A storyteller who loves words and numbers equally, Debleena Majumdar is passionate about learning, impact investing, and start-ups. When she came down for the Pune International Literary Festival, The Tilak Chronicle got a chance to talk to her about co-founding ‘Kahaniyah’ and the power of stories. Excerpts:
Tell us about Kahaniyah and the concept of ‘storifying’.
I have a background of finance and statistics, and I have worked for 17-18 years in finance before moving into impact investing. Earlier, I worked for big companies, then I moved to start-ups. What I realised was the common thread in what makes you successful in terms of people listening to you –that thread is storytelling.
We believe that only very creative people can be storytellers, but that’s not the case. Start-up founders, corporate leaders as well as data analysts can all be good story tellers.
Data analysts have a lot of data and it is quite confusing when you try to analyse it and make a summary out of it. However, storifying it helps you understand it better as the same information is presented in a very interesting manner. The number of start-ups is increasing and the question before all of them is how to be compelling and stand out. So, the start-up needs to be marketed effectively. I have been working in the social impact space, so I try and do my best to support sectors such as healthcare, education and water through ‘Kahaniyah’. I believe that unless these issues are solved, India will never progress.
The corporate world can look up to leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Subhashchandra Bose who were very powerful storytellers which helped them reach out and connect with the masses. Somehow, I feel that this is lost in the corporate sector due to Powerpoint or ten rules of everything. At Kahaniyah, we help companies and individuals to find, tell and live the best version of their stories.
What drives you to building stories?
Growing up in Calcutta in the 1980s, we used to experience load-shedding. During power cuts, my father used to tell us stories. When the lights would come back on, I used to be very reluctant to come back to the real world. Those evening stories stayed with me as vivid memories and I always looked back and remembered them when things were not going well or when I was bored.
I will never forget the power of a story.
While I worked in the corporate sector on the weekdays, I would sing and write during the weekends. However, I felt like I was two different persons, and I always wondered why I should have to be so. Eventually, I was to combine these two sides of me; storytelling acted as the glue between the two persons I was.
I read this book called ‘Lead with a Story’ which my husband gifted to me and it influenced me a lot. The book covers corporate leaders who have become successful through developing stories. It made me realise that there are others out there who are on a quest for developing stories and I am not alone in this journey. I was doing things unconsciously but then I began to do them deliberately.
You are as passionate about words as about numbers. How does that enhance your storytelling
That is a very good question. Initially I thought of it as a limitation but later I realised it isn’t. I was not one of those kids who would only sit and write; I loved math a lot. I also took up a profession related to numbers, so for a long time, I thought I wasn’t a natural writer. Working in finance taught me that numbers by themselves don’t mean much unless interpreted with deeper analysis. If I say, for instance, that 80% of the people like some book, it does not tell much unless I give more details stating why they like the book, who are the ones who do and don’t etc.
Numbers hide a lot of stories behind them. There is a space where words and numbers co-exist. There are those who think that a graph without a narrative context is enough and then there are those who are good with words but scared of numbers. I think a blend of the two works really well.
This opened up two spaces for me: one, Kahaniyah and two, investigative journalism. I write for ET Prime and other papers. I do not react to news; I look at balance sheets, investment reports and craft a story based on my analysis. I do interview people as well, but I use data to validate my story.
How did 15 years of corporate experience help you conceive and run Kahaniyah?
I couldn’t have co-founded Kahaniyah if I didn’t have those experiences. I used to work in big company before this which taught me to grow. Individuals or companies are always trying to find stories. The outermost circle is of the customers, the product to be sold etc. The inner circle is about the experiences and challenges faced, and weaving this story involves living them. Mindfulness, humour… these could be used to deal with such experiences and challenges. However, most people skip the outermost circle and start selling the story.
Now, if you haven’t found the right story to tell, there is likely to be a conflict. My experience in the corporate sector taught me this. The framework which I have developed makes it very easy for others who are starting out their journey in storytelling.
What can we expect in the next chapter of your own story?
Wow, loved that question! Another company which I have co-founded, ‘Story Ed’, as well as one of the sessions I take, called ‘the unwritten story’ are the next chapters of my story.
Through ‘Story Ed’ we help at-risk youth, who are neither in formal education nor in formal employment, get access to school leaving certification and initial income through a storified platform.
I finally feel that I have found my story. I am passionate about words and numbers and wish to weave a story by using both. Also, I will continue to work in the education sector. To be productive, one does not need to be a part of the formal education system. We really believe that education is a very big concern for India and if we do it right, there is scope to bring about change.
I will also continue investigative journalism because as you meet people and ask them questions you also a learn a lot. Kahaniyah will continue too. Fiction or non-fiction, writing is very integral to me and I will continue doing it.
The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.