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Can advocacy succeed?

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A few days ago I was in a meeting with an older Bangladeshi gentleman who told me that my colleagues and I are wasting our time doing advocacy, as it will not lead to any changes. I could understand why he might believe what he was saying, but my own experience indicates that advocacy campaigns, though they typically take a long time, often do yield results – and exceedingly important ones at that.

While it is no doubt important to carry out programs to help individual recipients, I personally would find it frustrating to do so, knowing that I can only ever reach a very small number of those affected, and that the problem is continuing to grow. How much better to achieve a change that reaches hundreds of thousands or even millions of people?!

Rather than occasionally organize a sporting event for a local neighbourhood, HealthBridge and partners have helped save numerous parks and playing fields in which thousands of people exercise and play each day, as well as to create new ones. Rather than tell people not to smoke and hope they listen, HealthBridge and partners have helped change national laws and policies that are proven to reduce smoking rates. Rather than try to teach traffic safety to a handful of children, HealthBridge and its partners are working on the adoption of Active and Safe Routes to School programs that should eventually reach millions.

Sure, advocacy is difficult and involves a lot of work…but the gains are enormous and long-lasting, and our long list of successes in various countries should be enough to silence the sceptics.