Power Dynamics & Ethical Storytelling

Here at DASH, we have a huge heart for people who are seeking asylum. Our ministry centers on meeting those in need of basic resources with food, housing, and community and raising awareness of the challenges imposed on displaced people through our broken immigration system. As we seek to raise awareness, we must consider how to most empower and dignify our community while combating misinformation about the asylum process and protecting the privacy and the legal cases of those we serve. This is not an easy endeavor! One of the most challenging aspects of spreading the word, recruiting volunteers, and building our donor base is navigating the complexities of power dynamics in our pursuit of ethical storytelling.

Rather than speaking up and being a “voice for the voiceless” we believe in passing the mic. As leaders of this organization, we are positioned to amplify the voices of those whose voice has been silenced. Because in actuality- there are no voiceless people; just those who aren’t being heard. Storytelling is empowering and can play a beautiful part in the process of meaning-making as one heals from tragedy. Yet at the same time, we must be sensitive to the role of power dynamics and the ways it can limit agency and autonomy. For example, If the leadership of DASH asks a current resident to speak at our event – as the source of their food, shelter, and community – it’s understandable that a “yes” may not reflect that this resident actually wants to speak. Even if their provisions are in no way tied to their “yes”, the mere perception that it could be is a reflection of the role of power dynamics. We have learned much in this regard -and are still learning – but we wanted to share a few guiding principles we aim to adhere to and invite friends and fellow non-profits to add their own suggestions so we can grow better, together. Here is our current framework for raising awareness:ally wants

to speak.
  • Respect a “no”: The confidence to say no to someone in power is a reflection of empowerment and trust and we celebrate that. If a member of our community declines to share their story, we honor that fully.
  • Power Redistribution: We seek out opportunities to invite members of the community we serve in leadership positions, paid roles, and governing bodies such as the Board of Directors. Representation matters – especially representation in positions of power and leadership.
  • Framing the Invitation: Open ended invitations to a group allows people to “opt-in” rather than “opt-out” which lessens the compulsion to oblige out of guilt or fear.
  • Communicating the Invitation: Having someone with a more familiar relationship extend the invitation to share one’s story establishes a more balanced dynamic where our resident may feel more comfortable declining or genuinely accepting the invitation.
  • Mutuality: We encourage our volunteers to pursue relationships built on mutuality. Mutually giving, serving, listening, and praying for one another. When a relationship dynamic includes one person as the giver and the other as the receiver, it can lend to a sense of indebtedness which in future interactions – may stack the power distribution in such a way that one may not feel comfortable offering an authentic response to an ask of any kind.
  • Open Communication: Framing an ask by making clear the freedom to say no and that it will in no way affect the quality and quantity of services rendered or relationships is essential.
  • A Culture of Empowerment: Emphasizing and encouraging autonomy and agency in situations that are not tied to an ask with both our words and actions builds a culture of empowerment, unconditional love and unconditional respect. We regularly solicit feedback on our services and program from residents to inform program development.  Our residents have regular access to leadership and are invited to speak to our Board of Directors to share about their experience and inform our annual goals and budget.
  • People First Wording: When we classify people as the sum of the greatest tragedy and vulnerability they have endured, it shapes how they view themselves and how others view them. We prefer “those seeking asylum” to “asylum-seeker” for this reason.
  • Public Messaging: The ethos of helplessness has for many years been a primary focus of fundraising campaigns for non-profits as donors and volunteers are pitched the offer to step in and rescue. The effect of this approach is not empowering and fails to recognize the strength, giftings, and dignity of those we serve. For this reason, we aim to focus our resident’s storytelling not on the trauma they endured, but by highlighting their humanity and strength. 
  • Avoiding Coercion: Many of our residents feel a debt of gratitude for the services they receive through DASH. However, we never want to put a resident in a position where they feel pressured to consent to a photo release or storytelling opportunity because of the accommodations they receive through DASH. For this reason, we do not put photos on social media with any identifying features of current residents who’s asylum case has not yet been determined. This is both to protect their identity as well as their legal proceedings. For those who have been granted asylum and are looking for opportunities to share their story, we provide full disclosure of the use of their personal information, receive counsel and consent from their lawyer, and obtain written consent. 
  • All this to say, a lot of consideration goes into our annual storytelling event and our communication throughout the year. Raising awareness and support for a population of people who are fleeing persecution and trying to conceal their identities and whereabouts is a challenge! We love to amplify the voices of those with powerful stories of faith and courage while ensuring this act of sharing one’s story IS empowering and NOT exploitative. For this reason, we focus our efforts on this one event each year to dedicate a space to listen and invite our community to Stand With DASH. Will you consider lending of your time and your ear to hear from voices who are excited to share their story? Register or learn more about our annual Stand with DASH Event here.
– Monica Bharadwaj, Board President of DASH Network 

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