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Pushing Boundaries in Global Health Storytelling: A Webinar with Creative Activist Lisa Russell

View the full PowerPoint presentation and YouTube recording.

Image courtesy: Lisa Russell

As an advocacy organization, Global Health Council (GHC) can attest to how much impact we can create through our stories. Stories have the ability to compel people to act and support our asks, which include sustained global health funding from the U.S. government and bipartisan support of global health programs.

We recognize the importance of hearing from the people on the frontlines of health programs – putting them at the center and in charge of their narratives. GHC has supported patient advocates to tell their stories at the 71st World Health Assembly (WHA71) and, more recently, at the just concluded interactive civil society hearing in preparation for the High Level Meeting (HLM) on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) this September. However, we find ourselves asking, how can we better elevate the voices of the people for whom we advocate?

Cue our webinar co-host, Lisa Russell, an award winning filmmaker and creative activist. Lisa was kind enough to share her experiences with and expertise in storytelling, specifically why it is essential, and more importantly, why it is critical to practice it correctly and responsibly.

A few key highlights from Lisa’s presentation:

Storytelling is a very important element of global health advocacy but we need to invest as a community in making sure the stories we tell are accurate, respectful and responsible.  That comes with investing time in teaching/learning and growing the craft.  It’s a relatively new trend in the global health community but it needs to be based on true storytelling for it to be high quality and sustainable.
Lisa Russell, MPH.

1.Telling stories is critical because the act forms an emotional connection between the storyteller and the audience. There are several types of storytellers including, but not limited, to filmmakers, poets, photographers, musicians, writers, and even beatboxers. However, storytelling is not marketing, journalism, advertising, communications, or campaign slogans. While complimentary aspects of communication, they require a different skill-set from storytelling.

2.Perhaps most important to note is that stories have a structure. They have key elements, which, when built, create a memorable and impactful story. These elements include character, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution. Lisa refers to her short film, Heroines of Health, to illustrate how each of these key elements play a role in creating a highly acclaimed and impactful story.


Common pitfalls in storytelling in global health are usually around telling a flat linear story, often chronologically (…and then…and then…). With such storytelling, there is no character development, no real conflict or climax, and often the story is unmemorable. Also, many people will start with text to share the context of the story, which detracts from the purpose of the story. You want the story to move people, to be a journey and an experience that they are invested in.


Why pursue responsible storytelling?

If done well, global health storytelling can enable the global health community to elevate stories of struggle and resilience in a way that reaches a larger audience and has greater impact on funding and legislation. If done poorly, it can perpetuate “poverty porn” and a storytelling trend end that is not effective, respected or sustainable.
Lisa Russell, MPH

So how does one begin to create impactful stories?

First, consider partnering with storytellers: musicians, artists, and filmmakers-. They are bold and emotional, have a large following, and have the ability to break down information in a more relatable manner. You can create strong and sustainable partnerships with these storytellers by inviting them to sit “at the table”, invest in their understanding of your organization and the issues you focus on, and invite them to host professional development workshops for staff and/or patient advocates.

You can use different devices to create an impactful story. You can use your story to break down stereotypes; create characters as people first, before their professions; underscore universal or cross-cutting themes that most audiences can relate to; and, of course, use the the story structure to make your story more memorable.

Even with these tools in mind, it is critical to invest time to develop the craft of storytelling, so that the final product is a true reflection of the stories we seek to tell, and are respectful of the people who have let us into their lives. These stories do have the highest chance of connecting with our final audience, and getting them to act on the asks we make of them.

Stay tuned for future webinar on this topic and others!

Sign-up for Lisa’s newsletter to learn more about the craft of storytelling and upcoming events.

Global Health Roundup~07/16/2018

PMNCH Searching for Civil Society or Youth Representatives for the GFF Investors Group
The Global Financing Facility (GFF) Investors Group regularly brings together key investors in reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health (RMNCAH) and nutrition to strengthen partnerships and optimize country-level health financing. Investors include governments, civil society organizations, the private sector, UN agencies, Gavi, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. A special selection committee, which includes the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), is calling for applications for civil society and youth representatives for the GFF Investors Group. These representatives will play a critical role in ensuring that civil society and youth voices are captured in the content of the work produced by the GFF. Applications are due July 22.

Voice Your View to WHO on Primary Health Care
WHO wants to hear your views on primary health care (PHC) and how it can be addressed to meet everyone’s needs, ahead of the Global Conference on Primary Health Care (October 25 – 26). PHC, usually the first level of contact people have with the healthcare system, aims to provide comprehensive, accessible, community-based care that is tailored to fit the needs of the individual seeking care. WHO’s Draft Declaration, an update on the 40-year-old Alma Ata Declaration underlines the importance of PHC to achieve Universal Health Coverage. It has now reopened for public consultation to ensure inclusion of views from a broad range of stakeholders. The comment period will be open until July 22.

