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Policy Win

November 21, 2023

How One Small Island Partner Secured a Big Advocacy Win

How did the country of Barbados adopt a national School Nutrition Policy win in just four years? It is in large part thanks to the tireless advocacy work of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados (HSFB), a Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) partner since 2018. HSFB’s initial advocacy goal was the removal of sugar sweetened beverages from schools, but that was scaled up to a demand for a comprehensive National School Nutrition Policy that prohibits the sale and promotion of ultra-processed products (UPPs). The policy was approved in 2022 and phased implementation began in 2023. The organization recently shared its story in GHAI’s School Feeding Webinar series.

Here are five takeaways from the success in Barbados, according to HSFB team members who were part of the process—Francine Charles, Project Manager; Jan Phillips, Advocacy Officer; and Stacia Brown, Communication Officer:

  1. Effective advocacy is grounded in evidence/data – HSFB ensured their advocacy had a strong evidence base. The organization, from the start, tied the policy issue with non-communicable diseases (NCDs), a very important issue to the government and the public. HSFB worked to collect data–on the school food environment, on concerns about childhood obesity, on public support for the proposed policies–and used this data in stakeholder meetings, schools, campaigns and messaging.
  2. There is strength in numbers – HSFB team members highlighted the importance of coalition partners and coalition building for policy wins. Francine said while the Barbados Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition started small, it is now a robust network of 25 civil society organizations, as well as several individual advocates who work together, and push for change in their respective spheres of influence. “The key for us is that HSFB did not do it alone…Together we are one voice, and that voice has been very significant in Barbados.”
  3. Youth voices are critical – Recognizing the importance of the youth voice to the Barbadian government, especially on this issue, HSFB worked hard to engage young people around the issue of childhood obesity and the need for comprehensive school nutrition policy and built their capacity to advocate. Stacia pointed out that youth advocacy in the digital space has been particularly useful. A 2021 Youth Day of Action activation on World Health Day, saw youth sharing messages and tagging decision makers. It was very effective. The amount of digital engagement generated by social media posts from youth community advocates and HSFB wase amazing for a population of only 300,000. This advocacy led to the Ministry of Education meeting with HSFB soon after to discuss the development of the proposed school nutrition policy which was later developed by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the Ministry of Education and PAHO.
  4. Relationship building with stakeholders is a priority – HSFB emphasized the importance of a collaborative approach, particularly in a country as small as Barbados where people know each other. Besides approaching government ministers, they also engaged technocrats who supported the policy and had specialized expertise. These technocrats became champions for the policy and were often in advocacy spaces pushing for the policy alongside coalition members. The media was another supportive stakeholder. HSFB positioned itself as a credible and reliable source of information for the media and worked to provide media houses with information on NCDs and proposed policy solutions. “It turned into a situation of rather than us going to the media all the time, they were coming to us,” Stacia explained.
  5. Demonstrating by doing is important – HSFB focused on anticipating and identifying challenges to policy implementation and provided examples of solutions. As early as 2019, HSFB began work with six schools which became model schools demonstrating how the policy could work. Anticipating policy approval, HSFB was (and still is) training vendors and canteen concessionaries in and around schools, about healthier food options for students. “It [the training events] is generally well attended, and they are certainly on board,” Jan noted. HSFB was also proactive in sensitizing principals, teachers, students and PTAs about the policy. Based on their track record, HSFB and the Coalition are now tasked with sensitizing all secondary school students. When the policy was passed and concerns about monitoring its implementation emerged, HSFB developed an app to assess the types of foods in schools via a rapid survey tool. HSFB even mapped healthier food options and prepared a list of foods which would meet the policy criteria for sale in schools, for use by concessionaries and vendors, and provided industry with information to support reformulation.

To learn more, watch Francine, Jan and Stacia describe these takeaways in the latest installment of GHAI's School Feeding Webinar series.