HEAL Spotlight: Katri Bertram (Pt. 1)

  • Name: Katri Bertram
  • Originated from: Finland
  • Global public health area(s) of expertise: Partnerships, advocacy, external relations
  • Educational background: Political scientist
  • Jobs before your current position: I have worked in international development for over 15 years, in development campaigning, as a consultant for multilateral organisations working in global health, and most recently heading Save the Children’s global advocacy and campaigning, and in external relations at the World Bank.
  • Best advice you’ve ever received: I think even more important than advice has been practical support. For example, colleagues and mentors who have vouched for me when I have applied for jobs. Or my husband, who has been supportive of moving our entire family twice across the Atlantic for my job. I’ve come to realise that deeds count much more than words, even though encouragement is also important.
  • Advice you’d give to emerging global public health professionals: Don’t be afraid to raise uncomfortable issues. Our sector will only be strong and have more impact if we address challenges. It’s not always an easy path to take, but it’s important if you really care about achieving results and improving the lives of people through your work. 
  • Personal website: katribertram.wordpress.com 
  • Twitter handle: @KatriBertram

Your story

I graduated with an MSc in International Relations in 2000 and worked in security policy for a couple of years. 9/11 took place in the middle of this, and although this should have been the most exciting and relevant time to work in security policy, I felt my work was too abstract and far removed from reality. I spent a few years searching for a new direction, starting three PhDs, and even applying to art school! I ended up doing a second Masters in Public Policy, and discovered global health. I haven’t really left the field since. It feels so relevant every single day. My niche in this field has always been related to convincing others of its relevance through advocacy, fundraising, communication, and building partnerships. I’ve worked in a number of organizations along the way, but my focus has always been the same. Most recently, after moving back to Europe from the US, I spent a long time thinking about what my exact value add is. Looking back at my career, what I’ve been really successful at has been in building bridges and convincing others of the relevance of development and global health, and working together. That’s why I founded Partners for Impact (PFI / pfipartners.org), so that I could share best practices and help others strengthen their work in this area too. 

