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A Chance for Renewal: Words from Dr. Wamwari Waichungo

Posted in: College News and Events

Dr. Wamwari Waichungo

Dr. Wamwari Waichungo ’90, vice president responsible for Global Scientific & Regulatory Affairs at The Coca-Cola Company and the 2020 College of Education and Human Services Alumni Award Recipient, recently wrote “A Chance for Renewal: The Unintended Positive Outcomes of this Pandemic.”

This pandemic is challenging us in many ways. Yet, while difficulties abound, I continue to be amazed by the resilience of the human spirit and the ways in which our lives may be changing for the better. As our work life shifts and we spend more time at home, reconnecting with loved ones and realizing our impact on the world around us, I cannot help but to see the good coming out of this.

Many of the biggest companies in the world are now discussing plans to continue remote work indefinitely. By expanding the possibilities of where employees can live, business leaders face an opportunity to be more inclusive. Rather than limiting hiring to those who have the resources and ability to live in one particular city, we can extend our outreach to those who live in different communities with diverse perspectives.

This disruption is a real opportunity to push forward with diversity and inclusion efforts, if we embrace it. We’re bringing our personal lives to work in new ways by talking about our struggles, getting a look into the lives of our teammates, and removing some of the barriers to accessibility in the office. These things are good for business too. With reduced spending on business travel and office space, this is a cost-effective strategy.

People aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit here. A few weeks ago I came across this photo of lions napping in the middle of a now quiet road in South Africa. For me, instances like this serve as a gentle reminder that this planet is not ours alone. We share it with magnificent wildlife and incredible forces of nature – something we were perhaps taking advantage of.

In April, social distancing had reduced pollution so much that Mount Kenya was visible from Nairobi, though it stands 85 miles away. A photograph of the view was so stunning that many could not believe it. In a city so widely known for its traffic, things have slowed down and the result is clean and clear air for the first time in a long time.

This has also been a time to reconnect with friends and family in familiar but forgotten ways. Our leaders, too, are finding comfort in this. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has expressed gratitude in the ability to enjoy simple, everyday moments like eating a meal together with family.

For me, the silver lining is that I have been working from home in Kenya. Here, I visit with my elderly parents each week. My father was diagnosed with a brain tumor two years ago and, as his memory is deteriorating, I am lucky to spend time with him right now. These weekly visits over the past two months will continue throughout the rest of the year and I am hopeful they will help maintain his memory of me. Before the pandemic, I visited only three to four times a year. I know such infrequency would likely mean he would forget who I was. While the circumstances that have enabled me to return home are difficult, I believe that we all face an opportunity to learn from these difficulties and grow to truly appreciate what we may have been overlooking.