The Power of Storytelling | Oxfam’s Hunger Banquet experience

June 19, 2017

Oxfam America is a global movement that has been actively engaged in the fight against poverty for over 70 years. By targeting the key issues of inequality, discrimination, and unequal access to resources (food, water, and land), Oxfam seeks to rectify the injustice of poverty and realize their vision of an equal, just world. To this end, their mission seeks to create sustainable solutions to poverty, hunger, and social injustice. Oxfam funds programs to foster compassion and understanding. They seek to mitigate the devastating effects of disasters on communities, the kind of circumstances that make the poor even poorer. And they vigorously campaign for reform, using their voices to change the laws and practices that keep people trapped in the cycle of poverty.

Oxfam galvanizes communities into action, providing a platform for supporters to change the world. And I encountered an ingenious, community-centric opportunity available through Oxfam to their supporters. It’s called a Hunger Banquet, and it’s so much more than a call to action. An Oxfam Hunger Banquet is a chance for increased education, understanding, and awareness of privilege. Potentially, it can be a deeply transformative experience with a profound, lasting impact.

So what is it? An experiential dinner and fundraising opportunity that those who are part of Oxfam’s community, or want to be, can choose to attend or host. Hosting may seem like a daunting endeavor, but Oxfam’s informative website provides clear instructions, both on the site itself and via a downloadable toolkit containing all the details. Downloading the toolkit is the first step to making a Hunger Banquet happen, and help and support are available throughout the entire planning process. Oxfam pays the tab but hopes for support in the form of donations.

What does a Hunger Banquet dining room look like? The meal itself is rife with symbolic inequality on all possible levels, and it doesn’t just stop at income disparity, either. Attendees are randomly assigned to high, middle, and low tiers. High tier diners may enjoy pasta carbonara while middle diners serve themselves a portion of rice and beans, and the lower diners barely get by on a small serving of rice alone.  Disasters, like drought and job loss, could “strike” at any moment, downgrading attendees to lower tiers. Read about one woman’s experience here. She captures it better than I ever could, because she’s been there.

Naturally, after the dinner is over, people return to their homes, to their full fridges and cupboards and pantries — daily life as they know it. But hopefully, their lived experience; their own fresh, personal narrative and story they’ve got to tell, not to mention their awareness, strengthens their resolve beyond just one night.

If Oxfam ticked off hunger statistics and expected their donors to respond, what would happen? Not much. What about bringing supporters into the fold, deep into the mission, in a truly meaningful and interactive way? How are you bringing your donors to the stage?


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