Behind the scenes of polio eradication

Rotary's national advocacy advisers are putting polio on the world stage.

At the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta in June, world leaders were on hand to celebrate a historic $1.2 billion in commitments to finance polio eradication. It was a huge moment for the polio eradication effort. But how did it come about?

A group of Rotary volunteers has been hard at work behind the scenes: our PolioPlus national advocacy advisers. This team of Rotarians from donor countries has a mission to make sure polio eradication is on the global agenda. In the corridors of power, they relentlessly work their connections – lunches with government officials, phone calls with ministers – to garner money and support for ending the disease.

And they’ve been successful: Since Rotary’s advocacy program started in 1995, it has generated more than $8 billion toward ending polio. The United States is the leading public sector donor to global polio eradication with a cumulative investment that totals $3 billion through fiscal 2017, thanks in large part to the leadership of Past RI President James L. Lacy and members of the Polio Eradication Advocacy Task Force for the U.S. Their advocacy colleagues around the world have done remarkable work as well.

“The national advocacy advisers always come through in knowing the right people to speak with in government and in arranging key meetings,” says Michael K. McGovern, International PolioPlus Committee chair. “No matter the political party in charge, the Rotarians are known and respected.”

This year, the pledging of funds wasn’t the only priority. Working with our Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners, the advocates had the ambitious goal of getting a commitment to polio eradication from the world’s most powerful nations. The advocacy advisers saw two unprecedented political victories when both the health ministers and leaders of the Group of 20, an informal bloc of countries accounting for 85 percent of the global economy, committed to strive to finish our work and end the disease.

Rotary’s message about ending polio is reaching the key decision-makers. So how did our national advocacy advisers do it? We checked in with three of them to find out what went into their recent successes.

Gianni Jandolo

Rotary Club:
Adda Lodigiano, Italy
Professional Background: Headhunter for information technology businesses
Polio background: More than five years as Italy’s national advocacy adviser

“It’s not enough to be passionate. You have to know the players, what agenda they have, including what hidden agenda they have. You have to be able to negotiate, to persuade, to be diplomatic.”

April

Jandolo represents Rotary at the C-7 meeting. He dedicates much of his two days in Rome to meeting one-on-one with the other attendees, especially those interested in health. He argues that the G-7 has already committed to eradicating polio and that now it needs to follow through. For the first time, the C-7 includes polio eradication in its policy recommendations. 

“The C-7 started understanding that Rotary is among the players in civil society. That is a good thing.”

May

Jandolo meets with Francesco Aureli, adviser to the diplomatic team on health issues, to urge support for polio eradication at the upcoming G-7. Jandolo and Aureli met for the first time over lunch in Rome in July 2016 and have developed a friendly relationship.

June

Italy pledges $5 million toward polio eradication. Rotary sends a thank-you note urging the country to include polio eradication on the leaders’ statement at the G-20.

Jandolo represents Rotary at the C-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany. Thiemo Steinrücken, a member of the German diplomatic team, sees Jandolo’s End Polio Now pin and tells him with a smile, “I suppose you are from Rotary International and you are going to talk about polio!” Unfortunately, this year polio eradication does not make it onto the list of C-20 policy recommendations.

Rotary, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and representatives from major donor countries announce $1.2 billion in new commitments toward polio eradication at the Rotary Convention in Atlanta.

Judith Diment

Rotary Club:
Maidenhead Thames, England
Professional Background: Runs a public relations and event planning firm
Polio background: Helped shape Rotary polio advocacy in her country since 1996 – first as a paid consultant and later as a national advocacy adviser, a position she has held since 2010. She is coordinator of the global team of advisers.

“When I go to see a minister, I always say I’m a volunteer. I think they’re absolutely amazed that we do this voluntarily.”

February

On 23 February – Rotary’s anniversary – Diment organizes a reception at the House of Commons in London to celebrate the centennial of The Rotary Foundation and educate attendees about ending polio. The 100 guests include politicians from the House of Commons and the House of Lords, ambassadors and high commissioners from countries where polio eradication activities take place, and major donors to polio eradication. “I’ve been working on advocacy for over 20 years, so I know my way around Parliament. I’ve got a good contact base.”

