Lighting Up a Global Health Advocacy Meeting – Reflections from Global Health Landscape Symposium 20

Women in Global Health chapter members attended and report back from the Global Health Council’s annual thought leadership event in Washington D.C. on November 30, 2018.

Thinking back to the last two, three, or ten conferences or meetings that you have attended, what specifically stood out to you? For me, it has always been when a panel ended up being useful and elucidating. This usually means that it was representative, had a solid moderator to lead the conversation, no one talked over one another, and each person’s points were able to be expressed clearly to the audience with reciprocal engagement. Many panels do not have the aforementioned qualities and while this doesn’t mean they’re hopeless, well….

Last week’s Global Health Landscape Symposium (GHLS) 2018, the second annual thought leadership event put on by Global Health Council (GHC) in Washington D.C., had these outstanding attributes in every panel and more throughout a very successful day. The core of any meeting is the philosophy of its organizers, advisory committee, and speakers, who drive the agenda of the day and build on relevant issues to come to topical solutions – likewise, the day focused on policies, their challenges, and how we can build a better global health landscape. The incredible host of people that organized the Symposium seemed to do so with the idea to engage with the surrounding global health community and to build tools to inform effective advocacy – which means representational advocacy.

As moderator of the panel entitled “Achieving Universal Health Coverage and Primary Health Care for All” – Dr. Roopa Dhatt, Women in Global Health (WGH) Executive Director, summed up a common problem in global health advocacy and implementation alike when she stated, “the usual people around the table means the usual solutions”

The GHLS was well on the way to engaging a broad spectrum of the unusual, in its conference agenda.

As a young woman, recently graduated with an MSc in global health, I can’t count the number of times I’ve looked to the front of a classroom or auditorium and seen the same set of people. I instantly narrow my eyes and shut down a bit. You know who I mean. That didn’t happen a single time throughout the day last Friday. Instead chairs, podiums, and breakout sessions were filled and led by vibrant speakers.

From Raj Kumar, Editor-in-Chief of the Devex media platform, who knows how to bring out the voices of the audience, to co-leaders of the first breakout session I attended, Crystal Lander of Living Goods and Tiaji Salaam-Blyther of the Congressional Research Service (NB: any views expressed do not represent those of CRS), to panel moderators Eric Williams of Precision Strategies and Loyce Pace of GHC, not to mention Elisha Dunn-Georgiou of PAI and Grace Virtue, Senior Communications Advisor at ACTION. I could go on but the dynamic speakers are listed in full in the online GHLS program.

Suffice it to say, I was thrilled. And I was listening.

This is the type of program that makes people of all backgrounds hungry to engage.

Those of us that are young or veterans of the field, whether we’re recent graduates or more experienced, people of color, from countries of all income levels in the global north or south, we listen when there is a diversity of perspectives. We sit up and think “maybe this person will say something new”, something that breaks us out of our silos or boardrooms or Facebook feeds. Disruption is necessary in these settings. One attendee specifically drew attention to this dynamic during the online Twitter discussion happening in parallel to the in-person conference:

Not that we would expect anything less of the Global Health Council, which co-hosts the Women Leaders in Global Health Initiative with WGH at the Council.

Health equity means equity in the voices of leadership and discussion. Women and marginalized populations around the world are disproportionately represented in the global health work force, but the equation flips at the leadership and decision-making levels. We know this innately after so many years, but do we make concerted efforts to change? The Global Health Landscape Symposium did in its organization, forum, and program, and I hope others continue to follow their lead.

Samya Stumo is a remote consultant on Health Systems Research for the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and a recent MSc graduate from the University of Copenhagen School of Global Health. She is interested in research and writing on topics of health systems, equity, patient experience, and people-centered approaches to health. Twitter @samyastumo

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