An interview with Dr Sandro Demaio on Advocacy & Campaigning in Global Health

By Henry Mark

Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us! Can we take you back to you first experience of advocacy and campaign, when was it and what was it on?
Sandro

I think I was always a campaigner. In fact when I was 7, I remember baking cookies and then walking about the streets near my house selling them door to door with two friends. We were “raising money for Africa” I think a little naïve, but quite a fun start now looking back.

As a medical student, my first big campaign work was as the President of the Asian (and Pacific) Medical Students’ Association and on the Board of YEAH, Australia’s peak HIV and sexual health awareness organisation. Both experiences really tested my skills in public speaking, communication, leadership and engaging with wide, diverse audiences on some challenging topics.

What were your main inspirations and motivations for co-creating NCDFREE?

130308_NCDFree-ID-Final-square copyNCDFREE was created out of inspiration, and frustration. NCDFREE is a global social movement I co-founded in 2013 and it aims to put global health and NCDs on the map for millennials – linking it with urgency and poverty. The inspiration came from the incredible young change makers around the world I had, and still have the privilege to work with on NCDs. I wanted to tell their stories and through these, tell the story of NCDs. The frustration came from continually being met with the false perception that NCDs were diseases of affluence and laziness – when in fact they’re linked with poverty, poverty entrenchment and are a risk to economic development.

Looking back now can you pick out a couple of key moments in the early days that have been so important to the success of NCDFREE?

Our first big success was having a great team. NCDFREE is not a one man show, it is about the collective inspiration, action and dedication of a wide team. The second was our crowdfunding campaign. We made a YouTube clip and told the world our idea – NCDFREE. We said if they like it, support it. Evidently they did, because we raised US$60,000 in 30 days.

Many people who are passionate about a particular cause or issue will perhaps find the idea of creating their own campaign or social movement intimidating. What advice would you have for them?

Be passionate about it. Believe in yourself. Work with others. Don’t replicate for replications sake. Remember the words of Mead.

“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world.

Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” 

 Margaret Mead

Looking more generally at advocacy work in global health, do you think we risk developing a culture of one-upmanship as different sectors and health challenges compete for attention?

Good question. NCDFREE is a social movement, not an organisation. We are about bringing attention to an issue and to great people doing great work. Global health and its determinants are interlinked, complex and there are strong forces with vested interests in seeing NCDs continue to rise. Working together is the only way forward, and the only way we will get true transformative change.

Following on from this, how can we maintain a balanced approach to tackling global health issues?

I am a strong believer in looking at determinants and not diseases. We need to be focusing on the complex systems that cause disease, long before they do. This means health professionals and experts working with all sectors, but in tangible ways. NCDs offer a great platform for this because they include a wide range of diseases, which have strong multi-sectoral solutions. These include changes in advertising, transport, our food system and more – from across business, science, politics and even the private sector.

Finally, after the highly successful face of NCDs campaign, can you give us a sneak preview of what’s coming from NCDFREE in the remainder of this year?

We have a big year coming! We’re currently releasing our latest NCDFREE comedy films and just commissioned a new short film in Sri Lanka. Soon we will launch a new concept in Melbourne – the ChangeMaker’s Long Lunch. Then again in Sydney. We have a bootcamp in Sydney in March and are beginning plans for another in Copenhagen in August. We’re teaming up with partners to be at the Milan World EXPO, the EAT Stockholm Food Forum and will shortly launch a course on NCD Diplomacy with Ilona Kickbusch and the Geneva Graduate Institute.

You can keep up to date with NCDFREE or join the movement by finding us on Facebook where you can also sign up for our newsletter. NCDFREE belongs to everyone and we look forward to 2015: a huge year for our planet, and for Global Health.

Again thanks to Sandro for taking the time to talk with us. We are all excited to see what 2015 brings for global health and NCDFREE.

You can follow Sandro on twitter

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