At first look, Swissnex in India’s office looks like that of a young startup’s. An inspired team of 20 sit in its well-ventilated and sunlit premises in central Bengaluru, making sense of some of the biggest issues of our times—like better healthcare, sustainable use of resources, and digital transformation.
Swissnex in India connects startups, corporates, and universities in both countries, fostering an exchange of ideas, talent, and knowledge. And when we first began talking to them, the organisation felt that its audience did not really grasp its essence.
If one peels back all the complex layers of what it does, Swissnex in India’s role is to empower its stakeholders. But its stakeholders only saw a part of its identity and purpose, and from their own specific perspectives. Getting them to see the whole story, the organisation felt, would sound a lot more inspiring. That’s why, last summer, its leadership decided that they needed to learn storytelling to build a stronger identity and a deeper relationship with its audience, which includes researchers, professionals, and students.
They enrolled in The Ken’s Narrative Thinking Program in August last year. And by the end of October, they’d completed over 20 hours of training.
And in January this year, they had a milestone moment when the Swiss Ambassador to India announced a new Indo-Swiss innovation platform—to be spearheaded by Swissnex in India. “This is a significant success,” Jonas Brunschwig, CEO of the organization, says, “the narrative and the messaging we crafted whilst persuading him (President, Swiss National Science Foundation) was inspired by the (narrative thinking) program.”
Over the last few months, Swissnex in India has also seen a 30% increase in engagement on social media platforms. They have a better-defined identity as an organization and a more ambitious vision. And the programme’s participants feel that they are finally able to connect more deeply with their audiences.
The audience always comes first
Before starting the programme, Brunschwig felt that Swissnex in India’s communications sounded a little like an NGO doing great work, but just telling and not showing how significant that work was.
“We need to become better at communicating who we are and what we do. There is a disconnect between the awesomeness of our job and the boringness of how it could sound. And we want to change that,” he told us before the programme began.
Brunschwig wanted to champion the cause of India as a promising destination for corporates and universities in Switzerland, but was met with preconceived notions. “We need to tell the story of what’s exciting about collaborating with India, and craft a compelling argument for stakeholders in Switzerland. We need storytelling to explain what happened, what’s happening now, and what will happen with big-impact stories. We want to have better conversations with decision-makers, leverage that access, and use that influence. The better we are at storytelling, the better we will be at influencing,” he told The Ken’s Narrative Thinking team.
Now, after participating in the programme, Brunschwig feels they can articulate their vision better and explain the bigger picture to the audience. Swissnex in India always had a powerful story and purpose; now, it is better at showing it to its stakeholders. It is also successfully harnessing the power of each storyteller’s individuality to its benefit.
What makes a storyteller special is who they are
Right before the programme, Anju Edgar, Head of Communications, Swissnex in India, was entrusted with the responsibility of managing a global newsletter that would go out to over 5,000 readers in Switzerland. “The (narrative thinking) training gave me clarity on what I wanted to achieve. To make the content more relevant and relatable,” she says.
Last year, she had three challenges. The teams’ discomfort with long-form storytelling, the fact that the stories they published sounded like promotions, and the communication gaps between teams. She needed the organization to adopt a story-first approach when they talked about the work they did—not just sharing the technical perspective but also educating and inspiring its audiences.
She says she can see the results the training has delivered: “The narrative thinking programme has been a path-breaking for us in terms of how we looked at content. It has helped me think outside our older formats, helped me better understand what the readers want.” She has also noticed an improvement in email communication across the organization—they are now more relatable and simple. This, she adds, is no easy feat, because her colleagues are from an academic background and often use jargon.
Edgar now also pushes writers to include their personalities in their writing, which has become popular practice across Swissnex newsletters now, helping them form connections with their readers. She has also seen a jump in engagement on social media. The Linkedin engagement rate, she says, has increased by 30%. “Be it a simple social media post or something more important, people have now started thinking about the story, the storyteller, and the audience,” she said.
Edgar believes that there is a lot that the organization was doing before enrolling in the program, and there is a lot that she plans to execute in the coming years. But there is improvement in communication that is already visible. The team was always proud of and excited about their work, but now, they communicate that awesomeness a lot more confidently, Brunschwig adds.
The story is clearer
After completing the programme, participants say that they apply the principles they learnt—including concepts, mental models, and application techniques—every day, or at least multiple times a week.
Swetha Suresh, Head of Innovation, Swissnex in India, and scientist, feels that she is more patient with her writing now. “Not everyone has the same context. You expect internal and external stakeholders to have the same context level as you, but the programme taught me that’s impossible,” she says. The result is that she steps into the shoes of her audience before writing any email.
Similarly, Prajwala Ravikrishna, Academic Engagement Coordinator, feels that the most effective exercise they did in the workshop was getting the participants together and discussing Swissnex in India’s vision and mission statement. “We were trying to come up with a two-liner of what Swissnex was. It was great to hear how everyone saw Swissnex—this is who we are and what we do. The workshop helped each participant vocalize the mission and purpose of Swissnex in a more meaningful and simplified manner. There is no ambiguity anymore.”
The programme, she believes, was able to help them better connect the story to the audience. Earlier, she used to write long emails with paragraphs of context and then, in the end, tell the recipient what she needed, overwhelming her audience with too much information. But the program helped her rethink this approach. She added that she is now more mindful of getting to the point within the first few sentences.
Finally, Lena Robra, Head of Academic Engagement, says she sees the results of the programme in the response she receives for her LinkedIn posts now. A trained life sciences scientist, Robra says that most academicians like her are trained to describe what they see as it is. Dry and factual. But such a style of communication fails to resonate outside the academic community. Not only because it doesn’t interest laypersons, but also because not everyone has the same level of context.
“Now, I want my communication to sound interesting, and factual, and not blah. I’m writing an annual report and using the narrative thinking approach in the introduction and executive summaries,” she tells us.
If you, like Swissnex in India, want to enroll your team of leaders in this unique storytelling program with The Ken, apply here.
Disclaimer: The Ken’s learning vertical is not involved in editorial decisions.