Find Your People, Use Your Voice: Reflections from Training Institute 2016

Two weeks ago, we wrapped up our favorite weekend of the year: the PIH Engage Training Institute. Training Institute is the one occasion each year that we get to spend together as a network, learning, growing, thinking, and planning together. There are few greater privileges than spending our days with the outstanding organizers who lead and build the movement for the right to health.

This year, we were lucky enough to welcome over 150 network leaders to Boston for the 2016 Training Institute, where we learned the skills to help our movement succeed. With skill sessions from “Advocacy 101” to “Theory and Practice of Social Movements” and “Personal Fundraising” to “Building Strategic Partnerships,” along with plenty of brainstorming time, we’re confident that our network walked away from the weekend with plenty to take back to our teams around the country.

This year we welcomed 10 guest speakers from PIH, including CEO Dr. Gary Gottlieb and Interim Director for PIH Engage Dr. Michelle Morse, as well as three partner organizations who helped us hone our advocacy skills. Thanks to the Student Global AIDS Campaign, the American Medical Student Association, and Universities Allied for Essential Medicines for their participation at TI and their partnership year-round!


 Training Institute participants gather for a group photo

After reflecting on the weekend we had together, the moving stories that were shared, and the gracious guests we were able to host, we wanted to share our three big takeaways from Training Institute 2016:


We have a choice to either walk away from problems, or try to change them.

Chief Nursing Officer Dr. Shelia Davis had mounds of wisdom to dispense during her opening keynote on Friday. But the one that stuck with us the most was the personal story she shared about how she got her start as an advocate for global health issues. In the height of the AIDS epidemic in the late 1990s, Dr. Davis was faced with fellow nursing students who she knew weren’t treating HIV+ patients with the dignity they deserved. She realized, “I could either drop out because I was horrified how my future colleagues would treat people, or I could become an activist. That was my defining moment.”

Over the weekend, we recognized many of the serious challenges we face in the right to health movement — from keeping volunteers engaged, to choosing to invest in certain issues over others, to trying to change the hearts and minds of peers and politicians in a politically complicated climate. Dr. Davis’s words remind us that this work is always a choice, and that the decision to step away from hard work is a choice as well. We know that walking away and staying silent about the challenges we see in global health speaks as loudly as anything we do. Throughout the weekend, we pledged to each other not to back down from those challenges, but to lean in to them, speaking out against injustice, offering our whole activist selves to this movement.


The Boston Young Professional team presents their campaign plan to the group on the last day of Training Institute

This work requires humility.

Our rockstar PIH staff panel on Friday afternoon, followed up with our surprise Skype-from-Haiti keynote from Dr. Paul Farmer, drove home the need for us to put patients and the poor first in all that we do. As a predominantly U.S.-based effort, PIH Engage sits at a crossroads – we advocate for global health equity, but oftentimes the policies we support do not directly impact our lives. In order to engage responsibly and fully in global health advocacy, we know that humility is key. Listening to each other’s stories, accompanying those we serve, and remembering that those with lived experience of poverty and inequities should always stay front and center in a movement, are a crucial part of our activism.

Dr. Farmer reminded us that “cultural competency” is hard to measure and often inadequate – and that “cultural humility” is what is really important in working in a diverse global movement. Our staff panel on accompaniment pushed us to consider our roles of privilege in this work, with urges to do the hard work of listening before we act.

As we kick off our campaign together, ready to fight for dignified care for PIH’s patients and beyond, we will hold these lessons close to our hearts. We will remind each other to listen.


This movement is about the relationships we build.

By far the most magical (and useful) part of Training Institute has nothing to do with the skill sessions or staff speakers; it’s the time we have together and the relationships we build that makes the weekend so valuable. It’s these relationships amongst our teams, across the network, and between the National Team staff and our incredible volunteers, that keep the movement powered all year long. Emmanuel Kamanzi, Rwanda Program officer, closed our staff panel with the reminder to work together. We know that no movement is possible without the deep connections we make through this work, and we spent time in our skill sessions learning how to strengthen those ties – through one-on-one conversations, investing in our team members, and building partnerships in our communities. We wish that we could have a Training Institute every month, but with just the one a year, we know how important it is to carry the inspiration we found in each other to our teams, and build our movement on meaningful connections and shared love for this mission.

PIH Engage Tufts University Team Coordinator, Feifei Xu, recognized that teams can feel isolated during the year, and pledged that she and her team would work towards more collaboration in the coming year. Feifei reflected, “seeing the room filled with other fellow Engagers was a great reminder that we're part of a large social movement; there are so many other people across the US with our same mission!”

Brand-new Team Coordinator at PIH Engage University of Georgia, Mihir John, reflected on the friends he made at Training Institute, knowing that those connections would be the most valuable resource available in learning how to start a new team in his community. He shared, “I met friends who have done exactly what my team is trying to start, and they gave me the skills and confidence I needed to take back home. TI 2016 built the foundation of our Engage team and our campaign, and I'll be bringing my team next year to feel the same inspiration that I did.” We can’t wait to meet the UGA team next year! 


The University of Hawaii team shows their spirit during an energizer activity

Sheila Davis put it as well as we ever could: “Find your people and use your voice.”

After meeting so many incredible volunteers at Training Institute, we know we’ve found our people. And we cannot wait to use our voices together in the fight for the right to health this year.

Join our Campaign Kickoff Webinar to take a deeper dive into the campaign goals we presented at Training Institute and learn how to get started with our fall actions!

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