Archive for the ‘activism’ Tag

Blog Action Day 2008 – Poverty

My experiences this past year were as much about learning about challenges in global health as realizing how poverty compounds and exacerbates global health issues. The most important lesson I have learned is that nothing occurs in isolation. It will take a lot more than money to help eliminate poverty; focusing exclusively on economic development ignores many of the issues such as global health that contribute to the entrenched nature of poverty in communities worldwide. Participating in Blog Action Day seems an appropriate bookend to a year of volunteering abroad as an opportunity for your involvement.

Reading Paul Farmer’s Pathologies of Power really opened my eyes to the need to approach global health from the perspective of the poorest of the poor, reinforcing what I saw in my daily experiences. It’s hard to talk about reproductive rights when women do not have access to their own sources of income to assert those rights. It is hard to reduce childhood mortality due to preventable diseases such as malaria and waterborne diseases when families can not pay for access to clean water and bednets. When a mother can not afford to buy milk, encouraging adherence to HIV treatment seems like a pointless task.

Huge global problems such as global poverty remain invisible to many and seem daunting to those aware of the tremendous human impact. There is no quick fix to the problem of global poverty, but you can and should act now. It’s never too late to start and there is always something that you can do. The most important thing is to do something positive; inaction is truly the worst action to take. So speak up, stand up, show up, pay up…whatever it is that will contribute to the end of poverty.

– Learn more about global poverty issues from the ONE Campaign.

– Donate to the Blog Action Day-supported organizations: The Global Fund (via and Kiva.

– Look around in your community for volunteering opportunities to fight poverty. and Volunteer Match are good resources to begin your search.

– Use the web to connect to organizations abroad to offer your experience and time. NABUUR and UN Online Volunteering offer good starting points.


Gen Y leadership on social change is more crucial than ever

It has become blatantly clear that Millennials have a lot of responsibility at their feet for cleaning up the current mess that the world is in. It certainly is not everyday that you see almost daily failures of financial institutions that have been around for over 100 years. While these major headlines are shocking, it is the changes at the local level where the human impact is most apparent and greatest: the failure of small business and families’ decisions to cut back on medical care.

If you are looking at my hometown of Houston, the economic depression is compounded by the lingering effects of Hurricane Ike. You would think that we would have learned from the lessons of Hurricane Katrina: safer mandatory evacuations, rapid restoration of critical services, and faster disaster recovery to get affected families back to normal as soon as possible. Instead, many of the victims of Hurricane Ike have found themselves ignored by the very institutions that are supposed to assist them. Maybe Generation Y is right to be suspicious of institutions’ ability to effect social change.

Optimists may prefer to make social change the focus of their career, electing to work within established institutions to change them from the inside outward. Others try to find their own way to be the change they want to see in the world whether through digital media or the next great idea to help the most people.

Listening is essential; so is speaking

I call my grandmother every week and talk about how things are going. Yesterday, we were talking about el crisis de julio. I told her about the meeting that I went to with a group of patients to meet with the authorities from the department of health. The meeting was supposed to be an opportunity for the authorities to explain to the patients rationally why they wanted to pursue the chosen course of action. One official in particular continually lied about the clinic and the staff that worked there. His comments had crossed the line of simple political posturing, so I called them what they were to his face: lies.

My grandmother told me that it’s best to be diplomatic in situations like the one I found myself in.  I told her that diplomacy is great but sometimes you need to point out that the emperor has no clothes on. No amount of euphemisms does anyone good. For a current example, look at how mainstream media is struggling to deal with the blatant and continued lies of the McCain/Palin campaign.

Any article or author that addresses social media almost certainly emphasizes the importance of listening, which is a really critical skill for taking advantage of the power of social media. There are countless tools to use to stay involved in conversations that concern your personal and organizational interests.

There does come a point where you should speak up. The circumstances may create that perfect storm of awareness, dedication, and resources that enable major changes. It may be a question of addressing injustice or moving the general public from complacency to action. You could put a spotlight on global poverty as an election year issue or highlight the human impact of living on one dollar a day. Knowing when and how to make yourself heard is a critical skill for moving from ideas to action.

