Mwanza also observed the evolution of conservation approaches in her homeland, from conservancies to eco-lodges to luxury hotels, all located to take best advantage of an area’s greatest asset: its natural resources. “I think efforts around sustainable tourism are good, but there’s always a delicate balance to be maintained,” she says.
And when the planet goes out of balance there is always a cost, as has been made clear by the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, if there’s any good to be found in this time of great global catastrophe, Mwanza thinks, perhaps it’s that we will think not just about our own immediate mental and physical health, but also about how what we do affects the health of the planet.
She lauds WWF’s ability to clearly explain nature’s complicated systems and their interconnections with each other and humanity. She also feels it is important to consider all of WWF’s areas of focus—climate change, sustainable food systems, freshwater, oceans, and forests, as well as wildlife conservation—and bring them together in a way that people can understand. “That nexus is not always intuitive,” she says, but it is required to inspire action.
In fact, she feels an interdisciplinary approach is the right way to think about most of the world’s larger issues. “I think we really need to figure out how to reframe all of our jobs,” says Mwanza, who leads the nonprofit Community Health Roadmap. “My organization has a very specific focus: community health,” she explains. “But how can my work in human health feed into the bigger picture of a sustainable future for humanity?”
Mwanza believes that it has been only in the last few years that the concept of planetary health has come to be understood more widely. She also believes that another pandemic is inevitable if we don’t change the way we’re living and more fully grasp how our fate is tied to the way we treat nature.
But she also sees this as a time of great opportunity—even hope. “WWF can lead the way in comprehensive problem-solving, in elevating the role of science, and in making sure the global community is better prepared for the future,” she says. “This is the moment, and we must make it count.”