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Shifting the Narrative

Changing mindsets about rights & the economy in South Africa

Shifting the Narrative


South Africa


Our Shifting the Narrative workstream explores new ways of talking about the economy and its links to human rights. By developing and testing new ways of framing these issues, we aim to increase public support for progressive economic policies that allow everyone to live with dignity.

The deeply entrenched narrative that the free market is better equipped than the State to distribute resources efficiently is a huge obstacle to transforming the economy. Despite mountains of evidence proving it false, this story has stuck.

How we talk about issues deeply impacts the attitudes we hold and what we perceive as possible. Research shows that humans aren’t completely rational beings that respond only to facts, the parts of our brains that relate to emotions and instincts also help us make sense of the world. These are precisely the parts that stories deeply influence. Who holds power is shaped by and shapes dominant narratives, making narratives an important tool in struggles for economic justice. 

First iteration: Shifting the Narrative South Africa

Shifting the Narrative South Africa was a project developed during 2022 and 2023 by CESR in alliance with the Fight Inequality Alliance South Africa (FIA) and the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Social Change (CSC), with support from the Open Society Foundations.

This project explored how the theories and methods of narrative change and strategic communications could be used by South African social movement activists and community leaders.

Through a reference group and broader affiliates network, we found and tested several tactics and recommendations to shift how people think about the economy and human rights in the South African context.

The insights and learnings we gained during the project are now available below in a report and toolkit for everyone, anywhere, interested in creating narrative change.