As was covered just last week, the 6th Emerging Voices for Global Health (EV4GH) venture (EV2018) took place in Liverpool last month, just before the 5th Global Symposium on Health Systems Research. By now, EV4GH is a global health network of almost 300 emerging and emerged voices from across the world, a network that has not only grown stronger but also become more visible with each venture. The program aims to empower young voices in global health discussions, and facilitate their entry and participation in the broader Health Systems Global (HSG) community. This year, 38 participants were selected from over 530 applications received from across the world, most of them young health systems researchers (track 1). In addition, this cohort also featured some other change agents (policy makers & brokers, MoH staff, activists,…) (selected via ‘track 2’). Selected participants went through an intensive 2-month online coaching stage and then gathered in Liverpool for a 10-day dedicated Face-to-Face (F2F) training program, which offered them a unique platform and opportunities to engage with each other, get inspired and raise their voices to challenge the “ineffective ways of functioning of (many) global health policies and programmes”. Among others.
Based on my exchanges with different EV governance board members, who prepared the F2F programme together with the EV secretariat (IPH Bangalore), and several EV alumni who were involved in the 2018 venture as facilitators, I will first share some of the key ingredients and highlights of this venture’s F2F stage in this article. In a second part, I’ll reflect on some of the challenges for the network, moving forward.
- More systematic engagement with HSG Thematic Working Groups and “A theme for everyday”: this EV 2018 venture was aligned very well with the HSG structure of “Thematic Working Groups” (TWGs), by engaging with many other TWGs in the planning and implementation of the F2F training program for the dedicated themes for each day. Compared to previous ventures, collaboration with other TWGs was thus far more systematic and structural. As mentioned by various governance team members, following a structure of ‘themes of the day’ (6 in total) also helped them plan and prepare the sessions in a very systematic manner. The program featured a Community Health Systems day, a Private sector Engagement day, an SDG/UHC/GHG Day, a Human Resources for Health day, and a Fragile and Conflict Affected States day. Last but not least, the program also included a local health systems day that provided the Emerging Voices with a perspective on the functioning of local health systems in Liverpool.
- Well-structured days: Each day typically comprised four specific kinds of sessions: a “Big Talk” (by an established scholar, usually), an EV led session, a TWG dedicated session and finally, a knowledge translation (KT) session. People from different parts of the world were invited for the Big Talks, not just experts from the UK. As was the case in Vancouver (EV2016), each day, a group of EVs were in charge of a session, where they engaged on the theme of the day through panel discussions, debates, fish bowls, even TV-shows! (“EV rocks”) The TWG sessions usually started with some brief info on the (work of) the specific TWG, and then linked – usually in an interactive way – the TWG’s work with the theme of the day, discussing both empirical evidence but also some of the theoretical underpinnings. In some cases, for the example on the ‘engaging with the private sector’ day, the link with the TWG was rather straightforward, sometimes it was a bit more of a stretch. In the afternoon, most knowledge translation sessions were scheduled. Focus in these sessions (overseen by Nasreen Jessani, EV alum 2014) was on training the Emerging Voices to articulate (and cater) their messages to different kinds of audiences ranging from the communities, to policy makers and practitioners, media, researchers of course, … using different modes like policy briefs, presentations & posters, blogs, media channels, social media etc. As was already the case in Vancouver, in the evening a “tune-up café” (with whizzkid Diljith from the EV Secretariat in a key role) was sometimes foreseen, to help EVs finetune their posters & presentations, or some other social activity. And food of course!
- Track 2: the (other) “change agents” track: although the 2016 venture already included participation from a few policy makers (matched with EVs at the time), EV2018 had for the first time a separate Track 2 for “other change agents”, such as policymakers, practitioners, staff working in different government machineries implementing programmes in their respective countries, a few activists also. These Track 2 participants brought a diversity of perspectives from their “on the ground” & “hands on” experience into the discussions. Their input was very much appreciated by the cohort.
