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Promoting change by pointing people in new directions - Rob Burnet from Well Told Story

Well Told Story uses various forms of media and a group of fictional characters to tell stories aimed at young people in Kenya. The message they are trying to get across is that each individual needs to step up and help themselves to build a better future.

Rob Burnet, Managing Director, Well Told Story is clearly passionate about promoting change in the country. Throughout this talk Rob explains why the concept has had so much success and shares a few examples. He is both entertaining and inspiring.

Rob has lived in Kenya for over 20 years and is determined to improve the future of the country. He now runs a company called Well Told Story. They have created a series of fictional characters to appeal to young Kenyans and use many different forms of media to get their stories heard.

They are most famous for a free monthly comic book. Although this doesn’t sound like much to us here, in East Africa it is totally unique. Rob estimates there are about 6.5 million young people reading it regularly.

The main character in all the stories is a boy who hacks into radio stations to get his message to listeners so the company has a radio presence as well. They also of course make use of all forms of social media. Essentially the company has created an entire make-believe world which young people can either just view from the outside or take an active part in.

This sounds like a bit of fun for all involved but the reason it has been so successful is that the company really focuses on what is important to young people in Africa – sex and money. Their strategy has been to really get to know their audience. The office is full of young Kenyans who talk to other young Kenyans and as a result they really know what matters to them. They use themes such as sport, romance and making money to write stories about crucial topics such as budgeting, entrepreneurism, keeping livestock, changing climate, better school, talking to authority – the list is endless.

Change cannot happen overnight and Rob calls the process required the “Change Continuum”. He uses smoking to illustrate this:


Many years ago people didn’t know smoking was bad for them so the first stage was to let them know


We all now know smoking is bad for us but many people still smoke so the second stage is to get people to feel some kind of personal connection to the message – “smoking is actually bad for me, not just in general”


I have decided to give up smoking – maybe I’ll do so in the new year


Telling yourself you have made a decision is very easy to go back on. Some sort of action such as telling your mum solidifies your intentions


I have quit smoking and I won’t start again

Change is a journey and not everyone starts in the same place. All the different forms of media used by Well Told Story are useful at different steps along the way. Some people are also much more receptive to change. Some hear their stories and straight away leap on board – he calls these “innovators”. He refers to a second group of people as “persuadables”. These are not quite ready to take any action but do seem to take on board the message and are interested. However, the vast majority of people are not at all interested in change, in fact Rob says many seem to positively resent it. In order for long term change to stick the company champions the innovators, encourages the persuadables and increasingly focuses on making the vast majority more aware in the hope that even if they are not yet ready to actually change themselves, at least they are not anti-change in others.



Rob Burnet was a key speaker at Wavelength Connect event Reconnect 2 – Making Change Happen 2013. To view more videos from this event go to Reconnect 2 – Making Change Happen 2013

Click on the link to view more videos from Rob Burnet.



Well Told Story combines the power of good stories with strategy, creativity, deep analysis and hard science, to design and produce communications that spur positive social changes that can be proved and measured.

They create innovative media of their own which reach and engage millions of people every month. They advise and support public and private sector organisations to use good communication to amplify their impact, create efficiency and achieve their goals.

They work only with organisations they believe in and audiences they care about, and they ensure that everything they do creates tangible, shared value for their audiences, their partners, and themselves.

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