Igniting Positive Change: A Story for International Women’s Day 2020
I carpool with a colleague, Brenda. She and I work in different areas of R&D, grew up on different continents and have different tastes in food. But, despite our diverse backgrounds, Brenda and I have bonded over personal tales of our countries, communities, families, work, travel – and our mutual love of stories about strong empowering women. We especially enjoy stories of women lifting up other women.
Brenda, who is an established Ugandan physician, is currently participating in Janssen’s Global Public Health fellowship program. Recently, I asked her “What are your plans when you return to Uganda after this summer?” She declared that she had figured out her mission. Brenda’s dream is to make an impact on women – especially teens and young women -- who are HIV-infected or are at high risk of infection in her country. Brenda intends to spark change. Thinking ahead, I can clearly see Brenda developing life-improving policies that will lift these women in need.
Of course, after hearing about her dream, I shared one of my favorite recent reads with Brenda -- Melinda Gates’ book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World. As a philanthropist, businesswoman and global advocate for women and girls, Melinda’s mission is to find solutions for people with the most urgent needs, wherever they live.
As Melinda puts it, “If you want to lift up humanity, empower women. It is the most comprehensive, pervasive, high-leverage investment you can make in human beings.” Melinda articulates how gender equity is the lever that lifts everything. She really reached us with the statement, “Women's rights and society's health and wealth rise together.” This theme of women igniting positive change is one that resonates well with both Brenda and me.
In my heart, I trust that it is no coincidence Brenda came into my life. Our love for Uganda is mutual. I “discovered” Uganda about 20 years ago while we were developing treatments for HIV patients and contributed to local community programs that brought water to rural villages.
Since then, I have traveled back there several times on vacation, bringing my family. Specifically, I wanted to show our children the beauty of the country, but also how Ugandan women are taking charge of their lives and improving their communities. My family and I are especially encouraged by how strongly Ugandan women are leading change -- they are giving hope to HIV orphans, providing means and support so that they can go to school.
I share this story in recognition of International Women’s Day (#IWD2020), which is Sunday, March 8. This year’s theme is #EachforEqual, “an equal world is an enabled world.” In other words, we all need to do whatever we can to continue to lift each other up and help wherever we see a need.
Personally, I am very proud of our company’s long-held commitment to investing in and empowering women and girls around the world. Today, I am honored to work with women who are catalysts for creating healthier people, healthier communities and a healthier world – like my commuting buddy Brenda.
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