Statistics can be incredibly illuminating--but numbers alone rarely change hearts and minds.
That, at least, is the experience of Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, a global NGO.
Giving the keynote address on Friday at HubSpot's INBOUND conference in Boston, Clinton began by presenting data points about rights and opportunities for women and girls worldwide. Sobering and intriguing as the data was, Clinton noted it often takes more than data to persuade people and companies to open wallets or amend policies.
For example, she cited how the nation of Malawi banned childhood marriage in February. Though knowledge and data abounded about the perils of pre-teen marriages, the real key to banning the practice, said Clinton, was the personal, storytelling-based activism of Memory Banda, 18, whose younger sister, Mercy, was married at age 11 to a man in his thirties. "Impact starts with understanding what the stories are," said Clinton. "Memory does more in Malawi than we do."
Another example Clinton gave was the story of Malala Yousafzai, winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. As an advocate for Pakistani women and children since she was 11, when she wrote a BBC blog chronicling her life under Taliban rule, Yousafzai was shot by a Taliban gunman in 2012 for her views on girls' education. Through her storytelling in her first book, I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, and elsewhere, she's become a global advocate for the power and inspiration a lone voice can provide.
Clinton noted the importance of tailoring your storytelling to your particular audience--some people need data as part of the call to action. "Who are you trying to persuade, and what are you trying to persuade them to do?" advised Clinton.
What you want to avoid, she stressed, is what her mother, Hillary Clinton, calls "the glaze-over effect," wherein your listener reacts to your impassioned presentation as if you're speaking another language.
In her talk at INBOUND, Clinton's data points came from a research collaboration between the Clinton Foundation and the Gates Foundation. The result, released as a PDF in March called "The Full Participation Report," amounts to "the most data gathered around women's rights in the last 20 years," said Clinton.
Clinton did not hurry from one slide to the next. She let the data point remain on the screen, illustrating each one with a story, anecdote, or supplemental fact to make it more relatable. Here are a few examples:
- The U.S. is one of nine countries worldwide that doesn't provide for paid maternity leave.
To this, Clinton added that most of the other eight countries are "small island nation states in the South Pacific." The implication was that when it comes to maternity leave, the U.S. acts like a nation that has far fewer fiscal resources than it does.
- In the U.S., women make up the majority (52 percent) of moviegoers, but they are still underrepresented in Hollywood (7 percent) among directors.
"Even in cartoons, women characters speak only about 20 percent as much as the male characters do," Clinton said. And those characters, she added, were usually seen in relation to male protagonists. "They're a wife, daughter, a friend. Rarely are they the hero. This is why Frozen was a big deal," she added, referring to the 2014 animated film in which the hero characters were two sisters.
- Between 2011 and 2020, an estimated 140 million girls will marry before the age of 18. Of those, 50 million--or over 13,000 each day--will be under the age of 15.
Clinton followed this data point by stating that the United States is not exempt from this problem. "In Massachusetts it's legal to get married at 12 if the courts and the parents consent," she pointed out. "The laws on the books matter. We still have unfinished business here too."