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How Communications is Used to Support Advocacy and Mobilization Strategies to Advance Healthy Food Policies

The Global Health Advocacy Incubator’s Food Policy program has supported Colombian partners for more than five years to help pass healthy food policies like front-of-package labels (FOPL), which help consumers make more informed food choices. As a result of a more integrated communications strategy and years of advocacy efforts, local partners successfully advocated for the passage of the FOPL bill, which was signed into law by President Duque in early August.

We spoke with our Colombia partners about how they doubled down their efforts this year to counter the food and beverage industry’s interference – methods used by industry to influence food policy and further their own interests at the expense of the public’s health – to get the FOPL bill across the finish line and what they learned along the way. Partners emphasized the importance of having diverse voices advocating for the policy. Working under a unified goal – passing the FOPL bill in Congress – each organization harnessed their unique perspectives to reach different audiences, making their advocacy campaign stronger.

As a result, each organization is seen as an expert on food policy topics by other civil society organizations, decisionmakers and the media. During the final vote in Congress, members of Congress recognized each of our partners and thanked them for their tireless efforts in getting the bill passed.

Here are some highlights local partners shared:

How the coalition leveraged advocacy and communications

FIAN: We did a lot of work related to what we call ultra-targeted advocacy – addressing and influencing the members of Congress individually to promote our initiatives. We also made sure that the different voices of support we incorporated were new, from rural areas and from academics.

How partners’ communications strategies contributed to the coalition’s overall advocacy strategy

RED PAPAZ: We conducted “knowledge translation,” which is breaking down the data we get from very technical and academic studies and making it understandable to the public. We’ve used that strategy not only for our public message but for all of our communications strategies.

FIAN: We worked on bringing voices from women, youth, farmers and communicators in smaller towns and rural areas across the country to show that this was going far and wide and not just an interest of a particular population in the cities.

Using communications to advance advocacy

DEJUSTICIA: Any of the more technical actions we do, from a human rights perspective, lose their objective if they are not accompanied by a communications strategy that ensure those arguments are understood by the people we are trying to reach.

A unified strategy with each group working together rather than an individual one

FIAN: Everything contributes to the work we do – advocacy actions, communications actions, mobilization actions, complaint actions. If it weren’t for that wealth of actions we all bring, I don’t think it would work.

Challenges and lessons learned along the way

CAJAR: The first challenge was to find narratives that would allow us to explain the industry interference, because it’s not easy to show that to the public. The experience we have had is that they do not understand what interference is, or why it is so common in Colombia for a company to own everything and legislate for it, which makes it very difficult from a communications perspective to create messages that reveal how that interference affects our citizens’ human rights.

JAVERIANA: All these measures must have social legitimacy. There could be a group that is very committed to healthy eating but is disconnected from the public, and if they do not understand why the changes are generated, then the measures don’t go anywhere. With the communications team, this dialogue with the public has been fundamental, to go along with society and what they demand.

The coalition implemented a proactive rather than reactive strategy when faced with industry interference and political and social issues in Colombia

RED PAPAZ: Assert your rights as a civil society organization – we are not going to wait for you to sue us, we are going to demand our right to put this message on the air. It’s about knowing how to read the industry narrative to get ahead of them.

JAVERIANA: We learned how to anticipate industry’s actions by looking at their playbook in Chile, Brazil, Mexico, the region in general, as well as the challenges that consumers had and how the ultra-processed food industry attacked them.

How the coalition has evolved from its inception to today

CAJAR: In the past, these initiatives were handled individually by organizations or were perhaps a bit weak, in the sense that they could not reach the level of magnitude that could be reached by having a larger group of people. By creating an organized group that was concentrated on working in different areas, it has had an impact on how those same organizations have learned to analyze and leverage their key moments. They have been able to grow individually and grow together towards a common goal.

DEJUSTICIA: We have been allowed to diversify our strategies, diversifying our messages and voices.

Thank you to all our partners for sitting down with us to discuss their efforts during the last five years to successfully pass the FOPL bill. As Rizoma, GHAI’s communications consultant in Colombia, said: “The crown jewel of the Colombia partners is recognizing that narratives hold the power. When they recognized that, they flew, because they are very brilliant politically and recognized communications as a tool to further develop the political and advocacy strategy … The different voices of all the organizations are so important, they always take each other into account and work closely together, which is the greatest success. At the same time there is also something that is very powerful about that growth, and that is that we each grew in our identity as individual organizations.”

While there is more work to be done, this is an important step for governments to continue passing healthy food policies that will benefit people for decades to come.

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