6 Buzzwords We Need to Stop Using in Global Health

Research, projects, campaigns — there is a lot of important work happening in global health. But let’s be honest, the global health sector is known for defaulting to technical jargon when communicating our work. 

Unfortunately, jargon can create barriers between people. It can cause people to become confused during discussions, or at the very least, less interested and engaged. In order for our global health work to break through and reach new audiences like political decision-makers, community leaders, the public, etc, we need to start using clear, plain language. Only then can we become effective and persuasive communicators.

Here are 6 buzzwords that we need to stop using in global health:


Definition: A new method, idea, product, etc. 

Why I dislike it: A vague way to say we’re trying something new or taking a different approach to our work. It’s also overused so much that it’s now almost losing its meaning and importance. 

Alternative option: Say why what you are doing is new and exciting. 

“Knowledge exchange” 

Definition: According to Western University, knowledge exchange refers to activities that are aimed at bridging a gap between research and real-world application or practice. 

Why I dislike it: Is knowledge really a commodity to be traded and exchanged? This term also doesn’t resonate with many people outside of the sector. It’s fine to use when speaking to others who are working in global health (like at conferences, events, etc.), but limit its use to those situations. 

Alternative option: “Sharing lessons learned”, “exchanging best practices”, “failure reports” — literally anything else!


Definition: According to the Cambridge Dictionary, synergy refers to the combined power of a group of things when they are working together, which is greater than the total power achieved by each working separately.

Why I dislike it: It’s jargon, plain and simple. Synergy is a word that feels like someone is saying “look how smart I am”. 

Alternative option: “Things are coming together nicely”, “our objectives line up well”, “there is an opportunity for us to collaborate here.


Definition: The collaborative development of a project, program, or research.

Why I dislike it: This term can often be used as a way to “brand” global health projects as being decolonial in their approach. It’s overused and abused. It should only be used when it is actually reflective of the approach to work. We need to be careful when we use this term. It is important to be able to show tangible ways of how our work was truly “co-created”.

Alternative option: ”Collaboration”, “partnership”, etc. 


Definition: A party that has an interest in an organization or issue and can either affect or be affected by its actions. 

Why I dislike it: The global health sector often uses this term as code for government relations. Political decision-makers are important stakeholders, but the term is much broader than that. 

Alternative option: Clearly define who your stakeholders are and refer to them with a title using plain language (political decision-maker, funder, partner, donor, etc.) 


Definition: Authority or power given to someone to do something.

Why I dislike it: It’s a blanket term often used when describing how global health work advances social issues like gender equality. When used inappropriately, it can even come across as condescending.

Alternative option: Vague terminology serves no one. Be specific about how you are improving the rights, health, and wellbeing of women and girls (i.e. show the impact of your work). Believe me, your donors, community partners, and team members will all appreciate it. 

Language matters. Choose your words wisely when communicating your global health work. Eliminating jargon from your vocabulary will help you build stronger authentic relationships while becoming a more persuasive and effective leader in your work.


July 2, 2021


Lauren Murray