- LSTM provided strong institutional support: “LSTM rolled out the red carpet for us, literally”, in the words of Dorcus Kiwanuka, the Chair of EV4GH. The unwavering institutional support received from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) has been consistently reported by all governance board members as one of the key factors behind the success of the EV2018 venture. A special thanks goes to Laura Dean (EV2016 and EV Board liaison with LSTM) for taking care of pretty much the entire logistics, planning and execution of the F2F training program, and Sally Theobald and Tim Martineau for their support. The F2F task force committee (led by EV board member Faraz Khalid) was thus able to focus on the sessions and training content, without having to worry much about logistics or other practical issues.
- Dedicated Alumni: EV4GH is a “one of a kind” and largely volunteer network, with many alumni showing a strong commitment and passion to contribute to the network (and the broader HSG society), and mentor young researchers like themselves. In the words of one governance member, in a way it’s about wanting to ‘give back to the next generation/cohort what they have received from the venture & network themselves’. Like in 2016, this 2018 venture was thus also driven by EV alumni and the governance team (which comprises EV alumni as well), and this in several task force committees. Alumni involvement has been consistent right from the stage of selection, to planning the training program under different task forces, and executing it (in distance & F2F stages). And let’s not forget that all these alumni who contributed to the success of the program already have full time professional jobs. They are thus dedicating their time, efforts and commitment to EV4GH in addition to their existing full time responsibilities. And although they’re still young, some have families too! Some were even multitasking in Liverpool, having brought their toddlers along (true, they also brought a few mothers(-in-law)).
- A fabulous EV secretariat: IPH Bangalore has been key in this venture, as was the case in Vancouver. Some of the EVs even used the term ‘angels’ for some Secretariat staff 😊, perhaps inspired by the lyrical setting of Liverpool.
While the 2018 venture has been a huge success, there is always room for improvement.
First and foremost, the disappointment due to visa denials of many selected EVs (and also other LMIC researchers) was enormous, and shared even in the symposium’s closing plenary; read some of their stories here and here, for example. As media have reported, other conferences in the UK have presented a similar picture lately. And so everybody hopes Dubai will turn out a more visa friendly country for the next symposium in 2020, and that indeed there will be no visa rejections there. Fingers crossed!
Secondly, although EV4GH is becoming more autonomous with every venture, securing funding remains challenging, as governance board members admit. Among the key funders for this year’s venture were USAID’s HRH2030, WHO’s Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research and the Belgian Development Cooperation, together with of course, the overall support and assistance provided by HSG. As you can imagine, fundraising for Dubai has already kicked off. Funding limitations do not only constrain the participation of (more) emerging voices (i.e. scholarships) but also of facilitators and alumni who would like to contribute but can’t. This year too, quite a few alumni joined the training program as facilitators at their own expense. Yes, that shows the high level of commitment within the community but it also gets challenging at the same time. Certainly because one of the key aims is always to try to have a number of EV alumni from the previous cohort, as facilitators in the next venture.
Lastly, although the program was very intensive – participants were exposed to a diverse set of areas and discussions over a period of 10 days – it left them perhaps with too little time to reflect, and learn more from each other’s work. Perhaps, we need to extend the duration of the program (funders, do take note!) or else, put a bit less on the agenda in order to make the learnings and participant engagement richer, as there is always a trade-off between quality and quantity.
In sum, the EV4GH community has organically grown over time into a network where people have developed relationships, personally as well as professionally, which each of us deeply cherish, helping each other, mentoring, collaborating and attending each other’s festive ceremonies, … it’s like a second home for everyone. It has been an incredible journey for each of us, and I think I can say that on behalf of the entire EV4GH community. Well-rooted in its initial vision of empowering young researchers to raise their voices against the (unsustainable & often dysfunctional) status quo, inspired by a deep commitment to health equity, the EV4GH program continues to provide such a unique platform to just do that and create a wave of Emerging Voices around the globe. I look forward to getting engaged in many more EV ventures and growing with them!
I sincerely thank Dorcus Kiwanuka, Dena Javadi, Faraz Khalid, Kerry Scott, Kristof Decoster, Laura Dean, N Prashanth, Wim Van Damme and all others for sharing their thoughts and reflections on their journeys as part of the EV4GH community.
Acknowledgement: Kristof Decoster (ITM) assisted with finetuning of this blog.