One key thing excites me about future communications work in global health and development – it provides an opportunity to change a narrative.
Hayley is a communications specialist who has worked in various communications and storytelling roles for global health organizations. After specializing in global health during her university studies, she has since worked on global development projects for organizations including Girl Effect, the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research, St. Michael’s Hospital and ThriveHire. Within her work, Hayley is most passionate about helping people and organizations find new ways to convey their stories and undertakings so they can achieve their goals and maximize their impacts.
What motivated you to get involved in global health?
As someone who was born in Nepal and has family roots in Canada, Australia and Tanzania, I’ve been fascinated with global affairs since—really—before I can remember.
Growing up, I was regularly exposed to different cultures and ways of thinking. I recall one time when I was visiting my Australian uncle, who lived in Singapore. He was sharing a few insights from his day with me, including how he held a meeting with 11 people, all from different countries. Although I was 12 years-old at the time, I asked him how he felt that diversity brought different perspectives and contributions to his work. Even then, I was fascinated with understanding people’s unique experiences and world views.
In high school, I was therefore a bit of an odd-ball. I was pretty aware that my experience—of being a relatively privileged, white woman raised in Canada—was unique. I had access to a strong public education system, the ability to play sports after school, good medical coverage (which I witnessed firsthand as a teenager, when two members of my family were in a sudden medical emergency). I knew that access to such things wasn’t the norm for a lot of people.
If I’m being fully honest, this inequity wasn’t something that just ‘intrigued’ me. On some days, I thought about it a lot—almost as if it were coming from a place of guilt. It felt as if I had been given access to plenty of opportunities, and I wasn’t doing enough with them… since then, I’ve come to the conclusion that guilt is never a healthy or sustainable motivator, but it was my experience, nonetheless.
By the time I entered the doors of UBC for my undergrad degree, I was keen to immerse myself in issues related to international development. In particular, to explore how structural determinants can either facilitate or impede a person’s quality of life. While at UBC, I was exposed to courses in global health and became pretty fixed on it—without one’s health, a person can’t truly enjoy all that life has to offer.
I later went on to pursue an MPH and then began working on projects aiming to strengthen health outcomes, namely in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Malawi, and now Rwanda where I’m based.
However, finally landing on a particular subspecialty—communications—in this big field called ‘global health’, took me a while.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get involved in the type of work you do?
Perhaps before I answer this question, I can take a step back and quickly summarize what Communications Specialists do.
Communications experts are tasked with distilling complex subject matter into bite-size pieces of information, which almost any audience can understand. They have to ensure that the overall mission of an organization, or the ‘so what’ part of a global health project, isn’t getting lost and is instead being clearly communicated. When done well, Communications Specialists can help teams and organizations pitch their work to secure new funding and partnership opportunities, promote transparency and understanding internally within teams, and uncover new opportunities for growth. It may sound simple, but it’s both an art and a science.
In terms of what this looks like in practice, throughout some of my current and past work, I’ve been tasked with taking high-level business strategies and translating them into short pitch documents, which outline the real value that an organization is trying to provide. Or putting together a communications plan to help an organization walk through a major structural change and transition process. Or translating project undertakings into news articles, press releases and social media copy.
If this interests you and you’re someone who may want to pursue a career in communications, I would share 3 quick tips:
- If you’re compiling a story, approach it from a place of curiosity. Have a good idea of the main question you want answered, but then let the story unfold. To do this, be curious—ask questions; research that point that fascinates, or even ‘bugs’ you. As one of my mentors once said, don’t just treat it as an operation, be creative. Your story will be a lot more interesting this way.
- As a lot of comms work can be rather visual (for instance, crafting slide decks, websites, infographics, etc.), put together a Comms Portfolio. It can be a great and appealing way to keep track of your past work. And attaching it in job applications (along with your CV and/or cover letter) shows how you’re willing to go the extra mile.
- Seek advice from mentors who are experienced Comms Specialists, editors, etc. If you’ve written a piece, share it to gain their insights. Ask them what they feel are essential skills to succeeding in this field. Not only will you learn a lot through these conversations, but they may even connect you to opportunities.
What excites you most about the future of your field?
One key thing excites me about future communications work in global health and development:
It provides an opportunity to change a narrative.
As many people are familiar with, global health has a backdrop of colonialism and power imbalances. Community members have often been left out of many decision-making processes and unsustainable ‘helicopter’ projects have been rampant. Not only that, but many global health communications campaigns have used tactics that aren’t fully accurate and in fact, have perpetuated stereotypes and power imbalances.
For instance, notable global health organizations (you can likely name some) have filled commercials and social media ads with pictures of people—often in low-income countries—who are impoverished and in need of ‘being saved.’ I call this ‘Poverty porn.’ Although some organizations still use this imagery, it’s an approach to communications that is increasingly being scrutinized in this field.
We must move away from this model. We need to bring people from diverse backgrounds into decision-making processes—especially people who have directly experienced global health challenges themselves. And we need to showcase more accurate, multi-dimensional challenges and experiences.
What better way to do this—to change narratives—than through storytelling. That’s why I’m on a personal mission to write stories about complex health and development problems, but then to showcase people who are from and immersed in these communities and have been working tirelessly to change them.