MSF’s Voices from the Field: The Power of Stories

Posted by
Brightlemon Admin on 26 Sep, 2014

Image credit: Stephanie Christaki / MSF – Medical care for severely malnourished children in MSF ITFC in Massakory, Chad. May 2012

Some of the most successful public interest campaigns have historically been rooted in personal tales of challenge and achievement. Sympathy and empathy are powerful human reactions – but which one drives greater engagement? I think there’s been a noticeable shift in the last few years toward empathy being the desired effect and there’s some great research out there about why this is more powerful. But just how are organisations using this knowledge? Storytelling can be viewed as one component of a marketing strategy but if you are looking at its value solely from this perspective, you may just be missing a trick.

After all, with the proliferation of information and advertising in the last decade, you can’t deny that we’ve become much more savvy at noticing when we’re being manipulated. The challenge to use storytelling effectively, while avoiding the pitfalls of cause or product fatigue, isn’t easy. Storytelling isn’t about sales or marketing, it’s about the power of human stories – and these can build relationships, offer comfort, challenge people and more – you might say that they’re pretty important for building a community in fact…

There’s been a lot documented about the value of blogging as a way to share stories and the general consensus seems to be that if you have something to say, then blog. I absolutely agree with this and when the opportunity came to re-build Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) blog website we jumped at it.




Founded by a group of French doctors and journalists in 1971, MSF provides aid to over 70 countries, and also runs long-term medical programmes worldwide. They promote the idea that everyone should have access to medical care, no matter who you are or what your situation is. The written and photographic blogs posted by MSF representatives (doctors, etc.) allow them to voice personalised accounts of their experiences of fieldwork and aid programmes. I’m not sure it gets more powerful than that. What you notice immediately when reading their blogs is the authenticity of their voices. In my experience this is something that people often struggle to do well. What MSF have done is empowered their community of fieldworkers and patients to tell their own stories, without agenda. By providing a window into MSF workers’ lives, not only do they have the potential to inspire a community of support amongst users, they also have an opportunity to reach a worldwide audience, old and new. Powerful stuff.


Nuts and bolts are still important


It’s all very well to harp on about authenticity and user voice, but at the end of the day, if blogging and storytelling is a clunky, frustrating experience, you’re not going to get very far. MSF decided to use BrightLemon to migrate their blog site to Drupal because of its adaptability and flexibility. It’s the perfect tool to provide readers and donors with an easily accessible and informative window into MSF’s work. A number of new features have been added so that the website is capable of meeting the needs of its global community of users. These included: localisation, multilingual capabilities for MSF’s global audience, translation for blog entries, syncing of blog content to other MSF sites, commenting, and maps to show blog writers’ locations throughout the world.

In order to improve engagement and user friendliness, we rethemed and redesigned the whole site. While access to the internet isn’t necessarily readily available to all fieldworkers and patients all the time, things have changed, and mobile connectivity is far more available than it used to be. It was vital that the new website reflected this. The website has therefore be built in a responsive format in order for it to be used on desktop, tablet and mobile devices.

MSF reaches a worldwide audience, so the site was built in a way that will help them publicise, progress and maintain the positive and charitable role they play for this extremely large user base. Take a look and see what you think!


Tags: Drupal, Online Communities, Social change, Charity comms