Round Table Rundown

Round Table Rundown

8/30/16

          I spent much of this last summer filling up the tabs on my laptop’s browser with searches far different than what you might normally find on my laptop on a sunny summer afternoon. My browser was flooded with searches like, “What does a round table look like?” and “SW Washington community leaders” and “the role of a round table moderator” and “global maternal health and gender inequities”…many thanks are due to Google.

         I was researching not only the issues that affect and are affected by global maternal health, but also how to moderate a round table (having never attended one myself), and searching for and reaching out to community leaders and “grasstops” who might share an interest in the topic - all with the goal of seriously stepping up my local advocacy game by hosting a small community round table on the topic: The Importance of Addressing Global Maternal Health.

         CARE’s Advocacy Fellowship program, which I’ve been a part of this year, and which included a maternal health learning tour to Benin in West Africa last April, was the impetus behind this intensified advocacy measure. What I’ve learned from CARE over the past year and a half, what I saw first-hand in Benin, and what I’ve learned from my own research, has equipped me with a wealth of information and stories about maternal health. I’m determined to use this knowledge, share it with others, and influence people in my own community to get engaged in addressing this root cause of global poverty.

         I started this project off by searching for community leaders via any means I could come up with: friends’ connections, LinkedIn searches, local University staff directories, searches for community clubs and collectives, and local chapters of other advocacy groups. I was looking specifically to bring together a group of people with a wide range of experiences and knowledge bases, that could each speak to at least one of the issues I hoped to address, and that were from sectors of my community that my Congresswoman is influenced by. This meant I was searching for some healthcare providers, business owners, financial experts, veterans, educators and Christians.

         Then came the unsolicited emails. I wrote personalized emails to any viable attendees, setting the stage a bit for what I was attempting, and explaining how their attendance could contribute. It’s amazing how well received these emails were (from a total stranger mind you) and how many gracious replies I received. Who knew you could just email strangers about global maternal health?!

         After receiving tentative RSVP’s, I sent out the formal invites, along with a general guideline of the evening’s talking points. Ultimately my guest list included the District Director of my Congresswoman’s office (with whom I’ve cultivated a relationship over the past year) and a financial business-owner who also chairs a South African non-profit that works to educate and empower young girls. She in turn extended the invite to the director of the non-profit, who has worked in international development for 30 years. I also secured a pediatric nutritionalist who works as an advocate with the Christian-based non-profit World Vision, as well as the attendance of a local veteran and educator who specializes in the threat of violent extremism. My two fellow local CARE advocates (who I recently recruited) would also be attending, as well as my CARE Regional Advocacy Coordinator. Having the guest list secured was the first big hurdle overcome in this grand plan of mine, and I was then able to focus on figuring out how this round table was actually going to look.

         I had already secured a small room in a local historical restaurant (originally the Officer’s quarters for Ulysses S. Grant!), setting the stage for a “Happy Hour” style casual conversation at a communal table, with small plate appetizers and wine. Despite the scope of the subject matter, I wanted to ensure the event was informal and not intimidating - just a little chat over wine.

         I created a general outline of the meeting for my own reference, with “canned” questions for various attendees. I wanted the evening’s conversation to flow naturally, but I also needed to ensure that the issues I hoped to address each had their allotted time, and that I had a guideline to fall back on if I needed to help the direction of the conversation.

         And then it was go time!

         I couldn’t have asked for a better turn-out. All of the attendees were engaged and able to contribute, in an easy and impactful discussion. We touched upon the empowerment of women and girls (and the ripple effect it has on families, communities and entire regions), maternal health as a continuum of care (from family planning to antenatal care to nutrition to immunizations to sanitation), the fiscal impact of maternal health (in lost production & GDP rates), the correlation between maternal health and gender inequities, and the subsequent correlation between those inequities and the threat of violent extremism. Big stuff!

            I now have a wider circle of community members to connect with or call upon for other community engagement events, or to inform when a congressional push is needed. And perhaps best of all, I have a renewed sense of encouragement that not only can little ‘ol me pull together some local movers and shakers to a greater purpose, but that there are so many like-minded people in my hometown, with a similar passion to effect change on a global scale. The impact we can make when bound together is the amplified voice that this “registered introvert” is thrilled to have found.

 

By Brenda Rose

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