Stories enable us to act

03 September 2018

Silao Vaisola-Sefo with Professor Marshall Ganz, Senior Lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

“There couldn’t be a better time than the present, to share your narrative” says Silao Vaisola-Sefo, Chief Executive of SouthSeas Healthcare. 

Having recently returned from an overseas knowledge exchange in North America, Silao is energised to share the power behind shared personal narrative through storytelling. The exchange provided Silao the opportunity to meet with a wide range of individuals and groups from prestigious academic institutions, and cutting-edge social service providers.

“Part of my knowledge exchange allowed me the rare opportunity to visit Alaska, specifically the Nuka Health System, which is regarded as the top healthcare system in the world. What stood out to me is their customer-owner focused system. What I’ve learnt, is that at the heart of the Nuka Health system, there are relationships and personal stories.”

“I was fortunate enough to see it in action and experience the work of some of the providers overseas whose work is based on valuing relationships. Most providers were not driven by profit, but rather what is behind their service, which is all about relationships and well-being.”

“Allowing people to tell their story really creates that brave space. My recent trip overseas allowed me to see these being implemented. I was fortunate enough to meet some ‘super stars’ in their work, including Professor Marshall Ganz and Peter Senge (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).”

Silao was first introduced to the concept of personal narrative as a community leadership practice through Counties Manukau District Health Board (CMDHB). The concept of personal narrative was developed by Professor Marshall Ganz, a Senior Lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

“In 2010 I was part of a course where Professor Marshall Ganz talked about the power of stories.”

“There are resources we haven’t yet tapped into in our communities here in NZ, based around human capacity. Through personal narratives, people become vulnerable, which is a strength of this tool; stories can unpack our pre-determined conclusions”.



What Silao learnt 10 years ago and in his most recent knowledge exchange, inspired the idea to develop the MyStory Initiative, which is a tool based on a storytelling framework.

“The MyStory initiative was initially born as a result of stories from our young people, stories that speak to their current reality and past experiences, which will shape the way they see the future.”

Over a year since its initiation, the MyStory initiative has been supported by the Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft, with the support and endorsement of Professor Marshall Ganz.

“We launched the MyStory initiative last year as a tool to help our young people to build relationships through personal stories. We believe that everyone has a story to tell but these stories have to be protected,” says Silao. 

“The tool is not about telling people what story to tell, the focus is on why someone should share their story and what to do with these stories as a call to action.”

“MyStory provides a platform that offers people an opportunity to really listen and understand and allows others an opportunity to respond to their stories.”

“The beauty of the MyStory initiative is that it is all about understanding the ‘why’, and not about peoples’ situations and what their surrounding circumstances are. We need to actually understand the story behind the eyes,” says Silao.

Silao says MyStory is not designed for people to reveal their secrets. “It is developed to grow our capacity to understand and respond in a safe environment, because that’s where the magic happens.”

“It is developed for people to learn more. It’s about growing. Enabling people to learn and grow from each other’s experiences and respect their stories; this is what MyStory is all about.”

“I want MyStory to be a platform for anyone to reach out and be more open by telling and hearing stories. Be prepared to listen with the intension to understand and not listening to prepare a reply. I’d also like to see MyStory mobilise the community to solve problems. MyStory will enable that to happen, as it is a really valuable reflection tool.”


A new approach to delivering services

“With the right setting created through MyStory and access to personal narratives, we have the ability to know more and learn about others than ever before. Personal stories become the foundation upon which we build, maintain and strengthen relationships between people,” says Silao.

Silao says SouthSeas Healthcare has been delivering services to Pacific communities in South Auckland for nearly 20 years, so the introduction, development and implementation of the new approach was timely for SouthSeas and was eagerly embraced.

Shared personal narrative, is the driving and guiding force behind SouthSeas Healthcare’s new approach to delivering services by building and strengthening relationships with individuals, families and communities. “We are in a service industry, where human beings are at the core of why we exist. Relationships become important, they are complicated and are not normally straightforward, so understanding each other is important.”

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