Empathy Through Art: Using Stories to Fuel Change in Health Delivery [Part 2/3] – The Interview

We spoke with Chris Bailey, Coordinator, Online Communications at World Health Organization (WHO) to get an insight into the world of arts, health and communication as he sees it. We spoke following the success of the first ever staff-run play “The Pot” at the WHO headquarters for World Health Day 2018. The play, written by Mac Rogers and originally performed by the American Academy of Dramatic Arts was produced and performed by the WHO staff from all ranks, working together to put a human face to health. As the Coordinator for Online Communications, Chris has years of experience in knowledge management and performing arts, a powerful combination of knowledge and skill that has influenced his work. Chris is also the current Vice Chair and head of the Production Subcommittee for Geneva English Drama Society (GEDS). He’s previously worked with the Rockefeller Foundation to build a knowledge management program in Africa and is notably an influential advocate for the arts and health.

Needless to say, we were inspired. Here’s a rundown of our conversation.

How did your career begin with WHO?

I was recruited by Dr. Tim Evans, whom I worked with at Rockefeller foundation; at the time he was serving as Director of the Health Equity Theme. When Tim moved to WHO as the Assistant Director General he came to me and said: “You’ve done a lot of innovative things and created a reputation, how would you like a real challenge.” That was it!

You had a history in the theatre prior to joining the WHO - how did you find yourself working in global health?

I can tell you the short version because the long version is complicated. I started as an actor and theatre director. When I got married and had babies, I realized that babies need to be clothed and fed and that requires stable income. I didn’t immediately leave theatre but I knew I needed a degree. So I went to night school and got a masters degree in Library and Information Science. I later started work with Rockefeller to build a knowledge management system in Africa, then ended up working with WHO as well and helped develop a strategy for their knowledge management programme.

How does your background tie into what you do?

So, about 5-6 y ago, there was some downsizing at WHO, 30% of staff were let go including me. To add on to my job disappearing, I was diagnosed with cancer. I had to rebuild my life. I changed my lifestyle; started exercising and changed the way I ate. I had allowed my spirit to atrophy. You see, in addition to the cancer, one of the things that had been lyi