How to be an Effective Advocate in Global Health: Insights from Max Seunik

Pushing for improvements in Global Health isn’t easy, nor is it a challenge that can be solved overnight.

Working in Global Health requires long-term commitments. It also requires knowing when to step forward and when to let someone else take the floor. And of course, it requires a strong understanding of system components in Global Health, like knowing which actors are involved in the field and what external forces may be influencing them. 

Max Seunik has dedicated his impressive educational and professional career to doing just that – pushing for improvements in Global Health. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where he studied Health Policy and Management, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies as a Morehead-Cain Scholar. He also earned a Master of Management degree in Global Affairs at Tsinghua University as a Schwarzman Scholar.

Since then, Max has been involved in projects with the World Health Organization and the World Economic Forum. He now works as a Program Coordinator at Grand Challenges Canada and as a Co-Founder of the Young Diplomats of Canada.

Recently, Max provided us with some insights regarding his experiences in advocating and pushing for innovations and improvements in Global Health.

“You’ve built an interesting Global Health career so far, which has merged together policy-making, advocacy work and programming. How did you become interested and involved in this work?”

I spent the summer after my first year of my undergrad working on health systems strengthening in Mali. I focused on gender inequality and gender-based violence against health workers. That experience opened my eyes to the potential of Global Health and global interventions to change inequity, and also how broad Global Health can be.

Prior to that experience, I had viewed Global Health through a parochial lens focused on medical interventions. But after that experience, I thought about the social determinants of health, which really led me to think about policy-making and government engagement in the subsequent years.

“That’s interesting. Given your experiences so far, what do you think it takes to be an effective advocate in Global Health?”

Global Health advocacy and policy-making requires understanding every single one of the ingredients that goes into the goal that all of us are working towards, which is the eradication of health inequity and inequalities around the world. 

The largest successes in Global Health over time have been because of coalitions of stakeholders. Having an understanding of what the different pieces of those puzzles are is absolutely critical to solving the issue at hand. While you need folks who are focused on health promotion, health policy, medical interventions, and everything in between, you need folks who also understand how those systems interact with each other. 

Global Health advocacy and policy-making requires understanding every single one of the ingredients that goes into the goal that all of us are working towards, which is the eradication of health inequity and inequalities around the world. I

t was really through my early professional experiences that I understood the value of taking a systems approach, which is ultimately, in the long run, where I’d like my career to head. 

“That’s a great point about the need to push for health equity. Speaking of that, I noticed at the top of your Twitter page that you describe yourself as a proud feminist. As a white man who’s passionate about health equity, what advice would you give to someone who wants to support and advocate for equity – whether that be gender equity, anti-racism, etc.?”

Yeah it’s a great question. I think that working for equality in Global Health, and dedicating your career to achieving equality and equity, is one of the best ways to be an ally—that’s my hope. Working on these things and dedicating not just my free time, but also my professional time, that’s one of the best ways I can use my privilege.

One important thing is knowing when to step forward, but also when to step back. Being cognizant of where your voice can be the most impactful, and where it can be the most impactful in opening spaces for other people. That’s a fine balance, and not something you’re always going to get right, but if you’re able to listen to those around you who have lived experiences or know more than you, then it’s easier to guide that decision-making process. 

One of the ways to achieve this is by surrounding yourself with a good group of mentors who are able to guide you in your decision-making, and then also just questioning your own role in all of this and thinking about where your impact can most greatly be felt. I think if you’re able to do those two things, you have the right ingredients for being a successful and appropriate Global Health advocate.

“When it comes to pushing for Global Health improvements, young people are also often left out of the picture. What advice would you have for people who might not have a lot of work experience yet, but want to contribute to eradicating health inequities around the world?”

My first piece of advice would be to choose a health issue that you feel strongly about—maybe that’s HIV/AIDs, maybe it’s looking at gender-based violence, maybe it’s something else. Find organizations in your community that are working on that issue, and be insistent in being involved.

There are also so many different types of careers in Global Health. Only now working in Global Health do I really appreciate the full breadth of the number of careers that are available. You can be someone who did accounting in an undergraduate degree or a Master’s in finance and still find yourself working in Global Health. You can find yourself working in operations, and find yourself working in Global Health. There’s a space for every kind of profession.

I’d also advise framing and presenting your experiences in a way that’s most compelling is critical. I have found that a lot of Global Health employers care a lot about what your motivation is for working at that place, which is somewhat unique the field. I think a lot of other employers are a little more agnostic for what is your motivation for being there, so being able to clearly express your history and story that compels you to work at a Global Health organization or one that is working on health issues is really important to starting your career in Global Health.


September 11, 2019


Hayley Mundeva