Dr Erika Wichro: Speak Your Truth Even If Your Voice Shakes
Growing up around nature in the green province of Austria, Dr Erika Wichro grew up brimming with curiosity as she explored the untouched nature that surrounded her home. Her inquisitiveness has followed her through her career, from her numerous degrees, her career as a medical doctor to her expertise in international crisis. The Austrian medical doctor and humanitarian has over 20 years of experience working with challenging health crisis missions like Ebola, Polio, Influenza and Malaria. Working with life-shattering diseases, Dr Erika Wichro withstood the challenges she faced as a woman who refused to comply with society’s vision of a female. After 50 years of life experience, Dr Wichro has learnt that love and acceptance starts with yourself and encourages women to speak their truth even if your voice shakes.
Let’s go back to the beginning – did you always know that you would be working in the field of medicine and research? Do you remember the moment you decided to pursue this career path?
I grew up in rural Styria, the green province of Austria, which had lots of forests, mountains, and untouched nature. My grandmother taught me about herbs and plants; my mother shared her knowledge about gardening and how to grow your own greens and vegetable. So, exploring and seeking knowledge and wisdom has been my life journey since childhood. I had and still have many questions I wanted answers to, and I feel the more I know, the more I still need to know, which makes me the adventurous seeker and explorer I am. The urge to end suffering, whether in animals or humans, led me onto the path of medicine and trying to identify the holy grail of longevity and freedom of disease resulted in tapping into research. I was fascinated to hear Latin terms, which I could neither repeat nor write. I had the burning desire to understand, learn, and make an impact by helping people affected by crises at a large scale like Ebola, COVID-19 in various countries around the globe, who mostly had already more to deal with than a health emergency. I also liked to share new knowledge and discuss different views and perspectives. This led me to see the great potential in teaching medical students, younger generations or anyone interested in living a healthier life. Thus, I became a teacher, trainer and facilitator, while remaining a life-long student in various fields and personal development myself.
What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career?
Apart from a few self-limiting beliefs, one of the biggest challenges was that I did not comply with society’s norms of a female. As a woman, I was supposed to be quiet, pretty, not standing out, being in the kitchen and serving others meals, doing the dishes, getting married, being a mother and housewife, and certainly not travelling or being ambitious. Well, I pretty much went against all odds. I love nature and being outside. I feel alive then following my passions like travel, exploring the unknown, going on adventures, constantly learning, connecting with people and pushing myself to identify the hidden treasures such as skills and talents. I love to listen to the stories of my grandparents, and elderly people. They, including my parents, enabled us to live the life we currently have and they sacrificed a lot for that. From the 1970s and up to the mid-90s, it was difficult for women to be different – a feeling of not belonging and inadequacy. Now, after 50 years of life experience and 30 years of work experience, I have learned to be grounded, to tap into my power and to listen closely to my inner voice for guidance, particularly during tough times. So, the lesson I learned is that love and acceptance starts with oneself, and the environment plays a critical role. You can overcome self-limiting beliefs. What I can do, anyone can do.
You have completed more than 15 years of clinical medical work in Austria and served over 9 years in Worldwide Humanitarian Crisis Management as well as participated in various medical research programs. What has been the highlight of your career?
Yes, time is flying, and I am excited to see how it all connects and aligns with my adventurous path of being a seeker and explorer. Every single course, every hour I spent learning, every degree I achieved, every step I took was never wasted. Each one builds on the other, without me necessarily knowing where it might lead me. Every graduation was a highlight – standing there with your gown and the hard-earned piece of document made me feel like a humble winner. Yes, I did it again, and again and again. And every time, it was somewhat different. Still, the highest satisfaction and inner peace, I felt was when patients recovered, when people regained their power and strength to take over a project, when countries recovered from a health emergency, and the tension subsides, when colleagues and peers happily congratulating each other after achieving their goal together, when a small village get their own access to fresh, safe drinking water, when we negotiate a cease-fire so that medical teams could do their job, when I saw medical teams celebrate because they passed their team examination and became certified. There are so many countless beautiful moments that made me feel alive. I am deeply grateful, and I believe what I can do, anyone can do. It takes a dream. What was your dream at the young age of 7 years old? It takes determination to achieve that dream, some persistence to continue no matter what, with some stubbornness – the universe loves stubborn people. Invest in yourself through learning, growth and personal development. Then mix it all, and you will find yourself in a perfect balance of constantly growing and learning in every aspect. I am grateful for all the lessons – the ones that taught me what I needed to learn, as much as the ones that helped and supported me to keep going and to enjoy the moment. And the ones that also showed me how precious life is as a whole, and to be grateful for every minute of it.
In June 2018, as well as your hands-on work, you also went behind the scenes and became the CEO of Peacebuilding and Partners Sarl, where you serve your clientele with advice on everything from leadership to data analysis. What sparked your decision to take on the role of CEO for this consulting business?
I did not step away from the hands-on work but rather changed my role from a staff member to providing consultancy services as part of Peacebuilding and Partners Sarl. Throughout my career, I have seen a movement towards professional fractioning, division, silo-thinking and performance, which led to a great misunderstanding, malfunctioning systems where those highly committed professionals were utilized – often up to their burn-out. Inequity and inequality are more than just a topic – though possibly not politically seen at this point because there is limited willingness to change it. I prefer to walk the talk in serving the best with my expertise, to accompany clients along the path in a holistic approach, and to help them achieve their goals. Although we have advanced in technology, unfortunately, it seems the human brain is still clinging to the past. We have already had several paradigm shifts, but in my personal opinion, nothing was impactfully pointing towards systemic gaps as the COVID-19 pandemic did and continues to do. It is now time to change what no longer serves us as humans because we came to this planet to leave it in a better place than when we arrived. So, we still got lots of work to do.
