Happy birthday, my darling daughter. As I write this letter today, September 14, 2029, I feel like you were born just yesterday, and here you are, entering your teens. I must confess that I’m nervous about what this new stage of life will bring but I am also filled with hope about the world that you will step into – a world reset in 2020 after COVID-19.
Let me take you back to that difficult year. You were three and a half years old, too young to know what was happening. All we asked you to do was wash your hands frequently, not touch your face, and the toughest part – stay indoors. We read, played, watched cartoons, but you soon started craving school; you always wanted to sleep in my arms, holding me.
Being with you was the only thing that gave me solace about our lives beyond the crisis until you stumped me with an innocent question.
“Nanna (‘dad’ in Telugu), how do people who don’t have water wash their hands so many times?” I knew sanitizers were not the answer as people without basic access to water certainly couldn’t afford them.
The virus travelled without restraint across the planet, affecting millions. It showed us that not everyone had the same access to treatment and protection, that the world we’d built was not a fair one. But it also laid out the initial sparks of real change, teaching us how interconnected we all are and how fragile the balance between humanity and nature is.
As I look back on the past decade since that awful pandemic wreaked havoc, I want you to know why I am so hopeful for the world you have before you.
The four decades before COVID-19 were marked by vast technological changes. Cell phones and planes connected people across the world, banking and entertainment were merely a click away. But technology’s true potential to radically change the lives of the world’s poor – to be more than just entertainment or convenience – was unleashed in the aftermath of the virus.
While the upper middle class and above benefited from technology in all aspects of their lives, the experience was not similar for a farmer growing tomatoes in a village or for a pregnant woman from a poor family in accessing healthcare for her child.
COVID-19 made the world hit ‘reset.’ Instead of ignoring the poor, businesses around the globe realised that solving for inequality was the largest and most impactful business opportunity ever possible.
While some young organisations were attempting to bridge these gaps, they weren’t yet mainstream solutions back in 2020. Sure, there were social products like WhatsApp and Facebook, consumer staples like soaps, toothpastes etc., which had reached the world’s poorest, but goods, services and technologies that shrunk economic and social divides were far and few in between.
I remember how you guarded the door every day to protect your grandparents from the coronavirus. Unfortunately, not too many of the elderly had the fortune of a doting granddaughter like yourself, and many struggled to manage their health amidst all the lockdowns.
But in the decade that followed, businesses saw the act of serving the elderly with healthcare and homecare as not just viable business models but attractive ones as well. In fact, two of India’s startup unicorns today share this very origin.
After 2020, entrepreneurs reimagined businesses to boost farmers’ incomes through mobile-based advice, to make healthcare affordable through telemedicine and home testing devices, to improve learning outcomes of children via low-cost digital lessons. Technology became an effective tool to fight poverty and to make essential services such as food, education and healthcare more equitable.
Gender equality at workplaces reimagined
Did you know that your mom got a promotion in 2021 in spite of COVID-19’s initial negative impact on businesses? In spite of you staking claim over her computer while she tried to work from home? She did!
Many organisations, including yourmom’s, were forced to adopt remote working styles in the fight against coronavirus and once the pandemic had passed, these organisations all realised that employees thrive in work-from-home environments.
Because such an arrangement offers flexibility, many businesses adopted technology to reinvent remote working policies. Over the last decade, this has improved gender equality at workplaces by leaps and bounds, increasing the amount of childcare men took on so that both parents spent equal amounts of time at home with their children.
I wonder if your mom and I would’ve been able to watch you grow as closely and proudly as we have if it weren’t for these reimagined workspaces.
Human hold on the planet reimagined
One of the most important responses to COVID-19 was getting people to stay at home. When people stayed home, there was less travel. Less travel meant less air pollution.
Very quickly, our air and water became cleaner. Nature reclaimed its space and shape. Venice’s canals, which used to be dark with pollution, became the clear waterways we know today. We stopped seeing grey skies above great cities because of pollution.
Now, I’m not saying a pandemic was the solution we wanted to our complex environmental challenges. Certainly not, but coronavirus did serve as a grim reminder about how humans have taken over the Earth, exploited resources and habitats of every other living species.
It reminded us that not only do humans not own the planet, that we share it equally with fellow human beings. Our life is about respectful cohabitation, and unless we learned to coexist, nature would find extreme ways to reclaim its space.
Surely, we were extraordinarily resilient in overcoming the crisis and reshaping the world for the better, and I wish for you and the generations that come after the same resilience as you navigate your way through this beautiful, interconnected orchestra of life, shared equally by humans, plants, animals, birds, and the tiniest of insects – “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or “the world is one family” as your mum says.
In these formative years, you will make some important choices, and no matter what choice you make, I hope you make it your life’s work to apply your brilliant mind and tender heart towards solving some of our world’s toughest challenges.
Once again, happy birthday, my darling daughter.
I thank Thrishika Kanthraj and Zeba Khan for their inputs in reimagining the future
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)