The American Diabetes Association (ADA) is looking to remake itself.

Its new CEO recognizes that they have strayed from their original mission of connecting and supporting patients, and they want to get back to that, with a fresh new look and tone of conversation.

The org announced this effort with a press release and webinar in mid-May, just weeks ahead of its huge annual Scientific Sessions conference that brings together roughly 16,000 diabetes medical professionals each June. The timing is certainly meant to spark discussion leading into that big event as many eyes worldwide are tuned to diabetes.


“Connected for Life”

It’s no secret that the ADA hasn’t done well over the years in connecting with people who are living with diabetes in the here and now. Serving its medical professional members has been the priority.

With new CEO Tracey Brown taking over the helm in June 2018 (the first woman of color to hold this position and also the first to be living with T2D herself) the ADA has spent the past year re-evaluating how to shift its focus back to the people living with this disease.

The new ADA slogan they’ve unveiled is: “Connected for Life,” referring of course to the “we’re all in this together” mantra.

For many of us PWDs (people with diabetes), the initial response to that may be an eye-roll. But we’re told there will be a tangible change in tone and focus, along with some existing programs and initiatives being terminated to make way for more localized community staff and volunteer engagement.

The ADA has already started crafting a new marketing campaign with a big red square background to represent “reframing” the conversation about diabetes in this country. They want to be more about “empowering PWDs and their loved ones” to share more of their stories.

“We had to step back and have a moment of truth about the ADA,” Brown said during the mid-May webinar. She noted that the organizations original founders in 1940 put out a mission focused on connecting and supporting people with diabetes; the ADA was supposed to focus on the whole spectrum of medical, social, and economic problems associated with this disease.

Instead, she notes that PWDs “may feel like we’re an authority, but they don’t feel like we connect with them or that we add enough value in their lives that we could or would like to see.”


Why Does the ADA Need Rebranding? 

For starters, about 50% of the country is now living with some form of diabetes or prediabetes. That’s pretty astonishing in itself, and the ADA is admitting it hasn’t done a good enough job in raising awareness about the epidemic nor in connecting people in the D-Community already living with diabetes.

As a first move as new CEO, Brown says she made the organization step back and examine its decades-long history and how it goes about helping people with diabetes. Part of that involved a “100-day listening tour” where Brown and other ADA leaders traveled the country talking to PWDs and their loved ones, ADA staff and volunteers, doctors, educators, healthcare professionals, industry folk, donors, and researchers. 

The medical community often gives the ADA high marks for its focus on research and science, but talking to PWDs and their families is a different story, Brown admits. “This is a truth serum we had to take,” she says.

So the ADA looked in the mirror, so to speak, and asked itself:

  • Are we too safe?
  • Are we too respected to change?
  • Are we too conventional to be creative?
  • Are we too set in our ways to be innovative?
  • Are we at ADA too OK with being OK?

“The bottom line is that diabetes is way too important (for us at ADA) to just be OK. That caused us to rethink how we work… and we started to hack ourselves,” Brown says.

She talks about how they heard loud and clear from patients that they didn’t feel connected to or by the ADA. Too often, diabetes isn’t talked about at all and there remains misinformation, stigma and blame associated with this condition – particularly with type 2 and prediabetes.

“They began by telling us we weren’t talking authentically and transparently and weren’t sharing their ‘everyday reality’ with diabetes,” she said. Setting out what it calls a new Strategic Architecture, the ADA says it now has a clear path laid out for how it should operate going forward and put its vision into motion. 

This is where the ADA leader talked about “putting the patient at the center” of everything it does, which we all know is a buzzword and common theme. The proof will be in the pudding of what they will actually change.


How Will the Country’s Largest Diabetes Nonprofit Change?

New Tagline: The ADA’s new “Connected for Life” tagline is already being rolled out publicly. The point is to show how the organization is not only focused on cure research, but also on real-life diabetes issues and connecting people to resources and to each other to help them lead better, healthier lives.

Red Frame Logo: The use of this imagery represents “reframing the conversation” about diabetes. The ADA actually took its new bright red 7-foot red wallpaper “frame” signs into local communities and invited people to stand in front of them for photos — for marketing purposes, clearly, but they are encouraging people to share their personal stories for the greater good.

Affordability and Access: “We’re going to continue to lean into (the issue of) insulin affordability and continue to fight for access, for people with diabetes,” Brown says. “We’ve got to continue raising our voice and doing everything in our power to make that so. Period, end of story. We’re not going to walk away from that, and you’re going to see us turn up the volume on that.”

Nutrition: The ADA leader says, “there is so much information about diabetes nutrition, what’s right or wrong, and passionate people on so many fronts related to food. We released a consensus paper in early 2019, acknowledging multiple nutrition therapies because there isn’t a ‘one-size fits all’ answer for PWDs. The ADA will share and create programs for the D-Community aimed at those variety of diets, including Paleo and low-carb and so on.”

Cure Research: The ADA plans to push more on its Pathway Program that supports young researchers contributing to the diabetes field, specifically because those younger generations are not typically the ones who get the most funding for their research. That program also involves working with a variety of industry partners, beyond just traditional “Big Pharma,” the ADA tells us.

Community Involvement: Over the past years, the ADA had shifted more of its efforts and programs away from local communities and field offices, in favor of its East Coastheadquarters and national efforts. Now that is going to change. The ADA has started putting more resources into local offices, re-establishing Community Leadership Boards and re-engaging with local community volunteers. “That’s where the rubber meets the road, and they have the heartbeat of the community,” Brown says.

So that’s the skinny straight from the ADA itself. We asked for more specifics and concrete examples of how the org plans to make these big changes, but they declined to provide additional detail at this time.

Guess we’ll have to wait and see whether “reframing of the diabetes conversation” by ADA translates to more than just a new red square background, or whether the organization will actually do better in ways that matter to PWDs.