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Global Webinar Series: Coalition Building

On April 20, the Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) launched a new webinar series for partners, entitled the Global Webinar Series on Advocacy. This platform provides public health advocates from around the world to share their expertise on the most pressing issues activists face when fighting for lifesaving policies.

The inaugural webinar – the Global Webinar Series on Advocacy: Building Effective Coalitions for Public Health Advocacy Campaigns – focused on coalition building, a critical component to an effective advocacy campaign. Just as public health is impacted by countless factors, advocacy for public health does not occur in isolation. We gathered a panel of experts to discuss their experiences and to provide advice on building and maintaining advocacy coalitions.

Vanessa Mello Rodrigues, PhD, Coordinator for GHAI’s Food Policy Program in Brazil, moderated a robust discussion between a panel of experts who have worked with coalitions: Ana Paula Bortoletto of Idec Brazil, Huyen Doan, Gema Granados and Sanjay Pandey of GHAI, Francine Charles of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados, and Rosa Mattos of ACT Brazil. These are the key takeaways.

Single Voice, Single Objective

A major challenge, noted Gema Granados, is putting several organizations together into a recognizable coalition “with one single voice, with one single objective.” Strong coalitions may include members with a range of backgrounds and perspectives.

Diversity of Coalition Members

Francine Charles has been involved with coordinating coalition advocacy work in Barbados. She attributed the coalition’s success on advocacy for nutrition policy to their commitment to gathering a wide range of coalition members. “We really needed to ensure that there were voices that the policymakers would take seriously and would have that level of influence on society.” The coalition incorporated a diversity of faith-based organizations, medical professionals, and youth advocates. Sanjay Pandey, who works with civil society advocates in India, highlighted the advantages of having a diverse coalition, “Somebody’s representing the consumer, rural, urban, so different voices…really becomes stronger, and that’s really forced political people to hear these voices.”

Challenges

Bringing diverse organizations together to form a broader coalition can also attract members with different perspectives related to interference by the food industry on nutrition policies.

Ana Paula Bortoletto, highlighted that since the beginning the Alliance for Adequate and Healthy Food in Brazil built a strong anti COI policy and this led some allies to define themselves as supporters of some agendas, but not members.

Recognition of Everyone’s Contributions

Huyen Doan, Vietnam Country Director, GHAI, noted the importance of recognizing each organization’s unique contributions to the coalition work and of implementing monitoring and compliance mechanisms that align with each partner’s particular strengths and areas of expertise. This prevents the duplication of efforts and, “[secures] that every partner can deliver what was promised.”

Acknowledge All Voices

When working with such a diversity of perspectives, Rosa Mattos, communications advisor in ACT Health Promotion, asserted that coalition members and leaders must ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, especially since every organization operates differently and balancing the priorities of several organizations is “much more delicate” than those of just one.

Balancing Competing Priorities

This becomes even more important when considering that not every organization can be “fully dedicated” to a given issue, as webinar host Vanessa Mello Rodrigues commented in response to an audience poll asking attendees the biggest coalition-related challenges they face. Coalition members must often balance competing priorities, and while maintaining a functional network of advocacy organizations can at times present challenges, strong coalitions enable public health advocates to combine efforts and achieve lifesaving policy wins.

Watch the full recording and learn more about GHAI’s work: