06/20/2013 09:03 am ET Updated Aug 20, 2013

McCann Health Harnesses Energy & Innovation of Global Creative Community to Empower Healthy Women at 2013 Cannes Lions Festival

This week I attended a very special meeting hosted by McCann Health at The Cannes Lions Festival of International Creativity which annually brings together over 11,000 communications professionals from across the globe to share, inspire and explore the universe of creativity in communications. Some may wonder why I was here, a woman who has devoted so much of her time and energy during these past years focused on the struggles of mothers and children fighting for survival. A woman who herself lost a child during a difficult delivery despite being in the enviable position of having access to the best medicine in my country, Nigeria.

Next year in Nigeria, one million mothers and their children will die. The real tragedy is that we know what interventions can prevent most of these deaths, and if accelerated to scale, these interventions will nurture and nourish survival and wellbeing, saving one million lives every year. Some of these interventions require only the adoption of simple changes to daily behaviors such as practicing proper hygiene around the time of birth, exclusively breastfeeding a newborn for the first six months of life, maintaining their child's health records, or sleeping under a bednet to prevent acquiring malaria infection. Others require taking specific action such as attending antenatal clinics, being tested for HIV and taking medicines if positive to prevent transmitting the infection from mother to child, or delivering a child in a safe and clean environment using a "Clean Birth Kit. However many millions of people across the global, particularly among the world's poor, do not access these services or adopt these simple healthy behaviors. Why is that? Why do they not avail themselves to the health products and services that would result in a better future for them and their families?

For many it is merely a lack of knowledge. For others it is the existence of strong belief systems or societal barriers that prevent young women from being empowered to make healthy choices. I truly believe, as an African mother, that as women, we too must seize responsibility and ownership for our healthful outcomes, be active participants in our health, and raise our expectations and thus our actions. And yet for McCann Health, leaders in the world of healthcare marketing and advertising that I am with today, overcoming strong barriers to change, understanding the motivations and aspirations of potential consumers of a product or service, and crafting innovative, creative and entertaining messages that inspire their audiences is all in a day's work. Their industry is founded on understanding what motivates and drives people. They empower individuals through effective communications to make conscious choices about the products and services they access; usually through robust retail markets for clients who expect results. Shouldn't the global health community consider adopting this same approach? Shouldn't we develop creative, innovative and insight-driven messaging toward our 'consumers', the women and their families that need to make better and healthy choices in their lives?

I and my charity, The Wellbeing Foundation, are here with a purpose, with a sense of urgency in these last 1000 days till we, as Nigerians and as Africans, measure and declare our millennium development goals performance, surrounded by some of the most creative and talented minds in the world of advertising and marketing, to celebrate the launch of an audacious and bold idea; an idea that will leverage the resources and partnerships created under the UN Secretary General's Every Woman, Every Child Initiative and has the potential to transform the lives of the women and children across Africa. One that hopes to bring new and creative thinking to address health concerns of the world's poor and those excluded from the benefits that health seeking behavior does deliver.

Next June, Cannes Lions will launch Lions Health a new two-day independent festival and awards event celebrating creative communications in healthcare, wellness and sustainability. It will bring leaders from the film, viral, social marketing and gaming industry; the captains of the most influential story telling businesses in the world, including Hollywood, Bollywood, and Nollywood; and communications professionals from the private and public sector to share, interact and engage in stimulating discussions on health, wellness and communications. The goal is to bring together the best minds and talent in health communications, to learn and inspire each other to create and execute the most impactful health communications programs possible that will result in better health outcomes for patients and corporate successes for industry.

This new endeavor will challenge the global creative community to direct its best and brightest minds to improve health across the globe. It will work to inspire creative minds from both the public and private sector to work toward solutions that will result in better outcomes for women and children. It will catalyze young minds to look at the world around them and to create new and inspiring ideas that will address the critical barriers that prevent women from accessing quality health care products and services. And it will showcase the most creative and impactful ideas from public and private sectors that empower health consumers and promote healthy outcomes for women and children.

I came here today because I am myself inspired. I see an urgent need to engage with some of the world's most creative and talented communications professionals and to offer my voice of support for this important initiative. That is why I'm partnering with McCann Health, the most awarded and connected healthcare communications network in the world. I am also here to call on leaders from the private sector who see Africa as an emerging market, on local NGOs working on maternal and child communications, on directors and producers who are developing programming that reaches across Africa, on local communications agencies, and on future creative directors who might find themselves in rural communities to develop creative and impactful messages that will empower women to make healthy choices for themselves and their families, with the certain expectation that an empowered woman is a health-seeking woman and that knowledge is the greatest empowering force, for good, to thrive, for life.