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We change the world: What can we learn from global social movements for health?

This report presents actionable ways to grow social movements based on the practical experience of over 40 people representing four social movements

This report presents actionable ways to grow social movements based on the practical experience of over 40 people representing four social movements.

Key findings

Social movements:

  • Grow in influence by engaging the right people in the right places at the right time
  • Focus on an important set of early actions including mobilising people, experimenting with effective strategies, deploying assets and resources creatively
  • Understand the value of cultivating a diverse set of voices and the unique experiences, skills and interests they bring
  • Make smart trade-offs about where and how to invest their energy in relationships to achieve the highest level of influence and impact

In our conversations with people starting or growing social movements, time and time again we hear the question, 'What can we learn from other social movements like HIV/AIDs?'

This report presents insights from conversations with over 40 social movement leaders, allies and dissenters. The people represent four global social movements:

  • HIV/AIDS achieved mass grassroots mobilisation, rapidly bringing people with lived experience together, and engaged a range of global institutions to fight for equal access to treatment for all.
  • Global mental health represents a vast group of people, in overlapping and often conflicting sub-movements, fighting to improve the lives of people with mental illness. Some of their aims include generating evidence, closing the treatment gap for people in low-income countries and promoting human rights.
  • Rare disease, a tapestry of intersecting efforts improving conditions for people affected by the over 7,000 identified rare diseases, often by leading research, organising peer support, developing new networks that challenge established structures and power relationships.
  • Disability rights, promoted the participation of disabled people in policy and service delivery globally and helps bring the world’s attention to the human rights of disabled people internationally.

The insights are not meant to be prescriptive or formulaic. They are intended to be conversation starters about what learnings might be applicable to movements in the UK and to broader movements affecting the social determinants of health.

Interviews were conducted with people primarily based outside of the UK in an attempt to learn from other contexts. Applying learnings from elsewhere can be challenging, requiring adaptation and translation. Taking time to reflect and ask, 'If this applicable to me? How?' can be fruitful and is often the first step.

This report does not describe the history of any one movement. Instead, it puts the activists at the centre of the debate, aiming to more deeply understand and identify factors which social movement leaders themselves feel have contributed to victories large and small.

The intention is that the insights are of practical value to people starting or growing movements, large or small, who want to achieve greater influence and impact, as well as people in formal groups or institutions who desire better understanding or interacting with them.

Policy recommendations

  1. Applying the insights from this report to a UK context will require adaptation and translation. To reap the benefits of these insights, we suggest UK social movement leaders and policymakers ask, “Which insights are applicable to me? How?”
  2. How an institution responds to a social movement can have a significant impact on the movement's lifecycle and impact. People in institutions can be encouraged to work alongside early-stage movements to support their autonomy and avoid early co-option.
  3. People desiring to fund social movements can learn from people with a wealth of experience, such as the New World Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Authors

Jacqueline del Castillo

Jacqueline del Castillo

Jacqueline del Castillo

Senior Programme Manager

Jacqueline works in Nesta's Health Lab on initiatives that empower people and communities to improve their own health and the systems which shape it. Most recently, she has been invo...

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Lydia Nicholas

Lydia Nicholas

Lydia Nicholas

Senior Researcher, Explorations

Lydia was a senior researcher in Nesta’s Explorations team, focusing on how minds, systems and technologies come together to perform better at complex challenges with particular focu...

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Rachel Nye

Rachel Nye

Rachel Nye

Researcher, Health Lab

Rachel was a researcher in the Health Lab working on the NHS England's Health as a Social Movement programme in collaboration with RSA and the New Economics Foundation.

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Halima Khan

Halima Khan

Halima Khan

Executive Director, Health Lab

Halima is Executive Director of the Health Lab, which aims to create a people powered health system. Health Lab brings together Nesta's practical work on health and ageing to achieve...

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