Irfan Bashir is no stranger to the art of storytelling. Inspired by the stories of positive change facilitated by online crowdfunding in India, Irfan conceptualized the idea of the book "Crowdfunding: The Story of People" with his co-author Ravina Banze in early 2020. By ending December of the same year, the book had become a reality, helping them highlight the social impact and potential of online crowdfunding in India. The book employed a data-driven storytelling approach to capture the impact and potential of crowdfunding in a world governed by inequality.
Through a unique storytelling approach, the authors were able to maintain a constant grip on both the micro and macro perspectives of collective giving, social collaboration, and financial inclusion. Since its publication, the book has received immense traction from major new agencies worldwide. Their story has been covered by the likes of BBC, Al Jazeera, The Hindu Business Line, Economic Times, Voice of Healthcare, State Times, Greater Kashmir, and J & K Headlines.
After the book, the authors decided to turn entrepreneurs by starting their own company Project Nile with the aim to create a space for researchers, writers, creators, and activists. Project Nile as an idea was conceptualized by Irfan and Ravina while working on their book, and it became a reality soon after in 2021. The company currently provides their data-driven storytelling services to some of India’s biggest mega conglomerates and non-profit organizations ranging across various domains.
A bootstrapped venture, Project Nile also consults nonprofits in their fundraising efforts and is currently working with the NGO IamTrans on a crowdfunding drive to raise funds for their crisis intervention Centre. As of December 2021, Project Nile has delivered over 600 research articles, blogs, insight reports, white papers and brochures. Based in Mumbai, the consulting firm offers a variety of services beyond content creation, including digital marketing, domain management, research and analytics, and crowdfunding solutions to their clients.
Through Project Nile, Irfan seeks to leverage data-driven storytelling to deliver impactful content solutions and strategies that help organizations quantify their impact and put it out in an effective manner. On the one hand, Project Nile’s services assist clients by improving their reach and establishing their brand, and on the other, it disseminates functional information to the public through various means.
On their website, the firm has published more than 120,000 words in the form of research articles across several domains, such as finance and economics, psychology, gender and sexuality, literature, politics and more. Through Project Nile, Irfan aims to provide a platform for researchers and thinkers to delve into bold topics which are crucial to be explored in today's world but often go ignored in favor of the latest news.
“It is important to remember that data isn't just numbers; it's information. It’s stories. And everyone uses data; where there is information, there is data. Presenting data is not easy, even when you use spreadsheets or graphs. To effectively capture what your data describes and what you want your audience to understand, you need data-driven storytelling.
Numbers always have a story to tell; however, by themselves, they are not memorable. At the same time, though, these numbers help create a strong foundation to build your story upon. With data, you can not only add authenticity to your story but add context for readers to follow your narrative,”
Irfan explains when asked about the importance of data-driven narratives.
Irfan’s unique educational background and work experience give him an in-depth insight into the world of data-driven storytelling. Irfan did his Bachelor’s in Quantitative Economics and Econometric Analysis from the University of Rochester on a full scholarship. He believes a degree in the STEM field gives him a strong foundation in Data Analytics, which he leverages to plan digital marketing campaigns, content strategies and research initiatives. Having also worked in the media fraternity as a journalist and editor in Kashmir and as a digital media specialist at the Ronald Rettner Lab at the University of Rochester, Irfan is well versed with the art of storytelling.
“Data-driven storytelling is not restricted to words but extends to interactive visualisations, videos, graphs, and infographics. For a data-driven story to be effective, it needs its elements: data analysis, visualization and a narrative. While raw data is the beginning of any data-driven story, it needs to be collected and handled with care to ensure an accurate story.
Once the data is collected, it needs meticulous analysis to help derive insights and inferences that fuel the story you want to weave. Hence, data visualization is also a key element at this stage. When data is presented through visual tools, such as charts, plots, maps and tables, audiences can connect the dots more easily. Data visualization makes it easier to identify patterns and trends, making it easier to create a narrative around the raw data,”
Irfan shares his insights about how visual components are a necessary ingredient in data-driven storytelling.
So, how can organizations benefit from data-driven storytelling? Irfan explains:
“To help your business grow, you need to ensure that your customers know what your organization does, what it has achieved and what it aims to do. It is easy to resort to facts and figures that detail your organization’s journey in the business world, but consumers rarely remember these numbers.
On the other hand, when presented the right way, stories are rarely forgotten. Organizations can give consumers visuals to latch on to by weaving an inspirational story or stories of change. Now, your organization does not seem like merely a name on paper but an entity that has achieved success and change. But it has to be the right combination of numbers, visualisations and words.”
Irfan likes telling data-driven stories and using design interventions to simplify data and improve communications. He believes his life experiences have shaped him into a person who sees opportunities and synergies everywhere around him. When asked to share his life experiences, he narrates,
“I have lived an adventurous life, and I have had the most loving and caring teachers and mentors guide me in life. I've travelled to breathtaking remote places, learned about different cultures, and have drawn inspiration from extraordinary tales of the bravery of common people. I have slept under starry skies, submerged myself in the vastness of this world, and sometimes even tried to contain its meaning in words. I have worked for NGOs, put a smile on children's faces, benefitted from the kindness of strangers, and derived strength from the challenges I have faced in life. I am curious, always want to be. Let’s see how the entrepreneurial journey goes from here. So far, so good.”