Last month marked the one-year anniversary of the United Nations high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases (NCDs). NCDs (including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic respiratory illness) are the world’s number one killer, causing nearly two out of three deaths worldwide, and they’re on the rise. The amazing thing about these diseases is that – in many cases – they are preventable. Eating well, increasing physical activity, and refraining from tobacco use can save countless lives and livelihoods (if economic development is your cup of tea).
Arogya World – a “small but mighty” nonprofit organization based in Naperville, Illinois – wanted to mark the anniversary in a big way to highlight the issue of NCDs. Our goals were to keep the attention of world leaders and the global health and development community on the issue, reinforce and build upon our own relationships, while reaching new audiences and encouraging action and accountability by individuals and policymakers. What can I say, we’re lunatics.
We faced some daunting challenges. As a new NGO, we cannot trade on our brand equity, our budget is (ahem) modest, and we have a teeny tiny little team.
That was depressing, so we decided to look at our opportunities instead.
We know a lot of people. We are enthusiastic and creative. We are nimble. We decided to just let go of our ego, and the idea of measuring success in page views or donations. In our everyday work, we rely heavily on social media, and decided to broaden our approach. By creating high quality content and sharing it sincerely and without strings, we hoped that others may become genuinely excited about sharing our work. And that we’d be able to overcome some of our shortcomings.
Our biggest effort was an op-ed series created in partnership with the Young Professionals Chronic Disease Network. We gathered a group of prominent public health experts and NCD advocates to author eight pieces, got our global health colleagues to promote them using social media and made the most of our opportunity.
- The series: One Year In: The Global Fight Against NCDs
We also released a new HealthyFail Tumblr blog – inviting people to share some of the silly lengths to which we go to fail to act in our own health’s interest. The pedometer is still sitting on my desk. That hashtag is #healthyfail.
And finally, we published a new video titled “We Have a Situation…” created on a shoestring budget by one of our interns. Our goal for the video was to outline the problem briefly and compellingly, presenting NCDs as not only a health, but also a global development problem (as disease grows, prosperity declines). We felt it was important to close on an aspirational note – so people can feel good about the solution: “Eat well. Stay Fit. Don’t smoke.” One of the groups on Twitter called it their favorite low-cost movie on NCDs and thought it had all the elements to go viral.
Our idea was to saturate the market with multiple pieces of media, and give our colleagues-in-arms something to tout. Thoughtful articles by respected authorities, a short and shareable informative and aspirational video, and the (hopefully) fun Tumblr account that may get people to think about their own health and behaviors, while making it easy for them to share and enjoy.
At the End of the Day?
We were exhausted, but the op-ed series during UN Week was a hit. It was tweeted by @ONECampaign, @unfoundation, @WomenDeliver, DinaMired, NCD Alliance and scores of other organizations and individuals. It helped us to build relationships with those authors, with the publications (HuffingtonPost, ONE Blog and The Guardian), and with the NCD community. A prominent global health group was so inspired by the series that it is going to make NCDs one of the 10 biggest global health stories of 2012 – so stay tuned.
Our video and meme have done well for us as well. Our total budget for all three came in well under what my parents paid for a 2-door Datsun in 1979, and I believe we will be reaping the returns on this investment for months and years to come.
This increased attention on NCDs will energize the global health community and increase both attention to and resources for organizations such as ours, while allowing us to focus on what we do best – the work.
Thea Joselow is the head of Social and Digital Media for Arogya World. Her piece was originally published on Armchair Advocates.