Never met a colleague in person before, but want to get to know them? Spend a week together at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, and you’ll be besties in no time.

With 14-hour days starting at 7 a.m. for breakfast side events (sneakers on, boots in bag) to mingling at cocktail hours (holding back from hovering around the buffet and embarrassing yourself in front of important people), the WHA is both exhilarating and exhausting. Here are a few tips from Lucy and Jess on how to catalyse the friendship and get through the whirlwind together:

  1. Coffee first.

If one person says they want coffee, then you both go and find coffee. Simple as that.

  1. Co-tweet.

Being able to tag team social media feels like a godsend. We both tweeted from our personal accounts, and collaborated on the NCDFREE channels. Between us (with some help from Elyse in Comms back at HQ), we created enough content to share between our accounts, creating our own little brand and thought leadership ecosystem.

  1. Dream and debrief.

We shared nearly every thought, opinion and idea we had in realtime. Sometimes it was through handwritten notes, other times as whispers during applause, or on whimsical walks past chateaus in the Swiss hills on the way to a last-minute event where DG Dr. Tedros shows up—#win.

We were constantly debriefing, thinking, strategising, and dreaming big. We shared half-formed ideas without filter or judgement, and didn’t worry which ones would come into fruition. We shared frustrations, envisaged businesses, imagined a perfect world, and got FIRED UP on our strategic vision for youth engagement in addressing NCDs. (More on that to come.)

We finished the week with the confidence we could change the world, knowing our strategic priorities, a list of dreams, and an aligned vision to #beatNCDs.

Shout-out to NCDFREE Board Member and previous ED Jack Fisher for his conversation cameos and witty WhatsApp remarks in between his GCM duties.

  1. Crush.

A text thread to discuss speaker crushes is a must.


OK, OK, in all seriousness, here are our takeaways from #WHA71:

It’s time to—

  1. Prioritise. We know what works. How do we help people to best choose from the menu of solutions in a contextually appropriate and impactful way?
  2. Implement. We’ve nailed the ideation phase of problem definition and solution generation. Now it’s time to implement bold action and invest in accountability mechanisms!
  3. Share stories of successes and failures. The art of storytelling is primed for a comeback—let’s learn from each other through engaging narratives.
  4. Be bold. If we are going to save 40 million lives each year, we need bring in new ways of thinking, and inject innovation into our actions, commitments, and accountability measures.

The energy among the NCD community at WHA—most notably youth—was electric. Yes, our challenges are vast, but so too are our skills and our passion. The HLM is just around the corner—but we can use these upcoming months to start figuring out how to productively collaborate to achieve our goals. At the risk of soundy cheesy (although, sitting in Switzerland writing this, it does seem odd that cheese has evaded a mention thus far), it all starts by building community and forging friendships.