Q&A: Development advocacy 101

Temitayo Erogbogbo, director of advocacy at MSD for Mothers. Photo by: Nigeria Health Watch

If the Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved, there needs to be a shift in thinking, behaviors, and attitudes. Whether adopting energy-efficient solutions to prevent climate change, pushing for better access to clean water, or working to ensure women’s needs are met in a health care system, change is the only way the agenda will be achieved.

Temitayo Erogbogbo, director of advocacy at MSD for Mothers — MSD for Mothers is an initiative of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, NJ, U.S., and an initiative helping to create a world where no woman has to die giving life — believes advocacy can play a critical role in implementing practice change and ultimately advancing the SDGs.

“It should be about that practice changing behavior that we want to see,” he said. “Within the health sector, it could be a policy change, but establishing or changing policy is just a starting point, a framework — the focus needs to shift to execution, to enforcing that policy to achieve the desired result.”

Examples of recent success in advocacy include the GOOD Agency and MC&C for WaterAid’s Untapped campaign to improve access to clean water in remote places and break the cycle of poverty; UN Women’s HeForShe campaign, which sparked increased involvement of men in the fight for gender equality; and Global Citizen’s push to enlist 100 million people in the fight to end extreme poverty.

“If you’re not clear about what your mission is and what you’re specifically trying to change, then you can really get yourself into a muddle.”

— Temitayo Erogbogbo, director of advocacy, MSD for Mothers

But what is it that makes such campaigns successful? How can others in the development space emulate the success and help ensure SDG targets are met? Speaking to Devex, Erogbogbo explains the key components and what MSD for Mothers has learned so far in tackling maternal mortality.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What key ingredients go into creating an advocacy campaign?

You need to have a clear understanding of the practice change you want to see, informed by the best evidence available. That practice change is your North Star, which will guide you as you identify the stakeholders you need to engage to achieve your goals and what roles they will play in the process.

And don’t forget the journey itself can be as important as the end goal. Every engagement is an opportunity to learn more about the environment you’re working in, the issue itself that you're dealing with, and the different individuals, organizations, and networks of people — structured or unstructured — that you’re working with.  

How do you measure success in advocacy?

We try to be as objective as possible and set clear benchmarks against which to gauge impact. One critical consideration from the beginning has to be sustainability. These are often long-term engagements, which is why it helps to have interim goals or milestones to shoot for at different points — a way to chart progress. Sometimes, you don’t absolutely get all the way there, so you want to be able to show how far you’ve moved the needle, in a sustainable way.

Monitoring progress more broadly is important too. With Devex, we’ve begun tracking the use of private sector approaches to advance reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health, particularly maternal health, so that everybody can see where this strategy is being applied, to what effect financial contributions have been made, and where gaps and opportunities remain. Our first Partner for Progress report launched at Davos [the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting] last month.  

Our engagement with the World Health Organization is a good example. Together, we’re exploring how to integrate private health care providers into efforts to improve the quality of maternity care that women receive in countries that are part of WHO’s Quality, Equity and Dignity campaign’s Quality of Care Network. The overarching goal of the QED network is to reduce maternal, newborn, and child mortality by half over five years in 10 key countries in locations where the program interventions are being implemented. So far, efforts have focused on care provided in public sector facilities — government-funded hospitals — even though a huge proportion of women in low- and middle-income countries go to private providers for services.

We need to improve quality in both sectors. Our advocacy around this issue has helped increase attention and focus on the role of private providers. Nigeria, Ghana, and Uganda have all committed to looking at how they might implement quality improvement initiatives within their private health sectors. This is an important shift in thinking.

What lessons have you learned about advocacy that might be useful for others?

First lesson: you need evidence to back up your case.

But evidence comes in different forms, and with today’s technology we can gather and share it faster and in many more ways than ever before. A new digital platform we launched with our partners in India called Together for Her Health, for example, has become a wellspring of patient feedback. It leverages the global reach and immediacy of the web and social media to give women a voice to share their views and priorities when it comes to their own health.

The What Women Want campaign — led by White Ribbon Alliance and including MSD for Mothers — is also leveraging technology to channel women’s voices, crowd in their views around health, and elevate the conversation in exciting ways.

We need more campaigns like this. We need to find more ways to amplify the voices of those who we, in the global health and wider development community, aim to serve. These conversations are happening and we need to listen, we need to join in, and we need to help structure and direct them to amplify their impact.

Second lesson: beware of mission creep.

Stay focused and within scope, and don’t get sidetracked. Fight the urge to add things because you think “well, that would be nice to include.” These engagements are complicated enough. If you’re not clear about your mission and what you’re specifically trying to change, then you can really get yourself into a muddle.

Third lesson: leverage the power of partnerships to achieve your goals.

This means capitalizing on existing expertise and resources; it means using existing platforms for engagement, which may include research, convening, and communication. Don’t build something from scratch unless you have to. Meet communities and individuals where they are and don’t expect them to come to you.

Devex, with financial support from our partner MSD for Mothers, is exploring how the private sector is driving innovations in global health. Visit the Focus on: Future of Health Partnerships page for more.

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