Skip subnavigation and go to article content

The ability to bring about evidence-based systemic policy change is a core skill of successful leaders.

Policy change is accomplished by advocating for health policies that result in better community health. High-impact organizations realize that they cannot achieve large-scale social change through service delivery alone. Through policy advocacy, they acquire government resources; change practices, regulations, and legislation; and enforce laws intended to protect public health. Successful health policy advocates lead through personal and professional integrity, creativity, risk taking, teamwork, and partnerships. The Advocacy Initiative offers the opportunity to practice and become proficient in these skills in the classroom and through working within communities advocating for better health.

The UC Berkeley School of Public Health is recognized for being outstanding at preparing health leaders and professionals to identify and define good health policy. Additionally, School graduates need to be prepared to go forward and engage in changing policies for the better.

About the Advocacy Initiative

The Advocacy Initiative is a program for students, recent alumni, and public health organizations to engage in campaigns to improve or protect health policies. This provides practical, hands-on advocacy training to augment other student learning modes. The overarching goal is for students and graduates to serve as effective agents of change for underserved communities throughout California.

The Advocacy Initiative works with communities and community-based organizations (CBOs) that want practical on the ground advocacy assistance in changing and protecting policies, in order to improve the health of underserved populations and remedy health disparities. In addition to achieving better health policies, the Initiative raises the advocacy skills, connections, and enthusiasm of California groups and communities seeking systemic health improvements.

The Advocacy Initiative is part of the School of Public Health’s Center for Public Health Practice and Leadership. It was established by a generous grant from The California Endowment.

Advocacy Leadership Attributes

Personal and Professional Integrity

An advocate relies on the actions of others (communities, leaders of organizations, experts, academics, service providers, elected officials, government and private sector decision makers, media outlets, etc.)  to achieve public policy change for better health. Advocates cannot direct the actions of other actors in the advocacy spectrum. Leadership maintains the support and collegiality of a campaign. Advocacy leadership must be scrupulously honest and transparent respecting the confidences of others. The passion to right a social inequity must never trump accuracy, tone and respect for the personal, professional and organizational needs of others.

Creativity and Risk Taking

Advocacy involves an effort to change policies and resource allocations affecting health. Often there will be opposition based on inertia, vested interests and political considerations. The opposition will often be very powerful. In order to overcome potential opposition to change, efforts must be to move policy that is evidence based with a willingness to advocate for risking a new relatively untested solution. Power imbalance and encouraging risk-taking require that advocates have the self-confidence to also be risk takers and use strategic thinking and creative strategies to support decision makers in acting for better health policy.

Team Work and Partnerships

Advocacy requires a continuum of effort over a long time against opposition without control over the outcome. This translates into campaigns that will have challenges that need to be overcome. There will be setbacks. In order to maintain momentum and continued effort advocates must work in strong trusting partnership relationships. The time and effort necessary to work with others as equals must be an internal commitment that places high value on what may appear to be inefficient personal relationship upkeep. “Partnership” in advocacy is sometimes akin to being joined at the hip. You are really in it together and must use interpersonal skills to rely on your partner(s) and keep your own ego in balance.

Advocacy Initiative Alum Experiences

“The way I think about and engage with public health strategy and programming was transformed by the Health Policy Advocacy course, and it has also had a positive impact on my team. In the summer of 2018, I developed a Community Health Advocacy Curriculum for a cohort of Achuar women Community Health Workers in the Ecuadorian Amazon. My team and I organized a workshop in which we presented concepts such as power mapping and the importance of framing and messaging, and worked with the women to draft advocacy plans which they brought back to their communities. I also wrote an Executive Summary and used it as a form of internal advocacy to ask leadership to facilitate an institutional collaboration between the Foundation and WHO. I will continue to work to build the collective power and momentum needed to engage in actions and policies that will lead to positive social change for health in indigenous communities.”

– Robin Fink, MPH 2018


“No other class taught me more transferable skills than Health Policy Advocacy within the MPH program. The course offered crucial tools to apply the learning and theory of other courses in the School of Public Health into real world change. My advocacy class project was to reinstate the diversity scholarship within the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley.

Through the advocacy campaign, my class partner and I implemented key strategies from the course such as petitioning and submitting requests for budgeting information. While I am an experienced organizer, the advocacy toolkit I picked up from this course was an important piece of what resulted in getting the diversity scholarship reinstated. Affecting positive and equitable change is the ultimate goal of public health at UC Berkeley, and health policy advocacy was critical in learning how to do it.”