Inner Lantern glow-up 

  • Lesson(s) learned over the last year or so: I gave myself “permission” for the first time since graduating to take a step back and to find a broader perspective. I’m a results-driven and very impatient person, and in global health and development, there’s always too much to do. But we often do so much in this field that we forget the big picture. What else is relevant? Who needs to be on board? Who has been neglected? And what can I, personally, draw on to contribute value add and my best to this sector?    
  • Why did you establish PFI: In addition to what I mentioned before, I realised when doing some research on the topic of partnerships that there was a huge amount of material out there from two decades ago, when the harmonisation agenda was all the rage. But since then: practically nothing. And I kept thinking of my counterparts and colleagues working in partnerships, many of whom have so much expertise and great experiences in what works–and what does not. I wanted to help share some of these lessons to others who are trying to make their partnerships more relevant, and to really drive greater impact in this sector.
Working with Women in Global Health
  • Current life motto: Being a very impatient person: Just do it. And although I always set ambitious goals and am determined to reach these: You have to start somewhere, and sometimes just muddle through. Don’t set the bar too high, just try your best and rather get going.  
  • If magic was real, which spell would you try first: My daughter (5), who is very much into magic wands at the moment, recently told me she’d get rid of COVID-19, which I found very touching. I’d up the ambition level and eradicate war and disease.
  • Favorite global health organization/agency and why: Honestly, every organisation has a great mission and mandate. We’re all here to do relevant work–some at the global level, some locally. It’s important to recognise the importance of these different mandates, and what each organisation can contribute. Where I see more challenges is when there is a disconnect between what gets done, or what gets prioritised, and what the core mission is. These two are sometimes miles apart. 
  • Currently reading: I read all the time and just finished Martin Meredith’s The Fortunes of Africa: A 5000-Year History of Wealth, Greed, and Endeavor. I just started Toni Morrison’s essay collection, Mouth Full of Blood.
  • Currently listening to: In Berlin, I love listening to Turkish radio. I love the language and how it sounds–even though I don’t understand a word, and the music.
  • If you didn’t have to work what would you do: I love my work. I do this by choice. Giving back and trying to improve the lives of people gives so much meaning to my life. When I’m not working, I try to be there for my friends, and try to help other colleagues or people who aspire to work in this sector. And I of course spend a lot of time with my family, as a mother of four! 
  • What is one of your proudest accomplishments: I’ve been brought up in a culture that values humility. I’m rarely proud of what I do–I always feel like I should be doing more, giving more, doing things better. What makes me proudest is when my colleagues and staff in my teams have grown, and reached new goals, and felt well in their workplaces. Perhaps that’s what I’m proudest of: having recruited such brilliant colleagues and seen them achieve great things. 
  • Coolest global public health specialization to be in: I’m an advocate at heart, wanting transformational change, fast. It’s the least understood and most underinvested area in global health, but every advocate will agree: advocacy!  
  • Favorite movies: I love artsy movies, and movies that deal with social issues (e.g. “La Haine”), but I’m also a sucker for action movies where stuff gets done and someone saves the day (James Bond, Mission Impossible, etc.). 
  • Favorite place to eat in Germany: Yumcha Dumplings in Berlin-Mitte.
  • What age do you want to live until: I get asked this question a lot by my youngest daughter (5) at the moment. I think somewhere around 80 or 85, as I’m currently at mid-point being 40. 
  • What app needs to be made: There’s probably an app for everything already. I’m still searching for a good one for doodling. I express my ideas mainly through words but would sometimes like to visualise them and haven’t found anything yet that works as well as pen and paper.
  • Favorite Disney movie: Moana.
  • The hardest lesson you’ve learned thus far: I’m someone who values trust above everything. And I give everyone I meet the benefit of doubt, and another chance. I’ve learned the hard way that some people manipulate this trust and can use it against you. It’s been a very painful lesson. 
  • What is special about the place where you grew up: I am Finnish by nationality but grew up in both Helsinki, Finland and Vienna, Austria. What is more special than the places are the people I was surrounded by. I went to an international school, with so many nationalities, religions, ethnicities, and so much tolerance in those days. It was a huge privilege, and something I value as incredibly special in my life.
  • Favorite work memory thus far: I have been blessed to work with so many great colleagues and partners, many of whom have become close and trusted friends. My favorite memories involve great teamwork, and lots of laughter. 
Humor is Katri’s main magical ingredient for resilience.
  • What makes a good friend: You know a true friend when they stick with you and are there for you always, also during tough times. 
  • Best trip of your life thus far: I visited Iceland with my family a few years back. It was magical, and like no other place I’ve ever seen so far–it felt like landing on the moon.
  • How would you define public/global health: Personally, I’d define global health as an aspirational end goal: achieving health for all people globally, equitably. Public health is the means within national borders to implement this goal, as we operate in a system of nation-states, where governments are ultimately responsible for the health and security of their populations. 
  • Personality Type: I’ve done many of these types of tests during my career, and am results-oriented, organized, and extroverted.
  • What job would you be terrible at: Anything that is monotonous for long periods of time, or where my work doesn’t make any difference. I always need a new challenge, to learn, and to know that my work is contributing to some improvements in the world. 
  • Health equity is, in your words: Every person, no matter who they are or where they live, has access to quality, affordable and timely health services.
  • If you could live anywhere, where would you live: More important for me than a place are the people. Not just my family and friends, but also the people around me and around my children–and I realised when living in Washington DC that this includes political leadership! 
  • One thing everyone in the global public health field should know: This is a tricky one, because so many people join this sector wanting to do something good, and realise it’s not all good. My advice is that if something feels really wrong or off, dig a bit deeper or raise your concerns. Just because we’re in the business of saving lives doesn’t mean that all means should be tolerated. Try to remember why you joined this sector, and listen to what feels right–and have the courage to act upon it.

…To be continued!

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