OneStory.com: Crowdsource video to educate, inspire and engage

Dale Zak, Co-Founder of OneStory.com

Stories worth sharing. Stories have the power to change the world. A well told story can inspire action, create awareness, promote understanding and drive change. Our story begins in a small town in southern Saskatchewan in the western part of Canada. Anna was an old widow that lived in a little blue house in the small town close to where I grew up. My mom would often visit Anna for tea, and one day she told my mom a truly remarkable story. Pulling out an old wooden cutting board, she ran her fingers along the deep gashes in the wood, and told my mom that this old cutting board was her most valuable possession.

Before immigrating to Canada, Anna grew up in Austria. During the first world war, Anna as a small child along with her family were forced to live in the woods behind their house to avoid patrolling soldiers. One day, Anna’s mom sent her back to the house to fetch the cutting board so they could bake bread for the family. On the walk back to the woods, a bomb blew off nearby but luckily the cutting board Anna was carrying helped protect her from the shrapnel of the blast.

When Anna immigrated to Canada, she brought the old cutting board along with her, and throughout the rest of her life it was her most valuable possession. Unfortunately Anna passed away in 1992 but because she told her story to my mom, who told it to me, the story of Anna and her old cutting board lived on. That’s the power of the story, if it is shared, it can leave a legacy.

This was the original motivation behind OneStory, an entire generation of remarkable people like Anna with incredible life experiences are passing away and unfortunately their stories are being lost. In the fall of 2011 I began down the development path to build an app to collect and share valuable life lessons from seniors.

During that fall I met Katrina German, a passionate social media strategist. We went for lunch to discuss potential ways we could work together. During our conversation, I mentioned I was applying for a grant to help fund the development of an app to collect senior stories. Katrina’s eyes got big as she shouted, “An app! That’s it! That’s what I was missing!” It turns out that prior to being a social media strategist, Katrina had formed a company called Lifetime Productions to create biographies for seniors. There was great demand for the service, however using traditional filming, desktop editing and there being only one Katrina, she couldn’t find a way to make it scalable.

So realizing we had the similar idea but approaching the same problem from different angles, we decided to join forces to leverage our unique skills, me for development and her for marketing, and thus OneStory was born. As we began formalizing the idea, we soon realized that everyone has a story worth sharing, not just seniors. And the more we talked, the more we began to see the potential for OneStory to become a platform for advocacy through storytelling. In the case of nonprofits, one of the biggest challenges they face is clearly conveying what they do and why it’s important. And there is no more powerful way to do that, than through hearing first hand accounts from real people on the challenges they experience.

In essence, OneStory is a platform to crowdsource interviews. It allows groups to ask questions and collect back video responses. A guided interview process collects individual clips for each question, assembling the answers into a single video without any editing required. People can share their stories via the free mobile app, or directly from a webpage using an ordinary webcam. The power comes in creating a collective conversation around a set of questions, where each person has a unique voice but together can create a movement.

Our mission is to empower individuals to collect and share personal stories to provide a means of advocacy through education and celebration. Our goal is to connect people across languages, cultures and beliefs to help maintain a rich visual history for future generations. We embrace the values to respect, teach, learn, create change, and connect with others through the power of personal storytelling.

OneStory is a both a social enterprise and a social purpose business. Our primary goal is to create change through storytelling, but aiming for the business to be both sustainable and profitable. The company is also half owned by a nonprofit organization, for which we plan to use the profits to help fund other social good initiatives. So OneStory aims to be a force to create change itself, but also a vehicle for which we can fund other social good initiatives.

Our journey thus far has been an exciting one. Katrina and I worked part time throughout 2012, and in January of 2013 we made the transition to full time devoting our full efforts to bringing OneStory to life. In April of 2013 we launched the first version of our iOS app, in June we launched our initial website to browse stories. In September of 2013 we expanded our team and in October of 2013 we added the ability to record stories right from the website.

Although we’re still early on our development path, we’ve already had a number of really successful story campaigns. One such campaign was Women In Technology we ran for International Women’s Day to encourage more women to enter careers in technology. This is a really important conversation, but there needs to be a catalyst and way to aggregate all the voices. Hearing the struggles and triumphs of a female co-founder can be the inspiration that motivates other young girls that it is possible.

Another campaign which really embodies why we’re building OneStory, was created by the Saskatoon Public School Division to inspire First Nation’s youth. Their campaign asked the questions “What is it that makes you strong and proud as an indigenous person? What are your strengths, teachings and expertise you wish to share with First Nations and Metis youth?” One of my favorite stories from the campaign came from Glenda Abbott, an aboriginal mentor in my community who tells the remarkable tale of running from Saskatchewan to Panama in honor of sacred sites, and to share teachings, values and culture with other aboriginal groups along the way. In her story, Glenda shares the struggles she faced in her youth, how she overcame those challenges offering the powerful advice, “just don’t be scared to wake up in the morning, and feel like you can’t go on, because its just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, and finding out where you end up.”

In January of 2014, we opened up our platform allowing anyone to create their own story campaign, with their own set of questions they would like to ask. This is where things start to get really interesting, because now we can become the vehicle for organizations to leverage their community to drive change for their causes. That could be sharing the challenges on being a new immigrant in a community, or the difficulties of living with a disability, or the impact that bullying can have on a child or why it’s important to support same sex marriages. We are excited to be building a platform to help create a movement around these important conversations. We are inspired by Robert McKee’s quote that “storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.”

This is our story so far, but it’s far from over.

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