You have obtained numerous degrees and are constantly educating yourself. Is this something that you do because it is necessary for your career, or is this more of a personal desire?
As a wisdom seeker and explorer, this is my natural state. I am curious to learn, understand and connect the dots. In doing so, I understand myself, the environment and how it all fits together. A lightbulb moment was to experience the meaning of energy and how different frequencies impact us. What I do to myself, I do to you and others, and vice versa. This underlines the importance of human connection, just like the trees are connected at the roots level, we are also interconnected – regardless of whether we like it or are consciously aware of it. So, in thriving to learn, understand, experience and contribute, I am constantly integrating the gains and moving towards my best version at every level. This encompasses my professional work, which includes attaining further technical skills and their practical implementation, and my personal development, upgrading my social qualities and soft skills capabilities. The integration of it all, focus, consistent investment over time leads to stunning results. It is comparable with a small snowball, eventually resulting in an avalanche. Looking critically at our current education system, I strongly wish to see the movement towards encouraging children and anyone learning to collaborate on joint problem-solving and enhancing critical thinking. The current system diminishes these positive traits by calling it cheating and non-compliance. What I really needed in life was neither available in schools nor at universities. Only personal development is focused on human connection and real interaction.
You were recently featured in the Top 50 Fearless Leaders Publication – an amazing achievement. What are three traits that are necessary for a leader?
Yes, thank you. It is indeed a great honor to receive an award from the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP). So far, I have received three of which one is Top International Public Health Expert 2020; the second is Empowered Women 2021, and the third is Top 50 Fearless Leaders. I was also featured on the cover of the Top Industry Professionals (TIP) magazine in the December 2020 edition. I feel deeply humbled and sincerely grateful. For me personally, the three traits of a leader are:
1) Know yourself – Once you master yourself, one might consider leading others. Being a leader means you are also part of a team. It is a mixture of leading and following, depending on the situation and setting.
2) Authenticity – there is no 9-5 leadership, and once out of office, it is gone. I learned from great examples, who walked the talk, whether it was hard or easy. Many times, I have seen lots of talking, but the real actions never followed. For example, pledged funds for humanitarian support, which remain on paper only.
3) Speak your truth even if your voice shakes – Who else will if you don’t? It takes courage to speak up and share one’s perspective, particularly when you are the only one thinking and speaking this way. However, following a crowd that is running in the wrong direction is not the goal. Likewise, doing what we have always done and expecting different results simply doesn’t make sense.
What does women empowerment mean to you? What do you think is the biggest obstacle standing between women and success?
I strongly believe that women have a variety of skills and talents and a vast potential of powers. Looking at the indigenous communities, elderly women have always played a crucial role and accumulated incredible wisdom over time. Also, interestingly, female grandmotherly whales take care of the younger ones. For me, women empowerment means enabling women to use their voice, to allow them to be as they please, and to do what they feel most drawn to. Women are the glue in a household. They keep the family together, they are incredibly creative, and will always find a way to pursue what is of their highest priority. I strongly encourage women to claim their place on the decision-making table in the context of peacebuilding, systems change, financing, politics, and every sector, public and private. Women have the gift of listening to their intuition. Their soft skills make workplaces much more enjoyable and productive. If a woman chooses a certain career path, it needs to be respected by her family, tribe, community, other women, and society as a whole. In the 21st century, why are we still having different payment schemes for the same qualified woman and man? Why can’t women in some countries decide for themselves, whether they want to seek a doctor, want to start a company, want to marry someone else, etc.? It is very unfortunate that no matter how advanced we are in some parts of this world, so backwards we seem to be in other places. Genital mutilation is unfortunately still practised. Girls and boys are still exploited through child labour. I sometimes wonder what the so-called civilization has brought us apart from destroying our living base, which is mother earth and diminishing those living in synergy with nature – the indigenous people and their practices. Now, this sounds very critical and negative. On the contrary, I have seen and experienced so many beautiful moments around the globe throughout my missions and met amazing, committed people, despite war, crisis and suffering. These people are a sign of hope because they kept going, and no challenge stopped them. I believe these women and men are incredible examples of what is possible and that together we can achieve anything.
What inspired you to participate in this book project, and how has the book project experience been for you?
I didn’t know the title when I joined, but I was drawn to the idea of writing a book with other incredible committed, high achieving, female authors. Tap into your Power – a new Paradigm for Changing the World hits the nail for our current state of being and the tough times we are experiencing through this pandemic. No other title could describe it better. The title represents hope, a treasure waiting to be discovered and utilized for a more fulfilling life. Imagination is free in this regard. I always wanted to write a book, and over the last 18 months, I was too busy due to my involvement with pandemic management. Life is precious and I learned to listen to and trust my inner voice to go for the unknown and to sign-up for any challenges, which propel me forward. So, I went on this wonderful, inspiring journey. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Kicki Pallin, Project Director and Global Woman Club Director Stockholm, for her outstanding support. It takes a very special person and gifted spirit to guide the variety of personalities along their individual journeys. And she is the true master of her crafts. I look forward to seeing many people worldwide benefiting from this book and reading its rich variety of content. A big thank you also to Mirela Sula and the entire team for their hard and dedicated work and relentless efforts. All is much appreciated.