Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Movember: we moustache you some questions

If you’ve read my past posts, you’ll know that I’ve been asking questions of Movember. I think the charity should be more accountable.
Having finally obtained some information about where the UK Movember money goes, I wanted to get to the bottom of what Movember actually wants to achieve with it. 
I’m not the only one. Some influential commentators in the UK and Australia (where the organisation was founded) have expressed unease about Movember’s objectives. Chris De Mar, Professor of Public Health at Bond University, recently wrote that Movember’s campaigning activity was “deeply flawed” because it focused on health check-ups which show no evidence of benefit to men. Last week, Peter Baker, until last year Chief Executive of the Men’s Health Forum, wrote of his concern about Movember’s pre-occupation with prostate cancer and its outdated view that men’s health is about male-specific disease.
A few weeks back, I went to Movember’s UK headquarters in Clerkenwell, London, to put my questions to Sarah Coghlan, Chief Executive of Movember UK and wife of Justin Coghlan (known in the Movember movement as “JC”), one of the original founders of Movember. There were four areas I wanted to talk to her about:

  • Since around 90% of their allocated funds go to prostate cancer projects, isn’t Movember a prostate cancer charity rather than a men’s health charity?
  • Does Movember’s men’s health awareness work in the UK consist of more than putting health information on its website and promoting conversations by getting people to grow moustaches?
  • Can Movember UK justify its claim that it raises “vital funds and awareness for prostate cancer and testicular cancer and mental health”, when no UK money went to mental health in 2011 and 2012?
  • Why is it difficult to get annual figures on how Movember UK’s money is used?
Here is what I was told.

What does Movember want to achieve?
Movember’s stated objective is “To have an everlasting impact on the face of men’s health”. So why, I ask Sarah Coghlan, do nearly all of its allocated funds go towards a condition that causes just 3% of premature male deaths? “That’s interesting,” says Sarah Coghlan. “It’s certainly our vision to change the face of men’s health, but I certainly wouldn’t say we’re doing it in this instance in 2013.  That’s where we want to get to.”
She explains that Movember has “just landed” in the UK in 2008, and its international model is to have a big charity partner in prostate cancer as things start up. “Now, going into 2013, we can take a broader stance and start to look at – and we are certainly starting to look at – what does men’s health mean.”
This year, she says, is the first when all the Movember campaigns across the world are focusing on the “pillars” of prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health. In the UK, she says, campaigning is going to broaden to encourage men to “know their numbers” (blood pressure, cholesterol etc) and to be more active. 
“We see it as a longer-term programme to get to that men’s health space you’re talking about,” she says. 
I ask her about Movember’s key objectives. After all, the website information about Movember’s aims and objectives is woolly. It says its “campaign strategy and goals” are “to get men to grow moustaches and the community to support them”. That’s not really a concrete goal for men’s health. So what is?
“To change men’s health behaviour,” she says.
But if you want to change behaviour, why is the bulk of Movember money going to a condition which cannot be prevented and where lifestyle is not a factor?
“It’ll be less to prostate cancer and more to other things this year, and that will start to shift more in the coming years,” she says.

Changing behaviour: what does Movember’s awareness work consist of?
I ask Sarah Coghlan about how Movember wants to change behaviour.
“Creating conversations is a big part of what we believe the awareness part is,” she says. “Giving men the right tools to educate each other. That information is really important to be shared and men aren’t very good at that. That’s the sort of conversation that women would have over a coffee – “I’ve found a lump” or “My period’s not quite right”. It comes quite naturally for women, but not for men. So having men, even for one month, becoming comfortable enough to say to their dad ‘Hey Dad, have you had a prostate check?’ can lead to changes in behaviour.”
I tell her there is no evidence that doing any of these things have a positive effect on men’s health.
“Yet anecdotally you would think that all those things are logical,” she says.
You would, I say. But it’s quite a leap to allocate 8% of your spending on creating conversations in the vague hope that this will change the face of men’s health. She tells me that this year’s Know your Numbers and Move campaigns will have a more specific impact, and suggests that I talk to Paul Villanti, Movember’s global Director of Programmes, who has a more overarching understanding of Movember’s objectives.

Why does no money currently go to mental health in the UK?
Mental health moves more onto the agenda when Movember has established itself in a country, Sarah Coghlan explains, and “that kind of investment” will be coming to the UK shortly. “The investment we’ve made in mental health in Australia is significant over the last eight to nine years and we can start to point to some of those initiatives that we’ve funded having behaviour change attached to and around them.” Again, she suggests I talk to Paul Villanti, and says an interview will be arranged. That hadn’t happened until yesterday, when Movember phoned me to arrange an interview.

Why is it difficult to get annual figures on how Movember’s money is used?
I discuss with Sarah Coghlan my difficulties in finding out how the money raised in any one year was actually spent.  Sarah Coghlan assures me that the new report cards on their website will show all the money coming in, and all the money going out. “Transparency is one of our core values, because we think we can do a brilliant job of setting a benchmark in that space,” she says.
“You will be able to go right back to 2007 and say in this year the money went on that, that and that. It’s just taken us time to get to that point.”
Since my interview, the report cards have gone live on the Movember website. They are a definite improvement. But I am still unable (and this may be a mark of my own ineptitude) to see how they provide a break-down the UK figures annually, or how income and outgoings relate.

Sarah Coghlan’s answers continue to raise questions, and I will be pursuing them with Paul Villanti shortly. 
In the meantime, do post comments here, and follow the debate about Movember in the UK. There is continuing discussion on Twitter at #MoDiscuss, comments on Peter Baker’s blog and Chris Hiley’s blog