GHTC Urges Increased Investment in Research and Development for the GHSA
The Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC) is calling upon the global health community to join them in urging world leaders to include commitments to Research and Development (R&D) in the new 2019-2024 Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) framework, which is now in development. The former framework did not include an action package dedicated to improving R&D capacities in GHSA member countries. R&D is needed, now more than ever, to ensure the availability of vaccines, treatments, and other tools needed to stop an outbreak from becoming a deadly epidemic. The petition would pave the way for civil society to press world leaders for change as they convene in Bali for the 5th GHSA Ministerial Meeting in November 2018.


July 5: joint report by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), WHO and the World Bank highlight the cost of low-quality health care on illnesses and health across all income levels.

July 6: Although the last confirmed Ebola patient was discharged on June 12, WHO continues to closely monitor the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

July 9: The Bipartisan Policy Centre released a report highlighting the achievements of PEPFAR over the last 15 years in the arena of Strategic Health Diplomacy. You can follow more updates on Twitter at #PEPFAR15.

July 9: The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) shared potential assets developed by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to strengthen global disease outbreak prevention and control.

Advocacy Update ~ July 16, 2018

This post was written by the GHC Advocacy Team.

Senate and House Appropriations Committees Release LHHS Bills
Both the Senate and House Appropriations committees marked up their respective Labor, Health and Human Services and Education bills (LHHS) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, which includes funding for global health programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It is possible that the LHHS bill will be rolled into a minibus, several appropriations bills bundled into one bill, although the timing of this is unknown.

Download the funding chart.

Highlights of the House LHHS bill
The House provided $178.9 billion overall for the bill. The CDC’s Center for Global Health received flat funding at $488.6 million, with Global Health Protection receiving $108.2 million. The National Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Disease (NCEZID), also within CDC, received a $52 million decrease ($562.6 million in comparison to $614.6 million in FY 2018). The Fogarty International Center at NIH received a slight increase of $634,000 ($76.6 million in comparison to $75.7 million in FY 2018). The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) also received a slight increase ($5.4 billion in comparison to $5.3 billion in FY 2018).

Highlights of the Senate LHHS bill
The Senate provided $1.1 trillion overall for the bill. In the Senate bill, CDC’s Center for Global Health is flat funded at $488.6 million, of which $108.2 million is for the Global Public Health Protection. NCEZID received a $3 million increase ($617.5 million in comparison to $614.5 million in FY 2018). The Fogarty International Center received a little over $2 million increase ($78.2 million in comparison to $75.7 million in FY 2018). NIAID received an increase of about $200 million ($5.5 billion in comparison to $5.3 billion in FY 2018).

House Foreign Affairs Committee Holds Hearing on TB
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the State Department testified in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuberculosis (TB) in Southern Africa. Agency representatives provided updates on current TB programs and progress on interagency collaboration on the U.S. Global TB Strategy. Witnesses included: Ambassador Deborah L. Birx, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator at the Department of State; Irene Koek, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Global Health Bureau at USAID; and Dr. Rebecca Martin, Director of the Center for Global Health at CDC.

The hearing focused on the importance of collaboration among the three agencies and across other global health sectors, specifically in regards to TB/HIV coinfection. Dr. Martin discussed how CDC collaborates with the State Department through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to test TB patients for HIV, and provide treatment for people living with HIV/TB coinfections. Ambassador Birx emphasized the need to improve the scale of TB preventive therapy to help lower TB prevalence and reduce HIV coinfection. Both Dr. Martin and Ms. Koek stated that having U.S. government leadership present at the upcoming UN High-Level Meeting on TB provides opportunities for new political commitments to end TB and accelerate progress where it is needed the most.

Congressmen Tom Garrett (R-VA) and Joaquin Castro (D-TX) spoke about their families’ experiences with TB and the importance of this work both in the U.S. and abroad. Chairman Christopher Smith (R-NJ) expressed interest in TB funding and the return on investment (ROI) TB-related programs yield. Congressman Garrett pushed further on the issue of funding, asking what he should tell his constituents regarding the ROI of TB-related programs. Dr. Martin responded, “Investments in TB are smart, as every U.S. dollar invested in TB yields $43 in return.”

NCD Advocacy Resources for Youth by Youth

As a follow-up to the Call to Action: Youth, NCDs, & 2018, NCD Child is sharing 2 new resources developed by youth advocates to help promote the inclusion of young people in policy-making and policy targets.  Over the past 6 months, young advocates have continued to be vocal about the need for policy makers, civil society, and others to walk the talk with regards to youth inclusion in the global NCD agenda. To maintain momentum and hold our governments accountable, youth champions encourage their colleagues, networks, and peers to reach out to their Ministers over the next several months in the lead-up to the 3rd UN High-Level Meeting on NCDs.

1) Template letters to government:  This letter was developed to be sent from young people to government officials and making our key asks – proposing intergenerational collaboration for NCD policies as well as include a young person in their official country delegation to the UN High Level Meeting on NCDs. We suggest that the letter be sent much in advance of the High-Level Meeting, since being included in the preparatory work for the meeting could offer great opportunities to learn and influence.

