This year has already been a big one for NCD policymaking and the NCDFREE team, with a number of high-level events bringing calls for coordinated international action on NCDs into the spotlight. These topics will continue to feature heavily at the 71st World Health Assembly (#WHA71), which kicks off in Geneva on May 21st.

With #WHA71 just around the corner, we’ve been thinking about how to approach such a large-scale event with intention. What messages do we want to convey, how can we best contribute, what do we want to gain, and how do we make the best use of the opportunities the event provides for dialogue and collaboration within the global health community? We’ve settled on some key ideas to use as guideposts for the events we attend, the discussions we have, and the partnerships we work to form.

Youth-centred, grassroots movements are drivers of change

The participants of our 2016 Long Lunch in Gießen.

We’ve been inspired to see so many youth movements leading the way for social change in recent years. Around the world, young people are demanding action from their governments and fellow citizens alike on issues like corruption, poverty and economic inequality, gun control, the destruction of our environment, and reproductive health. Taking action on NCDs should be no different.

It’s clear that this fight isn’t about high-level policies alone. Lasting change requires broad cultural shifts that weave awareness and healthy life choices into the fabric of our societies. By empowering  young people to engage at the grassroots level, we can power sustained momentum to larger social movements.

Breaking out of the echo chamber will require new partnerships

In our five years of engagement in grassroots movements and policy groups, we have continually strived to push our messages beyond NCD circles. While it’s common to hear the same voices speaking out about the scale of the global NCD challenge, the urgency of the problem seems to get lost in the wider global health dialogue—even though NCDs account for 40 million deaths and trillions of dollars lost each year.

With limited financing and so many competing causes for policymakers to consider, it’s easy to see how even such a tremendous problem can be met with relatively muted reactions. Breaking out of our echo chamber will require partnerships that encourage new approaches to NCD challenges, be it through innovative tech initiatives or finding simple ways to coordinate our messages and goals with those within and beyond the health sector. At #WHA71, we can start by championing intrasectoral action within the broader health community by encouraging collaborative dialogue and promoting interventions with that produce mutually beneficial outcomes for multiple issues. Let’s get creative!

Accountability is key, no matter the scale

We all know that change is needed, and that “business as usual” isn’t bringing us any closer to achieving the #beatNCDs goals—but how do we know the actions we take are leading to the sustainable, equitable progress we want? NGOs, nonprofits, and other civil society organisations should not be satisfied with high-level accountability mechanisms that measure progress in broad terms. We must be setting and holding ourselves accountable to our own targets for financing, outreach, and impact—however small they may seem in the “big scheme” of global efforts to eradicate NCDs. In forging new partnerships for sustained change, we need to demonstrate that we’re worth investing in.

We’re looking forward to putting these ideas into action next week. Follow us on Twitter for live updates and takeaways from the NCDFREE team during the week, and use the hashtag #WHA71 to tweet your thoughts about the event. You can also follow the event at the WHO website and find a full list of NCD-related side events in this calendar put together by our friends at NCDAlliance. We hope to see you in person or online!