Advocacy for improved maternal, infant, and young child nutrition (MIYCN) involves educating and motivating influential audiences—like policymakers and program managers—to take actions to create a supportive environment for optimal nutrition practices. The exact need, goal, or policy action is shaped by the country-specific barriers, political system, and social context. Advocacy priorities can range from adopting national laws regulating the marketing of breastmilk substitutes to institutionalizing nutrition counseling in health care facilities. Advocacy has always been an active component in the Alive & Thrive (A&T) Framework, and remains at the forefront of current A&T efforts to improve MIYCN.
Our approach balances proactive planning with adaptability as new opportunities emerge. We begin with clear and well-defined advocacy goals that are shared across partners to ensure that everything we do is unified and on-strategy. From there, our process includes:
- Establishing and sustaining partnerships, including policy- and decision-makers and the stakeholders who influence them.
- Developing the evidence base, including gathering and interpreting data to inform strategies (policy and stakeholder analyses) and to build the case for change (scientific, economic, socio-cultural data).
- Designing compelling and targeted messages and materials, ranging from policy briefs and presentations to inspirational videos that ignite dialogue.
- Building consensus through in-person and online opportunities to create networks and foster decision-making, including policy roundtables, workshops, events, webinars, and social media.
Over the past five years, our efforts with partners have contributed to:
- Stronger laws and policies. Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam have strengthened their national BMS Codes and/or oversight boards. Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Aceh province in Indonesia strengthened maternity protections policies (including longer leave, lactation spaces, and childcare spaces).
- More resources leveraged for infant and young child feeding (IYCF). In Bangladesh, new donor funding for IYCF totaled $60 million. In Viet Nam, provincial budgets included support for IYCF services.
- Models for national scale-up. In Nigeria, A&T and partners are focusing on the national scale up of advocacy efforts in Lagos and Kaduna states; including the rollout and implementation of the National Strategic Plan for Action for Nutrition, the promotion of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, and resources for increasing maternity entitlements.
Advocacy requires sound strategy, persistence, and strong interpersonal skills. Best practices include:
- Identifying clear and specific goals. Focus on targeted “asks” and avoid general awareness-raising for nutrition.
- Unifying messages. Success depends on diverse advocates joining forces and amplifying voices. Non-traditional partners such as women’s associations, religious organizations, and journalists have key roles to play.
- Engaging early and often. Decision-makers need frequent interaction with consistent messaging to keep issues front and center.
- Utilizing joint branding of materials and activities for shared success. Coordinated work plans should clearly delineate roles and responsibilities to help establish project ownership and maintain momentum.