2) Talking points on NCDs & young people:  The talking points highlight key messages related to the prevention, treatment, and management of NCDs in young people.  The information can be used in a variety of platforms, including but not limited to, social media, advocacy at high-level meetings, outreach to government, and collaborations with important civil society partners.  We hope you incorporate the messages into your advocacy efforts in the lead-up to the UN High Level Meeting on NCDs and beyond.  

Stay in the know on future resources made by youth advocates for youth advocates by joining the NCD Child Youth Voices Connect group on Facebook

Advancing Synergy: Laying the Foundation for Impactful Partnerships

This blog post was written by Dr Arti Patel Varanasi, Founder, President and CEO, and Dr Mychelle Farmer, Chief Medical Officer at Advancing Synergy. Advancing Synergy’s mission is to develop innovations that empower individuals and impact communities to achieve better health. They are a 2018 Global Health Council Member and actively engaged with the Noncommunicable Diseases (NCD) Roundtable.

At Advancing Synergy, we believe in the ability of diverse individuals and sectors coming together to leverage innovations that empower individuals to effect positive change and impact communities by making them healthier and stronger. Achieving health equity is central to our work and our mission. Our team believes in engaging all stakeholders, especially the end-users and youth leaders to ensure that the resulting technology-enabled solution will be useful to and accepted by the target audience. As a result, our initial efforts on addressing health disparities among cancer patients through technology-based interventions has extended to developing new partnerships to raise awareness about the needs of people worldwide for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).

Our partnerships have stemmed from our initial work in developing and evaluating our innovative digital health solution, POiNT℠ (point of need together℠) among low-income breast cancer patients. Through this project, we identified the importance of task-shifting and task-sharing as vehicles to promote adherence to NCDs care and treatment. Advancing Synergy set out to explore task-sharing through the use of digital health platforms and presented the work at the 2018 USAID Mini University and the 2018 Global Health and Innovation Conference. Additionally, recognizing the importance of developing solutions for diverse resources settings, Dr. Arti Varanasi, President & CEO of Advancing Synergy, was an invited speaker at the Chatham House research event on Harnessing New Technologies for Global Health Security in March 2018.

The NCD Child Workshop Group at the Global Health Practitioner Conference 2018. Image Courtesy: CORE Group DC

Advancing Synergy is now exploring new partnerships with civil society, academia, and the private and public sectors. Arti believes such partnerships allow each group to focus on their strengths and result in collective action to promote NCDs prevention and control. She is working closely with the CORE Group and was recently appointed the Chair of CORE Group’s NCDs Interest Group. Through careful consultation with members of CORE Group’s NCDs Interest Group, Advancing Synergy collaborated with NCD Child and CORE Group to conduct a half-day workshop on NCDs. This workshop, held in Bethesda, Maryland in June 2018, was attended by over 50 participants from diverse segments of civil society. Following the workshop, Advancing Synergy was also part of a Youth Delegation, organized under the leadership of Dr. Mychelle Farmer, Chief Medical Officer at Advancing Synergy and Chair of NCD Child, to visit UN Mission to share advocacy messaging around NCDs. Advancing Synergy will continue to collaborate with NCD Child and CORE Group, and the dialogue will continue through the NCDs Interest Group to find answers to difficult health challenges.

Focusing on the diverse health needs of poor and marginalized people, Advancing Synergy is laying a foundation for practical, low-cost solutions to practical problems related to NCDs that will help to answers questions, like: How can we learn from the experiences of others as we integrate NCDs into existing community health platforms? How can we transfer digital technology to low resource settings, so we can address complex health issues like NCDs? Central to finding answers to these questions is harnessing the talent, energy, and insight of young persons and empowering them as advocates for themselves and their communities. Dr. Mychelle Farmer brings her expertise in global health at the intersection of child and adolescent health, youth leadership, and noncommunicable diseases to lead Advancing Synergy’s youth advocacy initiatives.

Dr. Arti Varanasi presenting the GHC-NCD Roundtable joint statement at the Interactive Civil Society Hearing on NCDs. Image: American Academy of Pediatrics.

Advancing Synergy will take the message of task shifting and youth advocacy to a diverse population in need. As a representative of the Global Health Council and the NCD Roundtable at the United Nations Interactive Hearing on NCDs, Dr. Varanasi addressed the health needs of youth and the elderly. Digital solutions can link families including young and older family members struggling with NCDs, so they can identify local, age-appropriate solutions to the prevention and control of NCDs.

Advancing Synergy’s desire to extend cost-effective solutions to all in need will be supported by new partnerships. Informed by Advancing Synergy’s role as a member of NCD Roundtable’s steering committee, Dr. Varanasi’s leadership within CORE Group’s NCDs Interest Group, and through active participation in global health forums like the NCD Alliance and the Global NCD Forum, Advancing Synergy will spread the message of health for all, using practical, novel solutions to the world’s biggest health threat.