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Listening to someone tell a story about their life has moved me and shifted my perspective, many times. Like hearing the South African sex worker, Sibongile, holding up a spoon, telling of her pride at being able to put food on the table for her family, and her worry about what they’d think if they knew where the money came from. Our individual stories and the collective narratives we share, carry deep truths. They are powerful. But it’s a power that has often been neglected. My work is all about helping people and organizations understand and use the power of listening, story, narrative and creativity, to transform systems and create a more just world for us all.   

Brett pic.jpeg

I'm Brett Davidson

My manifesto


  • Human thinking is embodied: our thinking is fundamentally shaped by our bodies, physical identities and the way in which we exist and move in space and time. 

  • Listening is crucial. If we want to live in a democracy, we need to prioritize listening, and value it as much as speaking.

  • If we want to change others, we also need to at least be open to the possibility of being changed by our interactions with them.

  • Emotion is integral to human cognition. We cannot think, and we certainly cannot make decisions, without feeling. 

  • Human thinking is social. There is a vast body of research showing that our thinking is profoundly influenced and shaped by our social connections and affinities. This has obvious downsides, as it can lead us to reject obvious facts in favor of buying into a group delusion. But we do need to think both together with others, and with others in mind. 

  • Stories and narrative are central to human communication. 

  • Through descriptive language, music, sounds and images, stories engage our senses and our embodied thinking. 

  • Storytelling is a social activity: we tell stories to and for one another and stories themselves are almost always about characters in social situations. 

  • Stories are also incredibly rich—combining emotion, factual information and various forms of tacit knowledge, often in deceptively simple ways. 

  • A strategy is a story we tell ourselves about who we are, what our aim or purpose is, why it’s important, and how we think we can achieve it. 

  • Creativity, humour, play and fun open our thinking to new possibilities.

  • When shocking events occur, we try to understand them using stories we already know well. 

  • We need to be prepared, to understand what happens in the narrative terrain when shocking events happen and  to be ready to act when they do.

  • Actions speak louder than words.

  • If we want to create a more just and sustainable world, we need to focus on transforming systems, more than individual behavior change.

  • Our communication plans and strategies need to take into account all of the above. 

Professional Summary

I am a New York-based strategist working with foundations and nonprofits interested in using the power of narrative and creativity for social transformation. For over a decade I led an international team at the Open Society Foundations’ Public Health Program, using creative strategies to transform unjust systems impacting the health of people facing systemic racism, stigma and discrimination. With our support, Roma feminist actors in Romania used experimental theatre to challenge longstanding stereotypes, and creative campaigning by British doctors prevented the the National Health Service from sharing migrants’ personal data with immigration authorities. 


Our workshops helped health activists think more like artists, so they could reach far more people and move them to action with humor and public spectacles. We organized trainings for sex workers and drug users and people living with HIV in Kenya, Turkey, South Africa and Ukraine, so they could use strategic storytelling to push for better laws and policies. We funded the Sex Workers’ Opera, which played to rave reviews in London, and produced an award-winning documentary - From Durban to Tomorrow - highlighting AIDS activism around the world. 


Before joining OSF, I was a media consultant to civil society organizations across Southern and Eastern Africa. I trained budding citizen journalists in blogging and social media skills. I helped plan a media stunt that got the governments of Kenya and Uganda to commit to ending medicine shortages in public clinics. I went into consulting after working as a program manager at the South African democracy institute IDASA, where I helped community radio stations develop participatory news and current affairs programming and improve their reporting on local government. And before that, I was a presenter and producer in radio current affairs at the South African Broadcasting Corporation, and in collaboration with the BBC World Service. My show, PM Live, was the South African equivalent of All Things Considered on National Public Radio in the U.S. 

“Brett brings the mind of a strategist, the soul of an activist, and the savvy of a trained journalist to help people frame challenging issues and make change.  I have seen him work his magic with the smallest  NGOs and with large, established institutions.  For me and others with long experience in public health, he has also been the best kind of teacher—kind, creative, adaptive and reminding us all of the incredible power of narrative to inspire action and reimagine the possible." 

- Daniel Wolfe: Director, community health and criminal justice, OSF (2017-2021)

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