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How to be a youth advocate for global health

MSc Global Health student Sarah Walji

May 29, 2019
By Sarah Walji

We all have the capacity to make an impact, big or small. The MSc Global Health program has given me the confidence to capitalize on the incredible opportunities available to students, and the passion to advocate for active youth engagement in global health.

I’m currently attending the WHA (World Health Assembly) with the IFMSA (International Federation of Medical Students Associations) as an interdisciplinary delegate. My role includes being a youth advocate, raising concerns regarding meaningful youth engagement within the realm of global health.

I believe that achieving health for all means that global institutions such as the WHO must act as leaders in engaging young people. We’re not the future – we’re the NOW – and we need use our voices. Just look at what Greta Thunberg has achieved. 

If you’re wondering what you can do, I’ve put together a few tips to get you started:

1. Network, network, network. Don't be shy when it comes to the opportunity to expand your network, you never know who you may come across. Attend conferences, local and international events, discussions, dinner. A lot of the time these events can be discounted or even free for students so take advantage of them. Explore networks and events such as:

  • GASNN (the Global Association of Student and Novice Nurses)
  • IPSF (International Pharmacy Students Federation) 
  • IFMSA (International Federation of Medical Students Associations)
  • WHSS (World Healthcare Students Symposium)
  • Regional Youth Delegate opportunities (including the Canadian Youth Delegate program) 
  • Youth Hub through the Global Health Workforce Network
  • WGH (Women in Global Health)

2. Always ask. Ask about how others got the positions they are in now. See if they have advice for you as a young professional or student. Inquire if there's an entry level position available or if they have a colleague who's looking for an extra hand.

3. Be ready with your fold out chair. To all my younger career-oriented colleagues, especially in global health, I always recommend being open to the idea of bringing your own seat. Sometimes you get a chance to be at a table and sometimes you have to ask for the space, but once you're there don't hesitate to make your presence known. That brings me to another point of being LOUD: Articulate your learning in a capacity that demonstrates why you should be present in more spaces. Show your abilities, especially in global spaces. This is your opportunity to engage with others in meaningful dialogue, so capitalize on it.

4. Use your digital voice. Tweet, gram, vlog, blog...especially when attending events. Use the trending hashtags and engage with speakers, presenters and influencers through social media. You can even go from digital to in-person conversations if you generate enough of a presence.

In addition to the WHA, I’m involved with Nursing Now, a global campaign for nursing, on which I’m presently a young nurse board member. And I’ve had the opportunity to speak at a number of UK based events (Public Health England conference in Liverpool and the EJLA summit at Nottingham University). I’ll be speaking at the International Council of Nurses/CNA colloquium, in June and have been invited to speak at the upcoming International Council of Nurses Congress (at the end of June) in Singapore.

I'm using my voice and I hope to encourage the next generation of young leaders to take action, because to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to be equal partners in policy and practice. 

Please consider following me!