What health activists can learn from environmentalists

Public health and environmentalism are alike in that both activists for both issues address complex global problems characterized by interdependence and the need to catalyze collective action. That might be where the similarities end. Here are some of the observations that I have as the Silent Spring has exploded into going green.

photo courtesy of leighblacknall

photo courtesy of leighblackall

The value of small individual steps to cause collective action

Back in the dark ages when I took my first psychology class, we studied a number of techniques for persuasion. One that is particularly applicable in getting individuals involved in social change is called the foot in the door technique. You make a small request that is easy for the person to fulfill. Later, you make additional requests that gradually escalate the amount of time and resources required to complete the task.

Going green has found at least 50 ways to get their foot in the door and engage individuals to change their behavior for the health of the planet, most of which cost little or no money and do not take an inordinate amount of time to complete. Activism in health has focused on personal responsibility and personal behavior changes without taking in consideration how simple actions can be harnessed for collective action.

The relationship between emotion and rationality and its effect on change

When you see photos and video of regions affected by climate change, it stirs up feelings of sympathy for the people affected. Visual elements such as graphs easily explain the science behind climate change. Environmental activists can visually convey their messages, simultaneously appealing to emotions that spark action and avoid the quicksand of explaining terminology.

Unfortunately there is no easy way to explain obstetric fistula or other related medical maladies that plague the developing world but are completely preventable. Medical explanations rob issues of the emotional impact necessary to prompt action and the visuals are certainly not easy to portray to the general public.

The elusive cool factor

The reason why iPods are the number one music player is not because they are necessarily superior. They have that elusive IT Factor. Climate change has that IT Factor that makes people want to evangelize about their beliefs and actions. Al Gore has made fighting climate change not only social acceptable but socially desirable. People are literally green with envy about others’ ability going green. What has started out to be a counterculture message has all the hallmarks of social climbing combined with hard science developing innovative tools. After all, there is a Digg category dedicated to the news stories that puts the spotlight on the issue.

If you look at the Digg category on health, you’re likely to find more bad news about smoking or how sex really is good for your health. You won’t see the latest popular celebrity supporting a health cause with the exception of supporting HIV prevention for some. While Bono pops up occasionally with sunglasses that seems to be permanently attached to his head, it’s not socially desirable to advocate for access to adequate water and sanitation to prevent diarrhea, one of the causes of mortality in children under 5. Technology and innovation in health are not missing; awareness of developments in the public tends to be low.

Appealing to personal responsibility and pride

An appeal to personal responsibility for the overall state of health of the population has not been explored in public health. There is something to be said about tapping into the sense of common humanity whether through human rights or a different paradigm. Personal responsibility for taking care of the earth is a religious duty described in the Bible. Caretaking for the environment is also a form of patriotism in encouraging protection of your country’s natural resources. Fostering this same sort of personal connection to not only one’s personal state of health but the need to improve and maintain the infrastructure that supports the public’s health.

Can health activists take a page from An Inconvenient Truth and make access to good health a popular social movement?

Get Involved in Blog Action Day 2008

I am pleased to announce that I have signed up to participate in Blog Action Day 2008 which falls on October 15. It’s truly exciting to be part of something so big. Blog Action Day is an annual event where bloggers agree to write about one issue on the same day to increase knowledge and awareness of a particular social issue.

Almost 2500 blogs have registered to participate so far to raise awareness about this year’s issue of poverty. Here are some ways that you can get involved.


Register your blog to write a post about poverty on October 15.


There are numerous organizations that work to reduce poverty. You can give individually through microloans via Kiva and Global Giving. There are several organizations that work on a broader level to reduce poverty. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is the official Blog Action Day Charity. Here are some other good organizations that work in poverty reduction.

Oxfam America
The ONE Campaign
Partners in Health


Spread the word about Blog Action Day online on your blog, social networking profiles, and Web sites and offline to your friends and family.


Think of new ways to raise awareness about poverty and help to reduce it in the world. The sky is the limit!

Check out the official video for the event below.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Blog Action Day 2008 Poverty on Vimeo“, posted with vodpod