Alumni video: Meet Katri Kemppainen-Bertram (MPP 2007)

Saving mothers and children in a global health coalition.

Katri Kemppainen-Bertram is on a mission to save mothers and children around the world in her role as Senior Partnerships Specialist at the World Bank’s Global Financing Facility – all while raising four children of her own.

Based in Washington, Katri works with other international organisations, donor governments and private partners to help achieve the GFF’s goal of ending preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths by 2030 and saving up to 35 million lives. Her work takes her to Geneva and New York regularly for meetings at international health organisations and the United Nations.

“I am passionate about the topic of child and maternal mortality, for the reason that these are the most vulnerable populations,” she says. “Children don't have a voice and they don't have a lobby constituency to defend their rights. But you obviously find children and mothers everywhere, even the remotest village. It's a fascinating issue to work on politically, because it's a test of whether a political system or a health system works.”

It took Katri a little time to find her niche. Before attending the Hertie School, she earned a masters’ degree from LSE and worked in the field of security policy – but realised, she says, that she didn’t have a passion for it.

“That's why I went back to studying, to refocus and revisit what I really want to do,” she says. At the Hertie School, “I found this area of health,” she says. “I suddenly felt that this is the thing I really wanted to dive deeper into and try to have an impact on.”

She graduated with a Master of Public Policy in 2007, and remained in Berlin for a decade after that, working in a variety of roles at development agencies focused on health. In 2016, she became Chair of Global Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns at Save the Children. Her four children were all born in Berlin.

Katri’s husband is a management consultant with a workload at least as heavy as hers. But ever since the birth of her eldest daughter 13 years ago, “we have always supported each other’s careers,” she says. “We've rotated a bit, so that there have been two or three years where one of us has had a bit more of a career role or a chance to progress, and the other has taken a slightly lower career profile or ambition level. Because I'm from Finland, equality is such an important principle of how I've grown up. I've been really lucky with the partner I found.”

When Katri landed her Washington job at the Global Financing Facility in 2017, it was her turn to focus on her career. For now, her husband takes care of most school organisational issues and provides emergency childcare when the babysitter cancels. Five years ago, she says, it was the other way around.

Preparation for the 2015 G-7 and 2017 G-20 summits, both hosted in Germany, have been among the highlights of her career so far. At G-7 meetings, health had largely slipped off the agenda. Katri was at that time at Save the Children, and she worked together with the German government and a huge coalition of international NGOs to ensure it returned to the foreground.

At the G-20, she says, “we went through the same process but in a much bigger way. The G-20 had never before dealt with health – it had always been about finance and economics.”

Her new job requires the same kind of macro, geopolitical, coordinated approach to global health issues. “I really love the partnership angle,” she says. “It's not about just doing things on your own – it’s about trying to have a huge impact working with large organizations, large foundations, trying to shift the way governments prioritise and how they relocate their funding.”

Katri says she values the Hertie School’s emphasis on the practical aspects of policymaking, particularly the courses requiring students to examine what change is realistic in a given context and who needs to be involved.

“We went through policy cycles in theory and put that into practice, and I use this approach on a daily basis,” Katri says. “I keep teaching it to my team as well. It's really relevant and helpful.”


Read more about the Master of Public Policy programme.