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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.

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.


World Health Organization: Building a Healthier Future for Tomorrow

This post originally appeared on the Better World Campaign website, and was written by Kelli Meyer. The Better World Campaign (BWC) works to foster a strong, effective relationship between the United States and the United Nations to promote core American interests and build a more secure, prosperous, and healthy world. They are a 2018 Global Health Council member.

The United Nations system is comprised of the UN, which is headquartered in New York, and more than 30 affiliated organizations—known as programs, funds, and specialized agencies—with their own membership, leadership, and budget processes.In our “Meet the (UN) Family” series, we’re taking a look at the UN entities that might not always make the headlines but play an integral part of the UN’s mission to promote global peace and prosperity.

Up next: the World Health Organization.

As the global guardian of public health, the primary goal of the World Health Organization (WHO) is to build a better, healthier future for people all over the world. But don’t let the word “World” in the name fool you—WHO makes an enormous impact in the U.S., too.

So what is it that WHO does that is so important to Americans? Let us explain.

WHO helps orchestrate international collaboration and develop solutions to confront global health risks, which help to protect and advance U.S. interests at home and abroad.

For example, after the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, a partnership was formed under the Global Health Security Agenda with participation from governments in the region, WHO and other UN agencies, plus the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other U.S. agencies.

This innovative partnership played a key role in stopping an outbreak of the disease from reaching the same devastation in 2016. It also helped rebuild fragile health systems decimated by Ebola, and spearheaded vaccination campaigns to protect kids who missed out on basic vaccines during these Ebola outbreaks. And with the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), WHO is on the frontlines of the response, facilitating the delivery of the new Ebola vaccine.

While this work might seem (literally) thousands of miles away from our shores, it protects Americans because it strengthens a country’s ability to stop to disease threats at their source, before they can spread regionally and globally. This in turn saves lives abroad, protects U.S. troops stationed far from home, and promotes economic and political stability in those areas.

WHO’s leadership has also driven forward global partnerships that impact our lives closer to home. The organization is a founding member of the Measles &Rubella Initiative (M&RI), which is helping protect Americans from a highly infectious disease that still causes outbreaks here in the U.S. Globally between 2000 and 2016, M&RI has driven an 84% reduction in measles deaths, saving 20.4 million lives.

WHO is also a founding member of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), founded in 1988. At its peak in the 1950s, polio caused over 15,000 cases of paralysis in the United States alone. Since 1988, GPEI and WHO have reduced global polio cases by 99.9%, from 350,000 cases to just 22 in 2017. These investments in polio eradication have in turn strengthened country health systems to better identify and respond to other disease threats before they become global risks.

Another area where WHO’s expertise comes into play is addressing environmental and public health issues, such as air quality, water and sanitation. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works with WHO to support reductions in air pollution generated in developing countries, which has the potential to travel across borders. Collaborations such as these means that U.S. agencies like the EPA can rely on the extensive networks and technical expertise of WHO to safeguard the health and security of Americans at home and abroad.

As we said earlier, don’t let the word “World” fool you; WHO works to make sure all people of all ages, no matter where they were born, can live healthy lives. Their work keeps us safe, healthy and protected from health threats here at home, and equips our public health officials with the tools, resources and partnerships they need to solve issues on U.S. soil.

To learn more about WHO, click here.

President’s Update to Member CEOs

Last month marked yet another annual World Health Assembly (WHA), a convening of government representatives, civil society advocates, and other stakeholders around the global health agenda. As always, Global Health Council was there in full force, hosting nearly 100 delegates from 18 countries for critical meetings and engaging side events with policymakers. A number of our members were featured in panel conversations and media coverage, including patient and provider, champions from the field. All told, it was a solid showing for our community.

I was struck by how many new faces and organizations were joining WHA for the first time and think it signals a couple of things. First, that people across the global health community realize an increasing value of participating in various global dialogues, including WHA, with health ministers, international partners, and fellow advocates. But I think it also demonstrates support for a new vision and leadership at WHO, one that invites and embraces meaningful collaboration across sectors in pursuit of a bold global health agenda and “triple billion” targets. It’s encouraging to see more global health actors actively seeking out these opportunities and that being well-received by multilateral entities and policymakers, especially at a time when ongoing government commitments and resources are being called into question.

We have a chance to replicate this type of energy at upcoming high-level meetings on non-communicable diseases and TB in New York this fall as well as other forums such as G7 or G20 summits and additional multilateral events next year. More than background observers and bystanders in the galleries of these important meetings, advocates are increasingly becoming key players in critical policy discussions focused on the future of global health. It is ever-more important that we consider not only how the public sector or donors will address global health challenges, but what we all should be doing collectively – NGOs, donors, corporations, and policymakers – to reach our end goal. This isn’t a new idea but its execution is, as evidenced by the taskforce charged with assessing WHO’s engagement with civil society across its work. In reality, this is a welcome shift that’s been a long time coming and still has some ways to go before “outsiders” are fully-integrated into meetings across global health priorities. However, we can celebrate advocates having an elevated voice and role.

And we, as advocates, have a job to keep showing up to these forums in meaningful, visible ways to promote or protect such platforms. Let’s not only see ourselves as external actors defending a cause but also embrace our role as internal influencers driving an agenda. Let’s also keep passing the mic to other champions who don’t often have a seat at the table: those affected by or working on the frontlines of issues we’re trying to address through our work. Ultimately, we want the presence and voice of advocates like us to be the norm across global policy forums and enhance the conversations and commitments made to advance lifesaving initiatives around the world.





Loyce Pace, President and Executive Director, Global Health Council