Our Co-founder, Jingyun (Iris) Pi, reflects on Stories To Action’s founding journey and personal experience during Stories To Action’s first year and the future ahead.
Back in January 2020, when COVID hit China, I was transitioning between jobs. I was planning to work for an international non-governmental organization (INGO) outside China. Due to COVID, I couldn’t travel overseas. I felt I was stuck, but thought the epidemic would end soon. On the contrary, the epidemic became a pandemic, the whole world locked down, and global travel was restricted. I was in a very bad mood, stressed out and depressed. My plans were messed up, and I cried a lot over what happened to me, to society, and to the whole world. I was so angry and felt powerless everytime I read domestic and international news.
At this very special moment in time, I learned about an innovation hack opportunity on Facebook, organized by Youth Sustainable Impact (YSI). Here I was able to learn, meet new people, and act instead of complaining. At the YSI innovation hack I met Sanne, my fellow Co-founder, who shares the same passion with me about Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).
We connected online through messages and calls to brainstorm about what we want to achieve. We discussed the structure it would be and how we would do it, etc. What surprised me was the way in which we, two young persons based in different countries who had never met each other in person, could hit it off so well. Sanne is a very open-minded and positive person who loves to share her thoughts and disagreements very openly like I do. So, even if we don’t know each other well and have some disagreements at times, we can communicate and collaborate well, which has enabled us to launch and run Stories to Action (StA). What’s more amazing is we share the same ambition and motivation to make a sustainable impact on SRHR among youth, especially during this pandemic.
'What surprised me was the way in which we, two young persons based in different countries who had never met each other in person, could hit it off so well.'
At first, I didn’t expect to have StA and go this far, but after teaming up with Sanne, we were joined by four more team members who are smart and have strong entrepreneurial spirits. We continued brainstorming and strengthening our structure and processes. As a team of six, we formulated our vision of a world where every young person’s voice on their sexual and reproductive health and rights is heard, and in which youth have equal access to SRHR services, information and resources, even in times of public health emergencies like COVID-19, and in which they and their stories shape global action on SRHR. We aligned on our mission of amplifying youth voices on SRHR during COVID-19, collecting quantitive and qualitive data to advocate for social change and progress on SRHR to meet the needs of youth during COVID and future similar crises, and to be rooted in the local and connected to the global. And we shared the same goal to make StA a long-term initiative rather than just a temporary project and be the future change-maker in the field of youth SRHR.
We were planning to prepare further and better, which meant that we didn’t make it to the pitch stage in the first YSI innovation hack in general social entrepreneurship. However,on 15th April, 2020, one month later, we were where we wanted to be, and smoothly launched StA in the second YSI Innovation Hack, focusing on women empowerment and health improvement in COVID, co-hosted with Plan International Norway and Accenture. This time, we successfully made our first pitch, where we introduced StA to the world through our self-made video sharing why we founded StA and how we got here, answered relevant questions from the professional panel consisting of experts from the field of SRHR and social entrepreneurship and innovation, and got recognized by them. During the whole process from the first Innovation Hack to the second, and even after, we received huge encouragement and support from the YSI community— ,for which I am grateful to this day.
Several months later, we experienced our first internal crisis, which many social enterprises might have had like us in the early stage of entrepreneurship: life happened (as life does – especially during a global pandemic), and 3 of our colleagues decided to leave StA, which, despite being very understandable, was a big hit for the team. This led me, Sanne Thijssen, and Alex Bekker, our Strategic Advisor, to internally reflect on how we could better cope with such changes in the future. After weathering the storm, we once again expanded our team, recruiting more young people who share the same passion and motivation to make a global impact on SRHR and youth.
'It’s the voices of youth from various backgrounds that are making the real difference here.'
We are where we are thanks to the commitment and hard work of all contributors along the way: Since launching one year ago, we have published 32 articles covering topics on COVID, abortion, menstrual health, birth control, teen pregnancy and healthcare on SRHR, amongst others, authored by youth hailing from Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya, Poland, China, Colombia, Nepal, and Belgium, and beyond. We have 2507 website users from 116 regions and countries according to our website data generated from 8th April 2020 to 14th April 2021, including users from the United States, Pakistan, Netherlands, China, United Kingdom, Kenya, India, Germany, United Arab Emirates, and Norway. We have over 700 followers and likes on Facebook, one of our many social channels, and have worked with a wide range of local, regional and international organizations such as Dastaan, Asia Safe Abortion, Gynopedia, Multicultral Women’s Dialogue, and China Youth Network, etc. StA was featured at the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth (UNMGCY) Youth Initiative Platform along with other youth-led organizations.
As I write this article, I realized that it’s the great job done by our team and the support we receive from our partners and people we never even met that made today’s StA. It’s the voices of youth from various backgrounds that are making the real difference here. While reflecting on the past year, I recalled having heard that the pandemic is a challenge, but also an opportunity for us all, and we should make good use of it instead of complaining. It’s the perfect time to question, reflect, make changes and make the world better. Just like an old Chinese saying said, there are opportunities in crisis, and they coexist.
In the COVID crisis I have noticed more and more youth stepping up to contribute their time and effort to make the world better through voluntary work, using technology, and starting initiatives in the areas of women empowerment, health enhancement, and anti-racism, etc. Youth are using their voices and actions to build the world they envision. Let’s all keep up the good work, persist, and experience the ups and downs together. And every time we want to quit, remember there are hundreds of thousands of people like us based in all parts of the world trying our best to fight against injustice and discriminations, make our dreams come true and make the world better, and better, and better.