The idea of ethical storytelling has come increasingly to the forefront in recent years. Sophie Otiende is a survivor of human trafficking and now works as an advocate for survivors of these crimes. She is the perfect person to speak about ethical storytelling — describing herself as a teacher, feminist, and advocate. Coming to the show all the way from Kenya, Sophie offers a unique perspective informed through experience.

She helps us understand how this work starts at a personal level as well as the importance of authentic representation. She has a passion for smaller, grassroots organizations, believing these to be the ones that actually bring about real change. Sophie talks about how work on an individual level is what creates mass movements and structural impact in the long run and that is it only through more empathy that we will see meaningful shifts in the way the world works. The conversation also covers the long-lasting effects of small actions and how a steady and committed attitude to one’s role as a positive force is the most important thing we can all do. For a truly inspirational conversation with a clear thinker and change-maker, be sure click one of the links below to hear the full podcast:

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Key Points From This Episode

Sophie’s personal story

Sophie was trafficked at the age of 13. Although she knew what happened was wrong, she didn’t have a word to describe it. Her family was poor and her parents had no way to access justice to hold anyone accountable for what happened to her. She began volunteering to help other victims at 16, and it was only when she turned 28 that she found out the abuse she had gone through had a name: Human Trafficking. This realization was a moment of justice for her. (Listen to her full story here)

Justice can take many forms.

The criminal justice system doesn’t think about the victims of crimes- it gives someone else the power to decide if someone was abused or not. The legal process can be very painful for survivors and in the end it may not facilitate healing just to see someone go to jail. Trauma makes you think you are alone. Therefore, coming back into the community can be much more powerful than seeing your perpetrator go to jail.

Why grassroots organizations are often the most effective

In Sophie’s experience, smaller, more passionate groups are the ones waking up in the middle of the night to go argue with the police to get someone out of an abusive situation. Sophie’s previous work at Haart is motivated by the empathy she feels for survivors of abuse, and she works to provide them what she would have wanted to facilitate healing and access to justice when she most needed it.

Saving an individual vs dismantling the system

By focusing on only one person at a time, you can build up and eventually break the system. Sophie believes that it is only by helping the individuals that we have a chance at resolving the system — and that the ends do not justify the means. Pursuing the greater good is the very reason why systems end up marginalize certain segments of the population — because at the end of the day the majority is still having a good time.

Stories are your most effective weapon. Here are the four steps to telling ethical stories:

  1. Understand your responsibility as a storyteller and the power that you have
  2. Constantly ask yourself whose story you are telling and why you’re telling it
  3. Ask yourself what voices you are including and excluding and why. Figure out which voices need to be centered and shift it to the person who owns that story.
  4. Remember the story (probably) doesn’t belong to you, even if you are the one reaping the rewards for it.

Sophie is raising funds RIGHT NOW:

Sophie is passionate about survivor leadership and engagement and is working with survivors in Kenya to advocate for more engagement. Reach out to her to either support financially or give expertise!

Sophie’s request for the world:

Tap into your empathy. Realize your interconnectedness to every single aspect of the world and allow this to inform your actions. Everything you do impacts others, and thus we must be more responsible with our way of living.

Check out Sophie’s website and twitter to keep up with her work.


“We do the worst things when we are in private, it is not in public that the most harm is being done, it is in our private relationships.” — @sophieotiende[0:02:39]

“I am slowly learning that the best way to move forward is just to remember that it is not about you, you are not that important. But you are also important!” — @sophieotiende[0:05:55]

“I am keen on access to justice and how we define justice.” — @sophieotiende[0:08:15]

“We live in a world where when someone suffers abuse, we don’t question the quality of care that they get and we almost expect them to be grateful for whatever they are offered.” — @sophieotiende[0:20:55]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode

Benjamin Von Wong
Impact Everywhere
Sophie Otiende
Donate to Haart’s current campaign
Sophie Otiende on Twitter
Danielle Da Silva
Photographers Without Borders
Nora Rahimian

Coming Up Next

Tune in next week to hear from culture hacker Nora Rahimian on risk and privilege. She has extensive experience in social services, but has pivoted from counseling individuals to helping shift culture through art- namely music. Subscribe here to be sure you don’t miss it, and feel free to drop a rating here so we can expand our web of impact.