HEAL Spotlight: Katri Bertram (Pt. 2)

Visit Pt. 1 of Katri’s feature here!

On women supporting women and walking the talk: My main advice based on seeing so many women progress in their careers, from intern to CEO, is that no matter what level you are, from consultant to entry-level to middle management to C-suite, you have to lead by example. What’s worrying in this gender and leadership debate is we assume that the ultimate goal is to crack those glass ceilings and reach parity at the top, and then we applaud every woman who is in a leadership position. But we aren’t asking those tricky questions of what do they do once they’re there. That, for me, applies as well for what do you do when you get your third promotion and are suddenly in middle management. What happens when you recruit your first intern? Are you still leading by example? So again, it goes back to whether you are actually giving back and handing over the power that you’ve gained and accumulated. The sad reality is there are so many women who get into these positions (leadership team, etc.) and then they start hoarding (needing to be the spokesperson, decision-maker, etc.) and quickly become just like their alpha male counterparts and forget to give back. That’s something you need to start learning and doing as early on as possible, or else you won’t do it later. Let’s say you are the most junior person in the room but there is an intern with you, and she’s worked on some projects. No one will know her name. If you really want to walk the talk on this issue, you recognise her if you have the chance to say something or talk about her work.

  • What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation: Global health, development, politics, advocacy, partnerships, society, raising children, and books.   
  • What industry do you think will be revolutionized soon: Hopefully air travel, and that we don’t needlessly go back to jetting around the planet at the cost of our climate and planet. 
  • Urgent issue(s) in global public health you wished more people knew/cared about: Female genital mutilation (FGM).
  • Favorite commercial: From our sector, Save the Children’s “Most Shocking Second A Day.”
  • What do you wish you knew more about: I’ve been trying to learn more about Africa, its history, and political and social context. In development, we still often develop plans and projects for entire continents, without any understanding of what the needs are, what works, and who needs to be involved.
  • Favorite artists: I love modern, visual arts, especially paintings but also large installations–anything that fills and inspires in a space like the Tate Modern in London that you can literally walk through or into. I studied at the London School of Economics (LSE) and lived directly next to the Tate Modern when Anish Kapoor had a piece in the Turbine Hall. It’s still probably my all-time favourite. 

On trust: Most people in general, but also those who work in the global health sector, are there because they want to do something good for the world and for people. They’re probably already a self-selection of people who care a lot about other people and have a mindset that’s trying to do something good. What I’ve increasingly come to learn is that doesn’t always translate into the right means to do so. Everyone starts in this sector in a lovely, motivated, passionate, but also naïve way, and will expect people to do good in good ways and go into that in a very trusting way. That’s the part that a lot of colleagues of mine and I have struggled with when we realise that our global health sector is often very similar to any other sector, whether corporate or government or any other private sector type. We think we’re starting at a place of trust and are often at a point in our sector where we should do better.

  • What location is at the top of your travel bucket list: Norway and its fjords, and Egypt.
  • Why is decolonizing global health necessary: I think it’s important to be clear what I mean by decolonization. It’s not about “fully getting rid of colonizers,” but about inclusion, diversity, empowerment, and radical shifts to who determines the agenda, decisions, funding–and ultimately about where power lies in global health. Right now, it’s in high-income countries, with high-income educated people, primarily white, male, over 50. We need global health to reflect the diversity of where global health is implemented. This is what decolonization means for me personally.
  • Three words those close to you would use to describe you: Driven. Ambitious. Obsessively organised. (Not sure those are always good things!)
  • What is worth splurging on every time: Buying gifts for friends and their children. And Viennese Sachertorte/chocolate cake.
  • What lifestyle changes are you trying to make: This year I’ve been trying to find a broader perspective. In practice this means that I have given my permission to take evenings off, days off, even entire weeks off to do whatever I feel like (walk, cycle around, read, knit). The great realisation has been that I’ve been just as productive workwise. During the past years, I fell into a very bad habit of just working or being pushed to just work–and increasingly feeling I wasn’t delivering anything meaningful.  
  • Fictional place you dream of going to: A place where I could spend time with all of my friends–currently dispersed around the entire globe. 

On where you decide to put your energy: I’m driven by trying to improve people’s lives. I’m the type of person who will see a video or be in a country who see people who are suffering or children who have lost their parents or are dying, and I will just cry my eyes out. It breaks my heart every single time. That’s what motivates me to work in this sector and gives it meaning. When we talk about our own energy levels of people working in this sector, we give so much, but there’s also the question of what energises us, what motivates us, and what gives us meaning. I use the word ‘meaning’ a lot because it then links to what we are doing has to feel ‘meaningful’. We want to do something with impact. We give so much, and we deplete our own energy, and if we don’t manage to fill that energy again through the impact of our work or being appreciated by our colleagues for improving the system we work in, that’s a route to very quick burn-out and losing motivation. I’m also really energised by talking to younger people who want to join the sector or who have just joined. Mentoring our young graduates gives so much back to me, because I feel I’m able to try to be helpful, as just a little concrete thing that energises me in addition to the impact I mentioned.

On mentorship and walking the talk: People are often nice and friendly and publicly supportive because it makes them seem nice…and then when they actually need to do something in a tricky situation, that’s when you can really tell who is there for their own reason, and who is there to really support you. That’s an important aspect as a mentor to really walk the talk. It’s something I’ve learned the hard way. There are lots of people willing to mentor because it’s beneficial for them as they’re building their followership, can ask people favors, have supporters who want to place them on panels, follow them on social media, etc. but don’t walk the talk when you need support (i.e. asking for a reference letter from those mentors, seeking a job, etc.).

  • How will the world be different post-COVID-19: Honestly, I’m skeptical. I don’t think people are ready to transform their lives, and how we travel, consume, produce, and live. COVID-19 really has been the smaller crisis compared to climate change–and look how little we’ve done to change our lives in response to this greater crisis. I actually fear the world will be worse off: with more nationalism, more protectionism, more fear of “others.”    
  • How will you make your life a “good life”: I’m extremely privileged, and lucky. I have a beautiful, healthy family and am blessed to have some of the best friends I could imagine. “Good life” for me means that everyone stays healthy and feels well, and that we get to spend time together and be there for each other. 
  • Most memorable gift that you’ve ever received: I’m not a very materialistic person. Gifts for me are trust, appreciation, friendship, and being there during hard times. That’s what I remember.
  • Who do you go out of your way to be nice to: Nice is a difficult concept. I try to be nice to everyone I meet, and usually don’t have to go out of my way to do so. Being nice to people who are arrogant, unfriendly, treat others badly, or break trust, is trickier. That’s when I feel like I have to go out of my way to even try. 
  • What really makes you angry: Lies, manipulation, deceit, arrogance, selfishness. 
  • Favorite candy/snack: Coffee and dark chocolate. 
  • Life goals: Give back to others and learn in order to have more impact for good.
  • What would your life meal be: Cheese and crackers. 
  • What is the best way that someone can spend their time: With friends. 
  • You dream of a world where: We as people do no unnecessary harm but try to do good for others and also ourselves.
I’m blessed to call many colleagues my friends.

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