Giving a voice to the unheard: Mariana Santos on storytelling for social change

“How can we come up with innovative ways to engage communities?” This is a question that journalists grapple with every single day.

Mariana Santos, the director of interactive and animation at Fusion, had many answers, but overall advocates using journalism as a platform for social change.

“Instead of journalism as pure research, we try to go inside real life and see what stories are resonating with people,” she said.

Taking pride in “a culture that is unafraid to fail, experiment and go wild,” Santos said Fusion has encouraged conversations and dialogue about topics from street harassment in Latin America, pregnancy and abortion, and the refugee crisis.

Have a conversation, rather than a one-way dialogue

Santos’ favorite project so far, titled All the time. Every day.” gave voices to women who survive street harassment in Latin America, one of the top areas of the world where women are harassed. Santos said the story was put in layers so people can control how they interact with each woman’s story.

“It gives us a window to see what Mexican women look like,” Santos said. “We’re not looking for clicks, page views, or a viral campaign, we’re trying to create awareness. This is something we need to talk about.”

The story included over 100 interviews with short clips of women responding to the street harassment they experience. Since then, many activist groups around the world have asked her to bring this project to other countries.

In “Fertile Ground,” Fusion invites the reader to trade lives with a young woman in South Dakota to experience a week by week journey of an unintended pregnancy.

Readers learn data and facts about sex and pregnancy, but also learn empathy by being put in a position to make difficult life choices along the way.

Design thinking for collaboration

One of the largest projects Fusion has tackled is the “19 Million Project”, which covered the Mediterranean refugee crisis in Italy. The massive collaboration took over the course of 15 days in Rome and involved a group of 150 journalists, activists, developers, designers, from 27 countries and 75 organizations.

“I needed to do something, and I pitched it to my CEO Isaac Lee, and thought ‘What can we do to help the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean?’” She said, connecting the issue to a domestic one too. “How can this help us think about the Mexican border crisis?”

According to Santos, the project won honorable mention in the Social Good awards, and now Stanford University wants to do a follow up event, to create a periodic table of the migrations.

“It became a reference for everyone to talk about refugees,” she said. “We tried to explain why people are leaving. It’s not about looking for a better quality of life. Its either they leave or they die.”

Santos continued emphasizing the importance of using technology, arts and activism to educate the public.

“How can we bring arts into the humanizing experience of storytelling?” Santos said. “We want to bring up the untold stories and the voices that are quiet.”

Have an idea and want to collaborate with Fusion? Contact Santos and keep up her on Twitter @marysaints.