Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Lisa Consiglio of Narrative 4 Is Helping To Change Our World

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Leadership is the ability to simply be there for others. It is the possibility of standing up and taking the blows for other people. But it’s also the ability to take a step back and let others shine when things are going well. In other words, it is the ability to subsume yourself in the knowledge that others will eventually be the ones to lead. In the end, leadership is about humility.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Consiglio.

Lisa Consiglio is CEO and Co-Founder of Narrative 4, which she launched in 2013 but began envisioning in 2004. For over thirty years, she has dedicated her career to developing powerful organizations that transform the lives of their clients and constituencies. She has applied her leadership skills — in management, fundraising, marketing and business communications — to a wide web of organizations that is connected by a dedication to humanistic ideals. Deeply committed to a belief in the power of stories, her professional experience spans the arts, education, technology, cancer research, public policy and honoring WWII veterans. She has lived in Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Maryland, Georgia, Washington, DC, France, Hong Kong, Australia, Colorado, Illinois, and is now happily ensconced in New York City.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I won a very rare lottery ticket early in life. Both of my parents are from the mountains of rural Tennessee in the heart of Appalachia. Their parents believed in the power of education and emphasized learning with relentless determination. My mom and dad left their rural community, and each went on to receive two Masters’ degrees. When my father received his Ph.D., he made the front page of the local newspaper. Their focus on my own education was just as dogged, but they had limited funds living in an expensive, urban location. The luck of the draw came when my mother was offered a job as a Physical Education teacher at a private school in Atlanta. Almost overnight my parents could afford what had been stratospherically out of reach and I was immediately exposed to facets of education that many do not have access to — art, technology, sports, travel, culture and language. I was introduced to stories and experiences at a very early age, which ignited my imagination.

I co-founded Narrative 4, a global education nonprofit that helps cultivate compassion and community through storytelling, because I believe that we have all the technology we need to connect, equip and embolden young people in inspired ways. Narrative 4 is artist driven, educator shaped and student led. And as deeply appreciative as I am of my early education and all the opportunities I was afforded, I wish Narrative 4 had been in my classrooms. To gain access to so many stories and points of view in a safe, strategic and sustainable manner is not only necessary, but a heck of a lot of fun. I’m fortunate to have great parents who recognize the importance of education and to work with the greatest people on the planet and to continue to learn from them every single day.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Narrative 4 was created to harness the incredible power of young people through art, education and action. In 2014, we hosted our third annual global summit and included students and educators for the first time. I remember seeing these incredible young people from a dozen countries converge on the campus of Yale University on a very hot late-June day. They seemed so different from one another and unsure of what to say or do or how to act. Some of the kids were extroverted and engaging with each other while some hung back and watched. Others were almost painfully disconnected.

I could tell who the leaders would be within hours. Or so I thought.

We opened the first day with some icebreakers, including a Marshmallow Challenge. Participants were separated into groups of ten and given string, tape, noodles, sticks and marshmallows. Each group consisted of a mix of artists, educators and students. Ishmael Beah, an author and human rights activist from Sierra Leone, sat on the floor next to a teacher from Mexico and a student from Chicago. Colum McCann, award winning author and Narrative 4 co-founder, laughed alongside a teacher from South Africa and a student from Newtown, Connecticut. Each group had 20 minutes to build their Marshmallow tower. The competition was stiff. As the minutes passed, the cacophony grew. One group had more than their share of “the extroverts,” and they grew louder as their marshmallow tower fell time and again.

What happened next has become legend at Narrative 4: the shy boy from Ireland — who everyone pegged as the quiet one, the timid one, the follower, the one who needed to be protected — put his head down as the extroverts debated, and in four minutes had the tallest marshmallow tower in the room.

It was a small moment. A short story. And a game-changing lesson for me. I learned a lot about judgment that day. About voice, story, life, action, power, influence, respect. And about leadership, which comes in a variety of forms.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The list is long and not so distinguished. I’ve been fundraising (or “fun-raising” as the case may be) for over thirty-five years. I try to be meticulous about donor profiles and research and understanding the actual person versus their potential donation amount.

One of the great visionaries behind Narrative 4 was Jacklyn “Jackie” Bezos, Jeff Bezos’ mom and an incredible force of nature. Jackie runs the Bezos Family Foundation alongside her amazing husband, Mike. At the time I first reached out to her to ask for funding, I was living in Colorado and running an organization that I would leverage in myriad ways in order to create Narrative 4 — I was juggling several projects. So, when I wrote my first outreach letter, I used the salutation “Dear Jackie and Jeff” rather than “Dear Jackie and Mike.” I like to think Jackie laughed at this blunder, but when I realized my mistake, I was mortified at not having done enough research.

I learned a valuable lesson: whether you are asking for donations from the mother of the founder of Amazon or the mother of a student in Tampico, get to know the person. Take pride in the ask and everything that might come of it.

Today, I consider Jackie, one of the strongest people I’ve ever met, to be an amazing friend and mentor.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Narrative 4 brings together people from vastly different backgrounds and provides a platform to share their stories and build compassion by putting themselves in each other’s shoes. I have seen young people in Limerick, Ireland, walking together in groups that would have once been foreign to one another. I have met women in South Africa who know firsthand that the power of storytelling leads to incredible change. I have walked in the hollers of Kentucky, listening to generations of storytellers refusing to accept the decline of the world. I have seen stories lead to action, and in turn break down some of the most intractable problems of our time.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I’ve personally been impacted and helped by Narrative 4. Every story that is told, every voice I hear, every idea that comes across my desk and every action taken — no matter how big or small — has made an impression on me. I am constantly learning from my colleagues around the world. I created Narrative 4 and it created me.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Listen first. Then feel. And then act.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is the ability to simply be there for others. It is the possibility of standing up and taking the blows for other people. But it’s also the ability to take a step back and let others shine when things are going well. In other words, it is the ability to subsume yourself in the knowledge that others will eventually be the ones to lead. In the end, leadership is about humility.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.

  1. It’s just as good to listen as it is to talk.
  2. All things that are excellent will also be difficult.
  3. The ability to fail is one of the great human traits.
  4. Life will be a lot of fun at the age of 55.
  5. It’s always a good idea to over-tip.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe in the theory of emergence. In other words, we are greater than the sum of our parts. If we work together — like birds in a flock — we can have profound influence on the trajectory of our community or our nation.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A friend of mine says that one of the greatest lines belongs to Samuel Beckett, and I tend to agree: “No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Anyone who can make me laugh despite it all. Tina Fey, Trevor Noah, David Sedaris to name a few.

How can our readers further follow your work online?





This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Lisa Consiglio of Narrative 4 Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.