A personal reflection on the EV4GH 2016 program
First Off, young energy, a diverse group of participants, and emotions
The stage had been set: early November 2016, the Emerging Voices for Global Health 2016 (EV4GH) program reached Vancouver, to train before the fourth Global Symposium on Health Systems Research (HSR 2016). The EV4GH program is a multi-partner blended training program for young health policy & systems researchers, decision-makers and other health system professionals. It is also one of the thematic working groups of Health Systems Global now, and organized in parallel to the biennial global health systems research symposium. After the online distance coaching which preceded the face-to-face training, 40 brand new EVs from all over the globe arrived in Vancouver, already familiar with each other through their virtual interactions, excited and ready to get to know each other in person.
As one of the 40 new EVs, I too felt the surge of adrenaline this energetic and passionate group of young health researchers brought to our training venue and home for the next three weeks in a hotel in downtown Vancouver. The name of the hotel – Sandman – felt totally out of sync with the drive of all these young people. Unless, of course, you think of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”!
A global platform, and an innovative learning experience
The EV4GH program introduced us to global health experts through “Big Talks” – sessions which gave us the opportunity to discuss global health with the likes of Kelley Lee and Wim Van Damme. “Small Talks” introduced us to essential digital communication platforms and social media – critical towards the dissemination of our work, interaction and debates on areas of interest. Research communication and discussions were the core of our training. These were critical in developing in us the capacity to deliver our research and work more effectively across a wide audience. Talks, tweets and tortilla wraps sum up much of the EV4GH training!
Time always flies when you’re having a good time. We also made interesting visits to the Canadian health system and had an ‘Evidence to policy’ day. After only ten days in Vancouver, the Emerging Voice Pre-Conference was already upon us! At this event, the EV Batch of 2016 presented their work to a truly international audience of experts, healthcare managers, lawmakers. The presentation of the opening plenary (whereby we all had to attract participants to our respective sessions) was rather innovative with short skits, role plays and singing regional songs. Before we knew it, the EV4GH training and HSR Symposium were over in a rush of presentations, networking and chicken wraps (again!). They do seem to like chicken wraps in Canada for some reason. In the two months since, I continue to be struck and inspired by the learnings, reflections, and memories!
I’m often asked how I benefitted from a program such as this. I don’t have a clear answer, or maybe I do not want to be caught up in semantics. Maybe I want to avoid being categorized or labelled as an “emerging voice” or “emerged leader.” What I can say is that theEV4GH helped me build confidence. Such a program may encourage the young to raise their voices, speak about their work to a wider audience. It also provides an excellent platform to network and enables young researchers to navigate a big conference. Equally important is the opportunity for researchers from lower- and middle- income countries to participate in global fora.
It is no wonder that this program, with its youth focus, is so unconventional and fun! As the founding father of this blended learning program, Wim Van Damme says, “With this program, there are no set rules! Everyone is really free and flexible to adopt a style of their own in communicating their evidence while being grounded in the reality of their part of world”. According to him, the EV4GH venture trains a new generation of fearless global health change makers who are critical in their assessment, and ready to take on the challenges of our time.
This is especially relevant today, unfortunately. As you might recall, the US elections took place during our Canadian EV4GH time. The result was unexpected, leaving many of us feeling as though the world we knew had ended. It felt for a moment tweets were more powerful than press releases, and how just tweets from an unorthodox politician – now widely referred to as “Commander-in-Tweet” – rising to power can turn the world upside down. This result brought a sense of utter desperation to the EV camp all of a sudden, resulting in a post-election blues. On the bright side we rode that wave of emotions together, never once losing sight of our collective global health goals.
Many countries in the “North” are now witnessing what I call a “Trump, Brexit, and rise of nationalist Populism” syndrome ( for example: Trump’s “Bringing the country’s spirit Back” campaign), while many in the Global South are witnessing a sort of “negative equation” with civil society and human rights bodies. These are all vital reasons why we need young people, their energy, and importantly a platform like EV4GH to fuel change. More than ever.
Expert quotes, and energy to the young voices
And fuel we will. The New Year started with an (appropriately bearded) Emerging Voice (EV) counting on some pearls of wisdom for young health system researchers from the fourth Global Symposium on Health Systems Research. I have two favorites from the article, “We need the energy of the Emerging Voices to tackle the enduring challenges of our times…”, and “do capitalize on your can-do & must-do enthusiasm when you’re young (as when you grow older you often get (too) comfortable in your ways); and challenge power, wherever you feel it’s appropriate…”
While these quotes are self-explanatory, and one can see the connections between young researchers and a “can do” enthusiasm, we cannot deny that the “young” thinking and enthusiasm is not always something that comes with young age – see for example Lucy Gilson’s inspiring speech at the Emerging Voices for Global Health 2016 closing plenary. For Gilson (always full of energy!), it is vitally important for young researchers to question and build on existing theories. This perhaps leaves us with a challenge for young researchers: how to practice all these learnings in real life?
Challenges ahead, keeping up the spirit and energy, identifying possible way of collaboration
As Peter Annear articulated during the HSR symposium, seeing all these bright young minds at work might be the best part of an event of this magnitude. While I cannot deny this, I also take courage to say that the energy should last long enough to carry to the next version of the symposium and all such symposia to come.
Referring to the recently concluded symposium theme, “Resilient and responsive health systems for a changing world,” if resilience cannot be developed overnight, it should be a continuous and sustained process towards strengthening a health system. For this, the engagement of young voices and leaders is equally important, and hence the work of the EV4GH cohort must continue beyond the conference. Social media, research collaboration, professional groups, critically reflecting and assessing each other’s work, peer learning and many such modern approaches allow us to remain in touch and grow further. The opportunities to engage are plenty. These informal links (groups between EV/EV alumni), and more structural mechanisms such as a governance team, secretariat, dedicated communication team, regional hubs… are all important. A strong leadership is also beneficial. Everyone appreciated the sincerity and quality of steering provided by the current chairs and governance team in the recently concluded edition of EV4GH – we need more of it- to take this network forward together with other developmental partners. And yet, young groups such as ours (EV4GH) face the challenges of limited partnership and resources. Support from mature groups such as Health Systems Global, and other established global health research hubs is the need of the hour. But the prospects are looking good.
For the moment though, I will continue to bask in the interest and passion of the EV4GH. To go beyond borders, to be more confident, vocal and expressive and yet rooted in reality. Heck, being part of a global network of young global health scholars now, I’m already humming the Beatles!