, as well as the larger societal context of New York.

A second level of cross-cultural storytelling emerged when she was inspired by the message of Vietnam Relief Effort. A friend who had escaped from Saigon during the Vietnam War started a non-profit to help those left behind through building schools and hospitals. Amy traveled to Vietnam, where she engaged people who had first hand stories of children needing uniforms for school or citizens of rural areas getting access to a doctor. She brought the stories back to America, where the wounds of the Vietnam War are still healing, to provide a positive space for rebuilding.

Currently the Media and Outreach Advisor (Board) for The Human Impacts Institute, Amy assembles stories from ground level local effects of ecoprojects here in Brooklyn extending all the way to United Nations environmental policy action. Amy helps the institution focus their message so that investors can understand the effects of such a tiered approach to environmental change.

The third ripple in the pond of Amy’s powerful storytelling angle is through her daily job as Web Communications Manager for Human Rights Watch. It is her job to sort through the myriads of abuse occurring throughout the globe and to make heart wrenching decisions about how to effectively communicate to a global audience. Referring back to her ability to individually interview and gain insight into perspective, she was brought on board to help people connect. Hearing about a village where hundreds of people are dying can be sad but doesn’t necessarily motivate people join efforts to stop genocide. Hearing the story from an individual who is working in the field, then is attacked and has to flee, and has friends or family murdered brings the story to a level where individuals can empathetically connect. Once the connection is made, people feel the need to do something, to effect change.