Five Things Every Youth Advocate Should Know

August 11, 2022

By: Idris Mubarak

This post was originally published on the Knowledge SUCCESS website. To view the original post, click here.

Working in PHE (Population, Health, and Environment) gives me a unique perspective on the realities of community development. A lot of the factors that hinder the realization of optimum human health are closely linked to changes in the environment. As such, PHE projects bring about improved health outcomes, improved environment indicators, and more youth participation in natural resource management. As a young PHE advocate, it is important for me to find integrated and systemic approaches that increase people’s resilience and adaptation to climate emergencies. If you are a youth interested in undertaking your own advocacy journey, here are five things you should know in order to implement an effective advocacy campaign.

  1. Share Evidence-Based Data 

coffee cupEffective policy advocacy uses evidence that is gathered and presented to strengthen the case for change. It is important to have credible data to back up your claim so it is not misconstrued as just an opinion.

Cheryl Doss once said, “Advocates lose credibility by making claims that are inaccurate and slow down progress toward achieving their goals because, without credible data, they also can’t measure changes.” I have always used this statement as a guide for sticking with accurate data when framing my videos or any multimedia content. The first step to creating compelling content is to ascertain factual information and use it to showcase the reality of young people and women in these communities. Bridge Connect Africa Initiative’s “Have you heard the story?” is an example of such a multimedia product. It is a short poetry piece that speaks on how girls are denied their childhood, the chance to complete basic education, and a promising future. It ends with a call to action for Kano State, Nigeria, to sign the Child Protection Bill into law.

Evidence helps us to really understand the issues around PHE. It informs us of issues we were previously blind to and leads us to practical solutions that work for several applications, including:

  • Public policy.
  • Increasing public awareness.
  • Program design and delivery.
  1. Humanize Your Data 

Data is the bloodline of effective policy advocacy. Humanizing data ensures that it connects with the realities of communities and policymakers. It is important to stay away from abstract communication. When humanizing data, feed the imagination of the reader. For instance, it is better to say, “One in four girls who live in Northern Nigeria have no formal education,” than to say, “Twenty-five percent of girls who live in Northern Nigeria have no formal education”. Using the former creates a mental map for the reader and lets them ascertain the sense of urgency needed to address the advocacy issue.

  1. Recognize the Window of Opportunity 

One of my favorite quotes is amat victoria curam—it’s Latin and means “victory loves preparation.” As a PHE advocate, you must build a coalition to fully utilize a window of opportunity when it presents itself.

There are three major steps to building a critical mass of support for your advocacy:

  • Policy learning. Communicate problems and solutions in a way that motivates action and allows information to reach policymakers through different channels or media. This may be in the form of policy briefs, fact sheets, infographics, radio jingles, columns/posts, or videos.
  • Attention focusing. Sustain advocacy by drawing and keeping the attention of your key audiences. Use key indicators, media, leveraging on international commitments, and days of recognition.
  • Policy community strengthening. Establish a network of actors from different organizations committed to championing advocacy. Examples include:
    • Setting up a coalition of civil society organizations that advocate for a specific policy.
    • Hosting town hall meetings for policy stakeholders.
    • Training community champions in order to sustain the momentum needed to get policymakers to pass the bill.

Once a coalition has been built, it is easier to leverage and identify windows of opportunity to meet with policymakers, host a public dialogue, leverage social media, or organize youth to work together to push for change.

  1. Understand the Policy Landscape and Messaging 

Often, people are hesitant to accept an idea, especially one that involves change. As an advocate, it is important for you to present yourself as someone that will help them adopt these new changes. You need to understand the policy landscape in order to create an effective advocacy strategy. It is said that the messenger is often as important as the message if not more important. One must know the key audiences, policy stakeholders, influencers, and even the influencers’ influencers (they could be close relatives of the policymaker). Here are five tips to keep in mind to be a trusted messenger for your advocacy:

  • Dress how you want to be addressed.
  • Build your credibility, experience, and resources enough to be taken seriously.
  • Build more support to enhance the legitimacy of your campaign.
  • Your tone of engagement should be constructive and delivered with high EQ (emotional quotient or emotional intelligence).
  • Assess whether you are the right messenger. (Do you have the right reputation? Do you have the necessary communication and interpersonal skills?)
  1. Create and Disseminate Multimedia Content 

We all use different mediums to access information. Some prefer social media, others prefer traditional media (television and newspapers).

Policymakers interact with a lot of information on a daily basis, which can lead to information overload. It is important to conduct a quick study of a policymaker’s most preferred medium for accessing information.

When communicating with politicians, a good practice is to NOT add too many technical details to content—they do not require that depth of data. They are more interested in an overview of the issue, the number of people affected, and preferred solutions.

Social media is a key tool for building awareness and credibility on issues like climate change and harmful traditional practices. When integrated into health communication campaigns and activities, social media encourages participation, conversation, and community—all of which can help spread messages, influence decision-making, and promote behavioral change. It also helps to reach people when, where, and how it is convenient for them, which improves the viability of content and might influence satisfaction and trust in the messages delivered.

Learn how to use multimedia to push for change with this excellent toolkit developed by the Population Reference Bureau. There’s also this short course from the Global Health Learning Center that introduces the fundamentals of PHE.