The Power to Achieve RESULTS: Lessons from the 2015 RESULTS International Conference

Daniel Kahneman said “optimistic people play a disproportionate role in shaping our lives. Their decisions make a difference; they are inventors, entrepreneurs, political and military leaders - not average people. They got to where they are by seeking challenges and taking risks.” Aaron Oxley, Executive Director of RESULTS UK opened his talk as part of a panel at the 2015 RESULTS International Conference with this insight.

This past week, a group of about 500 such optimistic people came together in the name of global development and advocacy for a five day conference. Running from July 18-July 22 and sponsored in part by Aeras, the conference offered a variety of programming including seminars, skill building workshops, plenaries, an advocacy day, a congressional reception, and a final gala.

The conversation first turned to tuberculosis (TB) in a Sunday morning workshop, “Learning from the Ebola Epidemic: Lessons for the Fight Against TB.” A panel, moderated by Mandy Slutsker of ACTION, included Dr. Vivian Huang of the NYC Community Health Center, RESULTS UK Executive Director Aaron Oxley and TB survivor and patient advocate Louie Zepeda.

Dr. Huang, who worked in a TB hospital in Swaziland and helped with the Ebola response in Sierra Leone, discussed the similarities between the two epidemics. She discussed how both diseases have no effective vaccine and have been neglected due to their associations with poverty, adding that the Ebola epidemic overwhelmed weak health infrastructures, revealing vulnerabilities to all kinds of disease. Vivian also touched on the importance of trust, or lack thereof, between local communities and healthcare workers, pointing out that TB has never been a “sexy” disease, but in the wake of Ebola, the new attention around global health can be harnessed to raise awareness of TB as well as mitigate the stigma of the disease.

The panel also offered a patient perspective as Louie Zepeda told her story of being treated for TB in the Philippines, ultimately overcoming the disease but not before the treatment left her blind. Once cured, Ms. Zepeda became an advocate for patient, specifically focusing on those with disabilities. She explained a need for universally designed access to treatment, as facilities often do not accommodate the needs if disabled patients — such as employing interpreters for the deaf. Ms. Zepeda spoke about how patients often lose their jobs, unable to work because of the rigors of treatment or subsequent medical complications. An architect by trade, Ms. Zepeda can no longer perform in the field in which she has been trained. For many patients, TB presents an unappealing choice between providing for their families or a sickening course of treatment. As a survivor, Louie hopes to give patients a voice to change this situation, a reminder that the impacts of TB extend beyond a course of medications.

Panelist Aaron Oxley offered his expertise on how to turn medical knowledge and personal experience gained from Dr. Huang and Ms. Zepeda into advocacy and action. He offered an anecdote of working with the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Tuberculosis, and how the group used TB statistics categorized by constituency to grab the attention of parliamentarians. Mr. Oxley stressed the need to frame TB in terms that people understand and referenced the addage that “one death is a tragedy but a million deaths is a statistic.” Mr. Oxley pointed out that storytelling is at the heart of this idea, and that speaking of statistics as tragedies is a powerful tool for any advocate. The key, Oxley explains, is finding a personal story that will resonate with the audience.

On Tuesday, RESULTS participants fanned out across the Congressional office buildings to meet with Members of Congress from all over the US. Energized and armed with data and stories, volunteers put their skills and passion to use encouraging Congress to support particular issues, such as TB, and the overall goal of ending poverty. By the end of the day, more than a dozen Senators and Representatives joined volunteers in a House ballroom. The outcome was clear: RESULTS volunteers had been heard and well-received, their issues were acted on, and they were urged to keep up the fight. The evening closed with Dr. Jim Kim, President of the World Bank, who talked about the Bank’s innovative current and future efforts, and echoed the spirit of the day: the power to achieve results is in our hands. It’s up to us to use it.