#SpeakerSpotlight: Lisa Russell

What is the definition of ‘wellbeing’? I looked this up the other day to confirm my own assumptions; that the word meant both the state of being happy, and that of feeling healthy. The two are often synonymous; happy people, generally, tend to be healthy people and visa-versa, but relating the two happens less than one might think.

I applied this thought more specifically to the health sector. Clinical care specialists, by their expertise and training, are likely the ones fixing physical ailments, Doctors and Nurses prescribing healthier lives to their patients. Medical researchers might uncover new vaccines, identify where disease is likely to spread and provide breakthrough insight on global health challenges. But to what to we attribute the other aspect of wellbeing, the one of ‘being happy’, feeling valued and being represented in your environment? Can we attribute global ‘wellbeing’ to just the health sector?

The answer is no. The global health community and its professionals, alone, cannot change the course of global health, we must look instead to foster cross-sector collaborations. When we look specifically at gender inequities in the health sector, the same thought rings true. The health sector is not alone in this imbalance and building bridges across sectors can help address the gender gap.

One such sector is the arts. Creative and global health communities share a common goal: improving wellbeing at individual, community and global level, and securing an equitable future. Lisa Russell, Emmy-winning filmmaker and Artist Curator, is a member of the creative community doing just this; leveraging the power of the arts to generate health and equity gains.  Her film ‘Heroines of Health’ executively produced by GE Healthcare, looks at the common journey between three women from entirely different backgrounds; Mercy, Dr. Sharmila and Mrs. Rohani, and delicately unpacks their experiences of the steep challenges associated with health work as a woman. Recognizing that the film portrays ‘three of many untold stories’ of female experience in the health sector, Lisa hopes that her work amongst others can help unlock better health for more people around the world.

Art activism, as visible in Lisa’s work, has and continues to be a successful tool in galvanizing action from governments and stakeholders, translating specialist, often complex, ideas into digestible, persuasive formats. Working originally as a humanitarian aid worker in Kosovo and Albania, Lisa witnessed a number of unethical storytelling practices there and realized by becoming a storyteller herself, she could convert ideas into change. Her powerful platform Create2030, recruits and coerces socially conscious changemakers, creative entrepreneurs, artists and humanitarians in advancing global SDG’s. ‘Artists are incredible creative thinkers and problem solvers’, she explains, ‘Why wouldn’t you want us in a room with policymakers solving the world’s greatest problems?’.

Health programs too often overlook the value that the creative community can add, with art a powerful tool in both health education and catalyzing resources. Cross-sector events like the Hawme Festival, the inaugural event series hosted by University of Global Health Equity in Rwanda, celebrate the creative community’s role in advancing and expanding the spectrum of reflection on global health. There is a palpable uniqueness to the event, linking two seemingly disparate sectors through event highlights such as a concert celebrating female voices in health advancement and a performance showcasing dance as a therapeutic tool in mental and physical health. The performer line-up is entirely unique, combining psychoanalysts, arts therapists and musicians, 'voices of feminism' that forge new channels of communication with governments and policy makers. 

Cross-collaboration between the arts and global health will be a key driver to improving access to healthcare and ironing out the gender inequities that exist within it. Both WLGH19 and Hamwe Festival hope to create an enabling environment to generate new reflections and common actions between artistic communities and global health professionals. We are excited to welcome Lisa to the WLGH19 panel, the ‘Role of art and artists in global health and women's leadership’ on the 9th November. For more information about the conference, the speaker line-up and agenda, please visit: www.wlghconferences.org.

Laura Wotton