Meet Mena El-Turky, associate director for Advocacy with GHAI’s road safety program.
How did you end up leading road safety advocacy efforts with GHAI?
I unintentionally found my way to road safety. I studied environmental and occupational health in grad school with a focus and interest on occupational/workers’ health. I worked for a bit on labor rights/health, which included some corporate accountability. In Nicaragua, I worked with farm laborers who were suffering from chronic kidney disease (and occupational illness). And in Philadelphia, I worked toward understanding occupational hazards and increasing access to healthcare for undocumented restaurant workers.
From there, I was introduced to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which has a strong focus on tobacco industry accountability. I started off with the grants team and eventually became a program officer. A few years later, I had the opportunity to join the road safety program of the Global Health Advocacy Incubator, which is a project of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Now, I use my tobacco control advocacy experience to advance road safety policy change. Road safety issues like speeding, whether or not people use seat belts and child restraints, and whether there are unsafe cars on the road impacts so many people. It’s amazing to be working on an issue that can really have a monumental impact.
What draws you to the advocacy work? Are there parts of it you find particularly rewarding (or challenging)?
I had always been an advocate but I didn’t know I was. I would often think about how to make things better and how to make society more equitable and advocate on smaller scales to make those changes happen. For example, I volunteered through college and grade school teaching health care literacy to mostly Middle Eastern women, focusing on helping them learn language to advocate for themselves and their families, specifically in healthcare settings. The most challenging part of policy advocacy is how slow it can be. It requires patience. The most rewarding part is the connections and learnings along the way.
How would you characterize your approach to working on road safety advocacy in a new country?
The most important thing to remember when entering a new country is to listen and absorb. While we have our agenda and our goals, it is critical to listen and understand the current priorities, the ongoing activities, and the people that have been working on the issue.