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From New York to Nairobi, COVID-19 Presents Challenges that Echo Around the World

As the six month mark of life during COVID-19 approaches, we have all become acutely aware of the challenges posed by this disrupted way of life. The “new” fades from “new normal” and familiarity with our adapted routines allows us the space to look beyond our own walls and out to the world around us. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Aaron S. Wallen, Ph.D., Human Capital Management Senior Lecturer, shared strategies for clarifying the blur between professional and household work. In July, Dr. Wallen joined a panel for Columbia Global Centers Nairobi to discuss the ways these challenges are shared internationally, from New York City to Nairobi.

One of the key goals of the nine Columbia Global Centers is to connect the local with the global. Dr. Wallen explains how navigating through the shock of COVID-19 has possibly offered a new perspective on our surroundings. “Shock can lead to change,” he notes. “I think there’s motivation for us to be paying more attention to what’s going on around us.”

However, even the most sweeping change has roots planted on a small scale. The fundamental principles Dr. Wallen shared to help us cultivate a peaceful, balanced life while working from home—communication, equity, empathy, respect—translate to global challenges as well.

Fellow panelist Dr. Susan Gitau, Department Chair and Lecturer at Africa Nazarene University in Kenya and the founder of the Susan Gitau Counseling Foundation, echoes the connection between the global and the personal. “It appears that all the changes or challenges that COVID-19 brought globally has narrowed down to our mental health status. Self-awareness to me is very key.” Dr. Gitau shares the importance of confronting gender stereotypes in the home and acknowledging personal limitations working under fraught circumstances. “I know where to say no—for my mental, social, physical and spiritual well-being.”

Now that we’ve put our current situation into perspective, what does the future bring? “I don’t think anyone would ever call this crisis positive in any way, but maybe we can make something better out of it,” reflects Dr. Wallen. From gender role expectations to the way society views the workplace, the pandemic has highlighted areas both personal and professional that are due for a re-examination. “I hope that this is at least a wake-up call and something good can come out of it, if we are smart about it and we are thoughtful about it."

Learn more about the M.S. in Human Capital Management program.

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