by Emily Bell
On the 24th of November, I walked into the opening plenary of the Canadian Conference on Global Health (CCGH) thinking my heart might pound right out of my chest. I sat down by myself at a table to the far side of the room and looked around at the name-tagged professionals and distinguished guests, all of whom seemed to know each other. Attending the very first conference of my academic career, I could not help thinking to myself – what am I doing here?
As a first-year master’s student in Health Promotion at Queen’s University, my attendance at CCGH was not a guarantee. I had nothing to present, and my lab-mates would not be going in-person. Certainly, this backdrop to my decision to attend left me feeling unsure upon my arrival. This uncertainty dogged much of my early time at the conference. However, as the speakers took the stage, each fascinating panel and the next did their best to coax my mind away from its uncertainties and into the realms of health partnerships, health policy, research methods, and the decolonisation of global health, to name a few. It was a great honour to listen to both Canadian and Ghanaian experts in these topics, through the entirety of the conference, bringing a feeling of tangibility to the focus the conference had on global health partnerships. While I found great reward listening to each panel, the persistent sense that I was out of place did not disappear until the end of day two: when I attended a conversation hosted by Canadian Women in Global Health (CWIGH) Leadership on transforming global health leadership through operationalizing the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI).
Sitting in a small group of women in the middle of our conference room, I felt such a warm and honest welcome – to the CCGH, to the world of conferences, to the questions global health leadership must discuss. Eva Slawecki and Bev Johnson, Co-Chairs of CWIGH Leadership, led the discussion, asking us participants key questions including: What is your sphere of influence? What are concrete ways you can operationalize the principles of EDI? What barriers and opportunities can you see? Gathered in-person with the name-tagged professionals and honoured guests of the conference, I listened and participated in a discussion on diverse experiences and paths in health leadership, and how each one of us could consider equity, diversity and inclusion within our own lives and spheres of influence. Among us were women onboarding and offering opportunities to young professionals, women taking roles at Global Affairs Canada, women in leadership positions at health organizations with discretion over teams, programs and partnerships. Together, we brought a great feast of experience, work and opportunity to the table to reflect upon critically.
As we conversed, it became clear how easy it is to overlook what power we have in our own spheres of influence. We identified shared barriers we ran afoul of through our varying experiences, such as limited candidacy for team building that stymied attempts to operationalize EDI. Similarly, we identified shared opportunities to pursue EDI, such as within outreach for early recruitment and onboarding efforts. It was exciting to see where our barriers and opportunities puzzled together into something greater: perhaps firmly embracing operationalized EDI during stages of outreach and recruitment could minimize the practical barrier of limited candidacy that organizers may later be faced with when constructing working groups. Within my own sphere of influence, I considered the power and opportunity I hold entering my academic career as a master’s student, and the opportunity that my upcoming thesis research embodies. I will be researching youth activism in the face of climate change, and the effects that participation in organized climate activism has upon youth activists’ mental health.
It is an area where critically considering the concepts of EDI is key: the same scales of power and privilege that favour wealthy and heavily white countries globally, similarly affect the differing experiences of youth climate activists of varying racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. In our discussion, I considered how important it will be in my research to listen to and include experiences, voices and perspectives that don’t echo my own – and instead seek devoutly to represent all the many different youths participating in the climate protest movement. This research is my own sphere of influence, and I must take every opportunity to consider the concepts of EDI. Taking purposeful care that I look for and welcome diversity among those participating in my research is a clear and concrete opportunity for me to operationalize EDI in my work.
Having the opportunity to participate in and build a meaningful conversation with other conference-goers was extraordinary, in the ideas we shared together on the implementation of EDI concepts in our own work and the work of others. The close and purposeful conversation left me grounded in, welcomed to and excited for the remainder of the conference. Moreover, as I considered our discussion upon the implementation of the principles of EDI, I found these ideas ringing through all of the conference and among the many panellists and presenters. The concepts of EDI shone through conversations on the topics of compassionate partnerships, equity and empowerment in partnerships, and the determinants of Indigenous Peoples’ health and wellness. Certainly, CCGH seemed to embrace these principles in the uplifting and focus upon Ghanaian expertise through a conference built upon Canadian and Ghanaian partnership. A conference I have been so glad to have attended.
The Canadian Conference on Global Health ended on the 26th of November, and on the final Friday I walked out of the hall smiling. Three fascinating days of conference gave me the chance to listen and learn, to meet and speak with other conference-goers, and be welcomed to a wonderful experience. I had also answered that early question, of what I was doing at this conference. In the end, I did not need to bring research or posters or presentations with me to give back to this conference. To best contribute, I needed to wholeheartedly bring myself, and earnestly plan to take every new reflection I have gained into my future.
About the Author
Emily Bell is a first year Master's student at Queen's University, studying Health Promotion with the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies. Through the course of her studies she is exploring youth mental health through the lens of climate change and organised youth climate activism.