Laoudji founded The Mantle Project a year ago, just after graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management. He has funded the program's two events out of his own pocket, and is working on a third event on guns and gun control.
Working out of the Cambridge Innovation Center, a collaborative workspace, Laoudji sets up his laptop at one of dozens of communal tables with other young entrepreneurs, researchers, and writers. He recruits participants – calling people and organizations and explaining what his project is about, looking for local events where he can find participants.
It's delicate to cold-call people, Laoudji says: "I'm this stranger showing up in their life and asking them to share an intimate part of themselves with me ... in preparation for sharing it with a live audience. That's a big ask."
But, he says, there's dignity in the process: "When one of my storytellers goes onstage and says, 'This is my story,' inherent in that action is this idea that 'I exist, and I'm worthy ... of eight minutes of your undivided attention. My story matters.' "
When Christine Morabito, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party, met Laoudji, she jumped at the opportunity to correct misrepresentations of her party. But she discovered that developing her story is just as important as the storytelling event itself. She showed up to her first coaching session with a stump speech written out. Laoudji showed her a video of someone else doing a storytelling event, and it became clear that her speech wasn't a story.
"And I thought, [my stump speech is] not going to work at all," Ms. Morabito says.