Interview with Dr. Michaela Told

JP: Does being in the NGO sector or in another health sector besides the Academia improve your career in Global Health?

MT: I think it is actually important to be one of these other actors, because Global Health, as we said, nowadays requires diplomacy: you cannot do without the other actors, as they play an important role, the NGOs included. NGOs have a mandate which governments cannot address, and even though in the health sector the governments are the negotiators, they also rely on information obtained from other actors, which is an entry point for the NGOs. This is how they influence the agenda, but it is important that it’s done wisely and appropriately.

If one came in with an ideological mindset, it might not work as much as the appropriate language would. On the other hand, good advocacy NGO experts can go as far as to suggest a language that is being used while negotiating. Additionally, the material provided by the NGOs to the member states could represent a lot of help, because the member states have a lot to prepare as they have so many agendas.

JP: Do you think that having different experiences in the field of Global Health can be beneficial for the curriculum?

MT: Of course! If you look at my own career, I started as a Red Cross worker at a village level. This made me understand many things. I mean, I walked for 7 hours to villages in Laos, based on the top of the mountain, to visit an ethnic group and see what is happening there.

Afterwards, I started working at an NGO lobbying for human rights. So, from a humanitarian on the field, I moved to an international level where I negotiated, where I could influence the agenda against racism.

Although it was ‘only’ an NGO, I built my advocacy skills, I learned how to approach people. Later, I went back to Red Cross, only this time I was on the Secretary function, which is again different from a member state function.

In some ways all that you have done follows you. I will never forget my experiences in the villages of Laos, but I will also not forget my advocacy NGO work. I am very aware of the very fine line between advocacy and diplomacy, and how it should be used to make an influence.

It doesn’t mean there is only one, my way of doing it. I think there are many different paths. But I think what you need to do is to build on each of your experiences, integrating them in your current position.

JP: Why do you think it’s important for a group like Young Gasteiners to study Health Diplomacy?

MT: I just believe that there is a strong conviction that if you come from the medical field, you are a specialist in medical issues. But if you look at the world today, you need to contextualize health, and if you want to contextualize health, you have to understand the political determinants and the wide determinants of health. This is why one needs to look out of their medical expertise in order to influence and change policy. You need to understand the broader picture, trying to find the language, find the understanding, find the perfect way of getting the message across. And it should not be technical, it should not be medical, because it should aim experts from different fields, as well as a wide range of different people. This is why we need health diplomacy.

JP: Can you give one last statement about this workshop?

MT: It was great. I love to work with young people.  I think they are the future, and we need to enable and support them to do their best in the future. It was great to see the everyone’s engagement, to come in and do the role-play, and have fun with it as well, while at the same time hopefully learning something.


This interviewed was conducted by the Young Gasteiner Jose Francisco Correia Lemos Pavão

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