May

Diment meets with Heulwen Philpot, a member of the British diplomatic team, at the UK Cabinet Office. She urges Philpot to get polio onto the G-7 communiqué, a list of nonbinding commitments the participating governments make.

Later that month, at the World Health Assembly, Diment gives a three-minute speech about polio eradication to health ministers from all the UN member states. She is given this privilege because of Rotary’s consultative status with the World Health Organization.

With new heads of state in four of the seven countries, one global leader predicted that this would be “the most challenging G-7 summit in years.” While polio eradication has been mentioned on the G-7 communiqué in the past, it did not make it into the 2017 declaration, which tackled topics such as refugees and climate change.

June

In the weeks leading up to the UK elections in June, government officials put public spending decisions on hold and could not announce a financial commitment toward polio eradication with the other donors at the Rotary Convention. Diment emails Prime Minister Theresa May, whom she has known through local politics for more than 20 years, to fill her in about the financial pledges made at the convention.

August

Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel announces a UK pledge of £100 million, bringing the total pledged worldwide to $1.3 billion. The next week, Diment meets with Patel to thank her. Diment asks British Rotary clubs to write to their members of Parliament to thank them for the pledge and invite them to World Polio Day events in October. “It’s a continuous dialogue with all the audiences you need to influence.”

Marcelo Haick

Rotary Club:
Santos-Praia, Brazil  
Professional Background: Physician specializing in occupational medicine
Polio background: In addition to serving as Brazil’s national advocacy adviser since 2014, Haick represents Rotary on Brazil’s polio eradication committee and is an End Polio Now zone coordinator.

“Advocacy needs proactive behavior and to have influence. To be lucky always helps – that’s the fun part.”

February

Brazil’s newly appointed foreign affairs minister, Norberto Moretti, is on the diplomatic team for the G-20. With the help of a congressman from São Paulo state, João Paulo Tavares Papa, Haick secures a meeting with Moretti. At the meeting, a medical adviser to the minister, Marise Ribeiro Nogueira, tells Haick that 20 years ago, she was a Rotary scholar. “She became our ally in the office.”

April

Ricardo Barros, Brazil’s health minister, puts forward a one-page policy statement encouraging other countries to support polio eradication during the first-ever G-20 health ministers meeting. Haick and Barros met for the first time the previous year, thanks to a Rotary connection: At a Rotary institute, Haick discovered that Mauro Carvalho Duarte Jr., then governor-elect of District 4630, was a close friend of Barros. “He took out his mobile phone in the hotel corridor and asked, ‘Do you want me to call the minister right now?’”

May

Barros personally calls Haick to confirm that he is planning to champion the cause. While Haick has many meetings with high-level government officials, to receive a call directly from Barros surprises him. “It was the first time in my life a minister called me.”

June

The G-20 health ministers recognize the “historic opportunity to contribute to global polio eradication” in their communiqué. In particular, they focus on “strong, sustainable and resilient health systems,” in which the infrastructure and human resources of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative play an important role. The recommendations from this meeting can influence the decisions at the next G-20 summit and help support Rotary’s ongoing advocacy efforts with individual member states.

July

Canada, a long-standing champion of polio eradication, plays a leading role in getting the issue onto the agenda for the G-20. For the first time, G-20 leaders pledge to “strive to fully eradicate polio” in their unanimous final declaration after the summit in Hamburg. While not legally binding, it shapes future policies in the countries involved.

What can you do?

You may not be a national advocacy advisor, but you can do your part to underscore Rotary's commitment to polio eradication. If you personally know a government official, contact your country's advocacy advisor to offer your support. If a local or national representative is speaking at your club, take the opportunity to remind that person that polio is Rotary's top priority and that the speaker's support is both needed and appreciated. Give the representative an End Polio Now pin or make a contribution in the speaker's name to Rotary's polio eradication efforts.

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Rotary  | Jan. 25, 2018