Q&A with Outgoing Secretariat Director Sandy Garçon

After three years, founding Secretariat Director of the Self-Care Trailblazer Group, Sandy Garçon is stepping down. We sat down with him recently to get his thoughts on five big questions. Here’s what he had to say.

Q1: How has the Self-Care Trailblazer Group evolved since you first established the global coalition? What’s changed and what has continued? 

When the SCTG first launched, we were a core group of implementing partners with deep self-care expertise and reach, but primarily focused on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)—the most active members being Global North organizations working in this field.

We’ve since taken measures to broaden our focus beyond SRHR interventions and ensure greater geographical and sectoral diversity. This is particularly notable in the concrete steps taken to advance national self-care agendas with the establishment of national self-care networks in priority countries of Nigeria, Senegal, and Uganda–and soon in Kenya. 

Q2: What was one of the challenges you faced in the SCTG’s early stages of growth? 

What first comes to mind is the notion of self-care itself. I lost count of the number of questions I was asked that focused on bubble baths and yoga at conferences like World Assembly and Women Deliver in2019. In the beginning, most of our focus had to be placed on building awareness and understanding of all that self-care is—and is not—and to spark a dialogue with stakeholders at all levels about how the concept resonates with them.

Our second year was marred by the pandemic. While COVID-19 has catalyzed a watershed moment for self-care adoption, it was unsurprisingly a challenging context for building a fledgling global coalition. Travel restrictions forced us to adjust. We had to cancel a number of events as well as forgo key opportunities. It also forced us to take our meetings and outreach efforts in a virtual environment. Despite the initial concerns around the effectiveness and level of engagement possible using digital platforms, that’s going very well. We learn and get better each time we do it.

Q3: What has been a major strength of the SCTG, and how has the coalition leveraged those strengths to advance self-care?

Partnership is a core value of the SCTG. Both internal and external partners have contributed to the coalition’s “global goods” to advance the evidence base, the coordinated approaches to engagements in events and global moments, and the collaboration with ministries of health to inform national guideline adoption in countries like Nigeria and Uganda. Partner-driven initiatives like this year’s Self-Care Learning and Discovery Series have played a prominent role in creating knowledge exchange and learning opportunities for members of the self-care community and bridging the SCTG with their own networks. This has resulted in active participation of stakeholders from oft-overlooked geographies such as the Latin America and Caribbean region.

Now we are expanding the reach of such partnerships with private sector actors, gender advocates and feminist groups, provider associations, youth advocates and a broad range of policymakers. As the SCTG expands its engagement—global, regional, national, and local players—the opportunities for members to increasingly align around common needs, priorities, and strategies will only strengthen the coalition’s potential for impact and influence. 

Q4: What is your proudest accomplishment or is there a special moment from your time as Secretariat Director? 

There are more than a few. I don’t know that I can call it an accomplishment yet, but I think we have made important strides increasing diversity in our membership and leadership, especially at the Steering Committee level. We’re now well over 400 members, around 60% of whom reside in the Global South–not a bad feat when all of our outreach for the last two years has been exclusively conducted virtually. This greater diversity has resulted in significant gains—a coalition that is increasingly representative of the global health community—and brought forth new priorities and needs to inform the SCTG’s advocacy and evidence generation work. But there’s so much more work that has to be done. We have to make more room for voices from the contexts where we work.

Our first Annual Member Summit earlier this year was a particularly special time for the coalition for a few reasons. First, it was our first major milestone. At that point, we were in the process of launching our five-year strategic plan. We’d recruited local partners to steer advocacy efforts in three priority countries and launched two evidence frameworks. We had formed a number of priority partnerships and established our Coalition Steering Committee. The summit was the unveiling of two years of collaborative effort and behind-the-scenes work. ​​SCTG, the coalition, was coming together, ​​and everyone who was involved in this journey had become very optimistic about its future.

Q5: What excites you about the future of the SCTG and for self-care? 

There is an urgent need and demand for self-care, providing significant opportunities for the SCTG to make a measurable impact. And it’s clear that we have no intention of slowing down. 

The SCTG’s Global Advocacy & Communications Working Group will continue to pursue advocacy engagement and outreach opportunities with target global bodies, including healthcare providers, universal health coverage and primary healthcare-focused groups, and health financing institutions, to elevate and incorporate self-care into their agendas. The Evidence & Learning Working Group will be initiating and managing workstreams to address relevant self-care issues, increasing the SCTG’s impact as a knowledge hub and strengthening networks with internal and external partners. At the national level, the SCTG country leads are focusing on creating opportunities for inter-ministerial dialogues to ensure multi-sectoral collaboration across government ministries and agencies to institutional self-care in national programs. 

Building on the success of the Self-Care Learning and Discovery Series, even more opportunities are underway for members to learn from and share with one another, actively engage in promoting self-care, and network with other members. I am confident that these efforts have not only cemented the SCTG as a critical voice in the self-care movement, but also laid the essential groundwork to meet the challenges that lie ahead. 

Q6: Any additional closing thoughts?

Being the Secretariat Director has been one of the most challenging and rewarding roles I’ve held in my professional career, and I’m proud of the SCTG’s growth and accomplishments. It’s been a wonderful experience to build something from scratch—through good fortune and a lot of help from others—and I think we’ve been able to make a difference in our field.

That said, there comes a time to pass the mantle. I think it’s time for some fresh blood, some fresh thinking. I’m honored to have held this position and having had a hand in almost every aspect of the SCTG over the last three years. But now I’m looking forward to being able to focus specifically on expanding and strengthening our advocacy and communications efforts.

And of course, I’ll still be part of the Secretariat team, so I’ll remain actively involved in helping the SCTG continue to grow and prosper.

Sandy Garçon will continue in his role as Co-Chair of the Global Advocacy and Communications.