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"We dream in narrative, daydream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate and love by narrative. In order really to live, we make up stories about ourselves and others, about the personal as well as the social past and future." 

Barbara Hardy



The Narrative Initiative is a training and networking resource for leaders and organizations dedicated to building fairer, more inclusive societies.

Images, symbols and stories reflect deep narratives about the world around us and who we are. They inform our values and identities, and define whom we love, trust and fear. Narratives can lead a nation to war and keep communities in poverty, but they can also dismantle discrimination and energize movements for justice.

The Narrative Initiative develops the skills needed to align voices and strategies, shape media and public conversation, and broaden perspectives and possibilities.

We connect narrative experts, advocacy campaigns and social change leaders across the globe. We intervene at the intersection of social science and cognitive linguistics, civic and pop culture engagement, strategic communications, technology and art. We build the capacity to use culture, language and stories to shift policy and politics, and move hearts and minds.




The Origin

The Narrative Initiative was established to equip leaders with the knowledge and skills necessary to harness the power of narrative for social change. A multiyear collaboration by the Atlantic Philanthropies and Ford Foundation, the project was sparked by the recognition that pervasive and systemic narratives define our personal and collective identities, inform our values, animate our popular culture and influence our politics.

Our initial charge is to develop deep narrative training for leaders and organizations committed to social change, and to connect, support and grow this emerging field.

The Report

In early February 2017, we set out on a listening tour of over 100 experts, innovators and visionaries from a range of disciplines and communities that intervene at the intersection (and sometimes at the edges) of social justice and narrative change.

We listened for commonly identified challenges, hard-earned lessons and pressing needs. We heard a recurring desire for sharper definitions of terms related to story and narrative. We heard audacious wishlists and inspiring best practices.

We hope you'll check out the report, written by Nima Shirazi, Jee Kim and Liz Hynes, and discover what we learned.

Conversations with over 100 social change and narrative experts formed the backbone of our report.


Our Team


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Elizabeth Velez

Elizabeth Velez has 20 years of experience working on building the internal capacities of small businesses.

Her work has focused on restructuring financially stagnant small businesses, helping them turn a profit and be more diligently engaged in the strategic and tactical facets of their business. Her greatest accomplishment has been to move small businesses from a “cigar box back office” to systems for effective management that play on the strengths of the entrepreneur.

Most recently, she brought those skills to the non profit back office, building and implementing systems to increase capacity including accounting, grants management, compliance and human resources, ensuring they support mission-driven work. Elizabeth graduated from American University in Washington DC with a BA in Communications, Law, Economics and Government (CLEG). While attending the University of Connecticut for graduate school, she met her husband and they now live in Brooklyn with their 10 year old son.


Jacob Swenson-Lengyel

Jacob is an organizer, strategist, and trainer with almost a decade of experience working at the intersection of big ideas and collective action. In addition to his work as a social movement communications expert, he has worked to build the capacity of community organizations to understand the root causes of inequality and design campaigns to address them.

Prior to joining the Narrative Initiative, Jacob worked for national community organizing networks. Most recently, he served as Deputy Communications Director at People’s Action, where he did traditional communications and digital organizing and created trainings around narrative change, political education, and strategic organizing practices. Before that, he worked at Interfaith Worker Justice.

Jacob was a founding member of The People’s Lobby in Chicago, where he cut his teeth as a community organizer. He also spent almost a half-decade at the University of Chicago where he studied ethics and politics in Aristotle and served as the membership coordinator for Graduate Students United.

Jacob holds a Master’s degree from the University of Chicago and earned his B.A. at Willamette University.


Jee Kim

For the past two decades, Jee has been a movement builder, resource mobilizer and dot connector for social change.

Before leading the Narrative Initiative, Jee was part of the Civic Engagement and Government team at the Ford Foundation, where his work focused on increasing the political participation of under-represented constituencies and mobilizing the grassroots base for social change. Prior to Ford, Jee launched, a national civic engagement project designed to build the political power of Asian Americans using social media and technology.

Previously, Jee served as a program director at the Surdna Foundation, where he managed grant-making portfolios in youth engagement, post-Katrina New Orleans, and nonprofit infrastructure over his eight-year tenure. He also worked in New York as a racial justice and immigrant rights organizer and as a journalist, editing the 9/11 anthology Another World Is Possible and The Future 500, an analysis of youth activism in the United States.

Jee received his Master's from Oxford University and his undergraduate degree from Columbia University.


Liz Hynes

Liz brings to the Narrative Initiative many years of experience in coalition building, policy advocacy and organizational change. An interdisciplinary systems thinker, she has spent over a decade in the public sector reflecting on how complex systems interact and inform each other.

Prior to joining the Narrative Initiative, Liz was a Program Associate at the California Community Foundation supporting civic engagement and immigrant integration efforts in Los Angeles. Before that she served as a legislative aide in the New York State Assembly, where she developed community coalitions and worked on affordable housing policy. In addition to her work in the public sector, Liz was the founder and co-host of the n+1 podcast, for which she regularly engaged writers, journalists and thinkers on the intersection of politics and culture.

Long committed to neighborhood organizing, Liz is currently active in the NYC participatory budgeting process and other community projects. In addition to her obsession with the virtues of civic life, Liz devotes her time to music, writing and reading. She holds a BA in urban studies and literature from The New School.

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Márquez Rhyne 

Márquez joins the Narrative Initiative team with an expertise in the strategic use of art and culture to shift policies and practices fostering justice and equity. Working in various social change arenas including race, labor, immigration, and health, they accomplish much of this through leadership and organizational development using popular education and other creative modalities.

Márquez served as the founding Lab Director of the Transmedia Story Lab within the University of Chicago using new media and novel storytelling methods to study health justice among adolescents in the U.S. and India.  Prior to this role, they also worked as a Cultural Organizing lead for both Service Employees International Union and the Highlander Research and Education Center. Beyond cultural strategies, leadership, organizational, and curriculum development, Márquez has consulted with a number of culturally-specific and geographically-isolated arts organizations across the U.S.

Interminably fascinated with creative engagement strategies, the locus of their passion comes from writing, performance, media, and visual arts since childhood, professionally and personally. When not thinking critically about how to bring about healing and transformation, Márquez finds respite in Pinterest, Netflix, and volunteering.

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Rachel Weidinger

Rachel Weidinger is an artist, researcher, and organizer. She labors to illustrate what is possible, and to build equitable uses of  power.

In 2011, Rachel founded Upwell.  The ocean was our client. As ED, she led the development of Big Listening practices coupled with campaigning across a distributed network of influencers. The project aggregated power for movements and immediately redistributed that power through networks. Upwell's work was grounded in both offline community organizing and online community management. It concluded operations in March 2015.

Recent appointments include Creative Dissent Fellow at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Arts & Culture for Economic Development Residency at PolicyLink. Rachel is presently engaged in a body of work called Missing infrastructures/ digital security.

Rachel holds an MFA-Social Practice from the California College of the Arts, a B. Phil in Interdisciplinary Studies from Miami University, and completed coursework for an MA in Arts Policy & Administration at Ohio State.



advisory Board


Alfred Ironside

Vice President, Global Communications, Ford Foundation


Ben King

Chief Strategy Officer, The Atlantic Philanthropies

David Morse

Senior Visiting Fellow, Price Center for Social Innovation, University of Southern California


Hilary Pennington

Executive Vice President for Program, Ford Foundation