Heartlines bids for social intervention with new campaign


“The basic concept is to inspire people to get to know each other’s stories. Getting to know more about each other’s stories provides a non-threatening way to begin the process of moving beyond stereotypes to building understanding.” – Dr Garth Japhet

With the objective of fostering links of communication and understanding between people of different races and cultures, Heartlines has embarked on a mass media campaign to channel social cohesion in communities.

“Twenty-three years post South Africa’s first democratic election, many people are still divided by race ethnicity and to a lesser degree religion,” asserts Dr Garth Japhet, the founder of Heartlines.

Dr Japhet and his team at the non-governmental organisation Heartlines decided to undergo a three-year research process, striving to find ways to bring different groups of people together in a neutral space for engagement to take place.

After struggling to find models of mass approach strategies to attest to, the team developed a simple, yet profound intervention sparked by the intriguing question: What’s your story?

“The basic concept is to inspire people to get to know each other’s stories. Getting to know more about each other’s stories provides a non-threatening way to begin the process of moving beyond stereotypes to building understanding. Understanding can lead to greater trust, reconciliation and greater social cohesion,” shares Dr Japhet on his findings.

The documentary film, Beyond the River is wholly-owned by Heartlines and is said to be the leading element to this mass campaign. The film is based on the real-life story of how two men (Siseko Ntondini and Piers Ctuickshanks) from different walks of life came together through sports. The pair competed in one of the toughest canoe marathons in the world and won gold in the 2014 Dusi.

Since the release of the film, the story has received great acclaim in the film festival circuit and will soon be available on TV and VOD. Furthermore and in keeping with Heartlines’ project goal, the film will be used for community viewings and discussion and will also form the basis of the campaign’s resources.

“Critics believe that this is possibly the best film to come out of South Africa in the past 20 years. It has been an event in South Africa and already has unprecedented pre-sales to companies and schools. The debate and discussion that the film catalyses, has created a supportive environment for What’s your story?,” says Dr Japhet.

Heartlines uses scenes from the film and has also developed other practical tools which enable the implementation of the concept in different settings. So far, the ‘practical packs’ have been adopted in over 400 organisations that include 300 places of faith, 47 workplaces, as well as in high schools and tertiary institutions.

There has also been a What’s your story? activation for leaders of business which commenced with leaders in the advertising industry and involved a two-day residential engagement.

“This is an intervention that uses personal storytelling as a tool to build bridges between key leaders of a system in order to solve their critical issues. A ‘system’ can be any group, institution, industry or community where improved performance would make a positive difference to transform our country’s social and/or economic progress,” Dr Japhet explains.

Besides leaders, ordinary citizens are encouraged to upload their stories to the web portal. “The web portal enables people to upload their own stories, which we then curate. However, not all the stories that are uploaded will be published,” shares Dr Japhet.

In addition, negotiations are underway with News24 to include the What’s your story? site on the News24 stable, similar to the likes of Beautiful News, in order to reach a far greater audience.

Quizzical Pictures, who have been Heartlines’ production partners, are also currently developing a 13-part docu-reality series for What’s your story? which will air on SABC1 in September next year.

“It takes us up to four years to fully develop a new intervention of which either a feature film or TV series is part of. The issues that we tackle tend to be ones that are of importance to all our people and connect to a positive set of values,” Dr Japhet says.

What’s your story? has since appealed to the Thundafund crowdfunding platform to see to it that 1-million voices result in 1-million stories with the help of supporters. Heartlines has set a 1 million rand dream goal but has only received 31 backers and over R54-thousand in pledges so far.

“I think that it’s been great in terms of awareness. However what we do is not tangible enough for a lot of people, which makes it difficult to fund. People prefer things like funding a building or a product through crowdfunding. However we remain hopeful,” concludes Dr Japhet.

For more information on the campaign contact debbie@heartlines.org.za

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Gezzy S. Sibisi is a senior journalist at Screen Africa. She is experienced in print, broadcast and digital media. Her portfolio of work includes working as a lifestyle reporter as well as contributing business and education articles to The Times, Sowetan, and Daily Dispatch publications. As a freelancer, she has worked on content development for corporate newsletters, community newspapers, blogs and educational websites.


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