– Bo Chung, MCP/MPH 2018


“After I graduated, I moved to India to work with an impact evaluation company. I was alarmed by the lack of research around the use of health care services in India, and I wanted to do something about it. Using the skills I gained from my training at BPH – building a network of health services researchers, developing and targeting my branding and messaging – I set up a health services impact evaluation research firm within the larger company. Perhaps more than anything, it was the confidence I gained in the Health Policy Advocacy course that really allowed me to harness my skills and be successful in this endeavor. We are now working with the Indian government on a blockchain-based innovation to improve immunization data storage in India. I hope this work continues to build the movement towards improving access to health services for all in India.”

– Somalee Banerjee, MD, MPH 2017


“Inspired by my experience in the Health Policy Advocacy course, I joined the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization, as a Climate Campaign Intern. Throughout the internship, I directly applied the skills I strengthened from the course to help build a coalition of environmental justice organizations and indigenous groups to stop the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from lifting a moratorium to open up over 400,000 acres of public land to oil drilling and fracking across California. Thousands of community members voiced their opposition to the proposed plan through writing public comments and participating in public hearings in Bakersfield, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara. Regardless of the outcome, I have hope that this campaign will continue to build the environmental justice movement.”

– Lujain Al-Saleh, MPH 2020


“Actualizing on my final project for Health Policy Advocacy, I am currently working with a task force composed of students, staff, and faculty in the School of Public Health community to improve the hiring process for Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) and Graduate Student Research (GSR) positions. These appointments are an important source of funding for graduate students, yet historically they have been difficult to find and obtain, particularly for those who need them most. During the course, my partner and I (Elizabeth Ly, MPH ‘19) developed our advocacy plan with the guidance of our classmates and professors in the hopes of improving the overall student experience at BPH. At this time, we are in the process of implementing systemic changes that will make the process more transparent and equitable.”

– Tatyana Roberts, MPH 2020

Advocacy Initiative Courses

The following courses have been offered for graduate and undergraduate students:

Current course offerings:

Health Policy Advocacy

PH220D Fall 2019

This course, taught by Harry Snyder and Anthony Iton, focuses on data-based strategies using persuasive written and oral communication skills necessary to preserve and/or improve the health status of populations. The course will allow students to understand and situate the important role of focused public health advocacy in the spectrum of public health practice.

Students will develop research, organization, and coalition-building skills necessary to produce an effective advocacy campaign. The course identifies the roles of those involved in the making of policy and demonstrates the use of appropriate channels and technologies to influence health policy change.

Directed Group Study Health Policy & Advocacy 101

Fall 2019 PBHLTH 198 006- Group 006

DeCal Course self-directed by students with Harry Snyder as responsible faculty.

Independent Study Health Policy Advocacy PH 299, Section: TBD

Arranged for student learning placements with policy advocacy organizations. Harry Snyder will direct the placement design and is the faculty responsible for overseeing student performance and learning. Two or three units depending on time commitment.

Advocacy Workshops

1.5 to 2.0 hours, arranged by student groups

Conducted by Harry Snyder covering the elements of an advocacy campaign, the forums in which health policy decisions are made, the imperative to go beyond research to implement policy analysis recommendations and building an advocacy campaign to solve an issue raised by workshop participants.

Past course offerings:

Advocacy in Action: Health Policy Advocacy Group Study

PH 298.040 in Fall and PH 220D in Spring

This group study, taught in Spring and Fall by Laurie True, will provide students practical advocacy opportunities with local and statewide organizations to address public health and social justice issues. Students will deepen their advocacy skills and gain exposure in advocacy specific jobs and career paths. Participants will be placed with a leading health organization to complete an important, timely advocacy action-learning project. In-class discussions, case studies, and guest speakers will provide practical skills and insights that support advocacy learning and successful projects. Instructors will provide hands-on project assistance and coaching. Students will also learn from the advocacy work done by fellow group study participants and the advocates they work with.

Health Policy Advocacy Fellows

In 2018, the School of Public Health launched the Health Policy Advocacy Fellows program. The program provides Fellows with a scholarship, directed coursework to develop critical advocacy skills and experiences, and summer internship placement in an advocacy campaign of a health justice organization. The Fellows receive individualized support throughout the program and have the opportunity to engage in ongoing advocacy campaigns during the school year.

Prospective Fellows apply once they receive an official offer of admission to the School. Only students pursuing the two-year MPH program are eligible.

Advocacy Initiative Resources

Watch this video of students at the National Day of Action advocating on behalf of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of the Bay Area:

Advocacy Initiative Student Rally: One Fair Wage

Watch this video of the East Bay launch of the Every Woman Treaty campaign calling for the end of violence against women worldwide:

Our Boots on the Ground event with Every Woman featuring our 2018-19 Health Policy Advocacy Fellow, Tatyana Roberts