Over the course of my career, I’ve probably trained 1,000 people on how to be effective advocates for the causes they believe in. Most of the time, the advocacy occurred in the state and federal legislative arenas where I asked highly trained health professionals to get out of their comfort zone (and lobby).
Lobbyists don’t have a stellar reputation outside the Capital Beltway. The word lobbyist conjures up true stories of expensive suits with big salaries and even larger campaign donations. However, each of us is a constituent of three members of Congress and most of you have likely written your Senators and Representative on a topic you care deeply about. I know that because DSHEA happened as a result of constituent support and the passion of our retail and consumer community.
A lot has changed in politics since DSHEA, and much of it lacks luster. Divisiveness and discord jeopardize the opportunity for compromise and consensus. Is it any surprise that people shun the prospect of writing to their members of Congress or their state legislators, and find the prospect of joining in on a lobby day to be a burden? Looking in from the outside, it feels like victory belongs only to the well-funded and the powerful. I’m here to challenge these certitudes and empower each of us to put a passionate step forward to effect change.
What does it take to be an effective advocate?
Here’s my go-to toolbox.
1. A clear and conscious intention for the change you seek to make.
Consider it an elevator speech. We are an industry committed to education and the health of our communities, whether we are retailers, salespersons, or CEOs of major nutraceutical companies. We join organizations like SENPA and the Organic & Natural Health Association because we know that by joining together we create a collaborative conversation that can enable an effective process that will spark change.
2. Solid footing and confidence.
It is essential that we understand the issue we represent. It is equally important to understand the reasons why some people will support us and others will oppose us. This translates into respect for individuals, your community, and the organizations we encounter.
3. Being your authentic self.
I believe that much of the strife I witness in advocacy initiatives is the result of people not operating from a place of clear and conscious intention, or having a complete understanding of the issue and all its nuances. And yes, nuance includes all the financial motivations of those organizations that both support and oppose us.
Here is an illustrative example of how this new toolbox is defined.
If you are a retailer, supplement brand, or a company in the nutraceutical supply chain, your intention is likely directly related to improving the health of your community, even if the community is the U.S. population at large. You know that requires education, and sharing the information and knowledge you have. For example, we all know that vitamin D deficiency plays a major role in disease rates, especially for people of color and families without the financial means to afford the organic and regenerative diet required to maintain good health. Plus, it’s impossible for anyone to eat their way to a healthy vitamin D level. One solution is to advocate for Congress to enable SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; formerly known as the food stamp program) recipients to use their benefits to purchase vitamin D supplementation.
Will this result in increased revenues for your stores or company? Not really. Will it serve your mission as a health educator and change agent? Absolutely. Will it have a long-term impact on a larger political agenda? Most definitely, even if the effort is unsuccessful the first time around. Congress and their staff in the District and D.C. need our wisdom, and frankly, our products. The stress alone of their jobs jeopardizes their health. Our message of health and wellness is heard through a personal lens. We can’t forget that our elected officials have families who have health issues. The often young and enthusiastic Congressional staff also have health issues. As they move from office to office, they will remember what they learned from you. We are playing the long game here, making friends along the way. That’s how we improve the health of our communities and serve the larger good.
That explains advocacy as work, so what does advocacy as a lifestyle look like?
Forget the topic and focus on the impact you are having when you simply seek to be there for each other, for the sake of building the future you want for the next generations, and doing so with gratitude for the lessons of our mentors who came before us. There is a new conversation about women in our industry, it includes the formation of WIN (Women in Nutraceuticals) and the “Identifying the Elephant in the Room” series on sexism in the industry, created by Amy Summers, founder of INICIVOX and Pitch Publicity. As a board member of WIN, I am deeply inspired by our effort to increase the number of women in C-suites, increase research opportunities for women as well as increase scientific efforts on women’s health, and increase investment funds for women-led organizations. Tackling sexism is going to require different strategies. It’s going to require an army of advocates.
What does success look like?
It’s not always legislative language. When the naturopathic physicians walked the halls of Congress and had their annual reception, you could literally feel a change in air, a feeling of hope, and a new appreciation for the power of food that dwarfed the ice cream lobby’s reception message. Being an advocate for vitamin D and SNAP is all about education. Being an advocate for eliminating sexism is also about education. Both require more than words in a document. Simply put, being a successful advocate requires a commitment to the larger vision, and continually showing up for the sake of something greater. Something that will change the world for the better.