Profile with Joy de Beyer

Joy de Beyer (Natal & Trinity 1980) is a Health Economist at the World Bank. She is part of the World Bank Institute’s Health Systems Strengthening Practice team that works to enhance capacity to improve health systems in countries around the world. Her previous jobs in the World Bank focused on AIDS, anti-smoking policy, and health and education projects in Sub-Saharan Africa. She has also taught at the University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa, the Natal Technikon, and the University of California, San Diego Medical School. She holds a DPhil in Economics from Oxford University and a Bachelor’s of Social Science in Sociology and Economics from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. 

Rhodes Project: What is your favorite thing to do in San Diego?

Joy de Beyer: I love walking on the beach, and playing in the senior women’s basketball league.

Rhodes Project: What was the last book you read for pleasure? 

Joy de Beyer: I just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s book Flight Behavior. It’s good, but not as good as some of her others.

Rhodes Project: What was the first job you ever held?

Joy de Beyer: I waitressed in a steakhouse in South Africa, where I grew up.

Rhodes Project: When did you first become interested in health economics?

Joy de Beyer: I was interested pretty much as soon as I knew it was a field. I’ve always been interested in health and healthcare, and I don’t really enjoy economics, so it’s the perfect area of economics for me.

Rhodes Project: Could you describe a typical day of work for you?

Joy de Beyer: I telecommute from a home office in San Diego, so I have the delight of working in shorts and a T-shirt. I sit at a little desk by myself communing with my e-mail. A typical day might include interacting with colleagues and faculty from Harvard on the curriculum details of a training course or workshop for health policy makers and practitioners from around the world. We bring them together with global experts and teach a systematic approach to diagnosing the causes of inadequate health system performance and how to improve it. A typical day might also include working on logistic arrangements for one of those events. It might also be writing or editing and improving the content of one of our e-learning courses.

Rhodes Project: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Joy de Beyer: Seeing one of these capacity-building events successfully completed, and reading strongly positive evaluations from participants. They are typically week-long face-to-face events. It is rewarding to see the participants sitting together, working together, talking through issues with their colleagues, and gaining better understanding of possible solutions to problems they are grappling with. 

Rhodes Project: What is the most challenging part?

Joy de Beyer: Bringing together the right kind of content and experiences as well as the right kind of people who can benefit and really take advantage of the information, so that the courses and workshops can make a difference. It’s challenging that the results generally emerge over a long time, so one can’t see the kind of immediate impact that is really gratifying.

Rhodes Project: Who are some of your mentors?

Joy de Beyer: One of my first bosses, a man called Dave de Ferranti. I learned a huge amount from him. He is also an amazing role model for his work ethic, his joy in his work, his enthusiasm, optimism and positive attitude. My grandmother was also a great and wonderful force in my life. It was she who told me about Rhodes Scholarships and encouraged and, in fact, gave me the confidence to apply. My life would have been so different without it. It opened a completely new world to me that I would never have had access to without it. Those are two who really stand out.

Rhodes Project: Is there any one moment in your career that you’d like to revisit and change?

Joy de Beyer:  There are hundreds of moments when I misspoke and immediately mentally cringed, or wasn’t as skillful as I would have liked, but I can’t think of any really pivotal wrong decisions that I really regret and wish I could do over. Life goes on and there are so many paths not taken. I guess the one big career regret I have is that I didn’t study medicine. I have a wonderful career and have had great delight from my job, but I am fascinated by healthcare and have thought many times that I would have been a very happy doctor. But that goes back a long, long way – even back to paths not taken in high school.

Rhodes Project: What inspires you, and why?

Joy de Beyer: The precision and beauty of language inspires me. I love language and words. The course of my life is really inspired by the belief that it’s possible to make the world better, in everything we do, in ways small and large. Whether it’s in a big way – doing a job that makes it possible for people in a country or many countries to have better access to healthcare without becoming impoverished – that it is possible to make those changes is inspiring. That it is possible to make somebody’s day better by simply smiling or being kind is also an inspiring and wonderful thing. There are all these tiny little acts that are absolutely in our power that can make the world better. And there are big acts that are sometimes in our power that can make the world better. The thought that we can, each of us, make the world better in ways both tiny and large is very inspiring.

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