21. Oct 2021

Storytellers generate ideas for raising diabetes awareness in India

Storytellers generate ideas for raising diabetes awareness in India

Gwendolyn Carleton
The Diabetes Storytelling Lab produced eight innovative ideas, two of which received funding. Now, Lab participants are working to bring their ideas to life.
Diabetes Storytelling Lab participants during an online session.

For four weeks, more than 40 storytellers and healthcare representatives gathered online to explore ideas for creative communication products to improve diabetes awareness in India. They were selected for their qualifications and enthusiasm, taught innovation methodology, and inspired by guest speakers including Dr Anil Kapur, Chairman of the World Diabetes Foundation, Rohit Gandhi, journalist and filmmaker, and Rhea Lobo, TB activist and journalist. 

The result of all that input and effort? Eight innovative ideas for harnessing storytelling to address India’s enormous diabetes burden. 

On October 16, the Diabetes Storytelling Lab concluded with pitches from eight teams consisting of three to five participants. The pitches explored how diabetes has become a persistent health challenge in India, and then proposed a variety of innovative ideas for addressing it. 

Educating Indians about diabetes prevention and public advocacy campaigns emerged as two clear themes. The ideas were:

•    Ok Tata Horn Please, an initiative to improve diabetes awareness and prevention among long-distance truck drivers
•    Dialemma, a board game to educate the broader Indian population about diabetes
•    Dia Ki Paathshala, a puppet show to raise awareness in schools particularly for children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes
•    The Sweet Life, a podcast to encourage women to adopt healthier lifestyles 
•    The Blue Genie, a platform to ease the daily lives of people living with diabetes and support their mental health 
•    Petition campaign, an advocacy plan for including diabetes in India’s Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 
•    The Bitter Tales of Diabetes, a video campaign for better access to nutritious food for urban slum dwellers
•    The Blue Canvas, a platform for children to learn more about diabetes Type 1 and help share stories through various mediums

And the Winner Is ...   

Three renowned judges – each an expert in their field – listened to the pitches. Dr V Mohan, Chairman of Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Specialties Centre; Anoo Bhuyan, Communities Manager at Blue Sky Analytics; and Parminder Vir OBE, Board Chair at Ongoza then selected two teams as the Lab’s winners. The teams received prizes of 15,000 USD and 10,000 USD to bring their ideas to life. 

First place went to Ok Tata Horn Please, a proposal focused on long-distance truck drivers. An estimated one in six long-distance truck drivers in India today have diabetes – and many more likely have the disease but are not aware of it.


The pitch for Ok Tata Horn Please.

The team’s solution was a series of animated films to educate truck drivers about diabetes risks and prevention. The protagonist of the stories is Raju, a 2-dimensional animated character who is a truck driver and becomes a hero by adopting a healthy lifestyle. The team plans to begin with the animated film series, then add media broadcasts on platforms such as radio channels and health check camps to assess truck drivers’ health and provide information on diabetes.

The judges praised the project’s focus on a specific, high-risk target group. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic showed us the importance of truck drivers who spend most of their life driving across the country, transporting food, medicines and other essential supplies. Unfortunately, due to the long hours of sitting while driving, the irregular timing of food and inability to eat healthy home food, compounded by irregular sleep patterns, there is a high prevalence of obesity and diabetes among them,” Dr Mohan said. 

“Till now I am not aware of anybody who has reached out to these truck drivers to improve their metabolic health. Team 1 did a great job of identifying the problem, preparing the solutions and networking which is very essential for an ambitious project like this to succeed.” 

Second place went to Dialemma, a board game that aims to engage young Indians on how to manage the disease by combining education with entertainment.


The pitch for Dialemma.

The game relies on storytelling to nudge players to think through critical choices that diabetes related health management presents. It uses actionable, practical guidelines to help youth identify positive choices, and visualise the impact of ignoring the risks over a long time.

The judges praised the project’s focus on encouraging critical thinking to foster a better understanding of diabetes and its prevention. By making health information accessible through an interactive environment, this project is likely to reach a wide group and create a fun and comfortable atmosphere for discussing the otherwise heavy topic of diabetes, they said.    

“The past four weeks gave me a lot to think about, and a range of tools to put my thinking into images, words, and maps,” said Manmeet Kaur, a member of the team that came up with Dialemma. “Our team ended up creating the most exciting thing I have heard about in a while - a board game to help families managing or at the risk of diabetes to communicate, learn, share, and manage better!”

“The design thinking approach used by the Lab helped me navigate roadblocks in my thinking, design for scale and impact, and created a participatory, safe space for ideas to thrive,” she added.

Next Stop: Implementation

World Diabetes Day on November 14 offers a unique opportunity to raise awareness about diabetes each year. The winning teams will be supported by Dalberg Media through mentorship and project management guidance to develop their projects and address the lack of awareness amongst the Indian population. 

To ensure that all the ideas emerging from the Storytelling Lab had a chance of implementation, key stakeholders from India’s government, academic, journalism and private sectors were invited to hear the pitches. The next step is for all eight teams to engage partners who can help make their solutions come to life. 

“This innovative approach to idea generation and awareness raising is new to WDF – we wanted to explore new ways to effectively communicate about diabetes,” says Mette Skar, WDF Programme Manager. “We are excited to partner with Dalberg, who have developed the Lab concept, and hope to see these great ideas make a real impact in terms of countering India’s diabetes burden.”

The Lab was supported by WDF and Dalberg Media, with support from USAID. To learn more about the Lab and how to support the ideas it produced, contact Julie Traerup at julie.traerup@dalberg.com