Get to Know: Essie Quakyi

31 Jul 2018

Get to know Essie Quakyi, a member of McCann Global Health’s team, whose upbringing in Ghana and life in New York are her North Star when working in global health communications

How has your upbringing shaped your experience and work at McCann Global Health?

I was raised in Ghana, West Africa. It’s not exactly what you would consider glamorous, but I had everything that I needed and it was where I learned true empathy. There’s no such thing as small talk where I’m from. Even in the most “casual” of conversations, people show interest in you – the parts they see and don’t see. And when I’m working on strategic global health communications, this guides me to create work that makes true connections with people. Tapping into the desires, motivations, and aspirations of people is the key to creating a lasting impression. It is also the key to unlocking real behavioral change, and I find it very cool and encouraging that I get to take this idea from my Ghanaian upbringing, and apply this every day at McCann Global Health.

What creativity has moved you?

This is a pretty cool story – growing up there was a public health commercial on TV about washing hands with soap and water. It follows a kid who hadn’t washed his hands with soap and water and you can see a glow on his hands from the “germs”, which he transfers to various things he touches – it was very visual and creative. He sits down on a small stool for dinner time and his mother stops him and washes his hands before they eat. It flashes back, and you can see the mother stopping to wash her hands at various times as she prepared their food, because she wanted to protect her family from illness. Even as a young kid watching the commercial, the mother’s empathy and concern for her family always reminded me to wash my hands with soap and water not only to protect myself but also my family. Fast-forward a few years later, and that campaign was randomly referenced by John, our ECD at McCann Global Health, when we were developing a WASH campaign for Tanzania!

What interests you outside of work?

I’m very interested in the human experience, so I spend quite a bit of time reading up on and watching documentaries and shows about how human behavior is influenced and experienced. The Beginning of Life on Netflix and This is Life on CNN are really good ones to watch. Outside of the nerdy stuff, I volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club in my neighborhood – and that’s always so much fun and very rewarding. I also like to make cocktails from scratch, and so far I’ve created about 14 variations of a mojito.

What is your proudest moment?

When I was graduating from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, I was invited to represent my class as the commencement speaker. Although public speaking makes me a bit nervous, being able to share words about the role of altruism in public health with faculty, friends and colleagues, Dr. Seth Berkley (CEO of Gavi), and my family (they didn’t know I was speaking) – was a major highlight. I was even more proud when I saw a video of my grandmother in Ghana watching a live stream from her cell phone!

In one sentence, what does Truth Well Told mean to you?

It means developing work and communications in global health that are not only earnest and evidence-based, but that also put the audience in the driver’s seat.

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