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In a few months, March 2022 will mark two years since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic

In a few months, March 2022 will mark two years since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. As people and businesses were hurled into chaos, did we know how much our lives and livelihoods would change? In March 2020, did we even imagine that the pandemic would linger on for so long, wave after wave hitting us at our very core as we lost near and dear ones?  

Data shows that the worldwide COVID toll stands at a figure close to 52 lakh—enough to wipe out the entire population of countries like New Zealand and Ireland. There are more comparisons between the COVID death toll in certain countries and their casualties in the catastrophic wars of the 20th century. But however poignant statistics might be in putting the current battle against a deadly invisible foe in focus, it misses the grim tales of personal tragedy and breathtaking episodes of human triumph against abject adversity.  

When the second wave of the pandemic hit India in April, the present looked dystopian and the future, bleak. As the health infrastructure crumbled and filled us with ‘finite disappointment’, superheroes emerged out of ordinary citizens and gave us ‘infinite hope’.

Religion was not a consideration when Abdul Malbari stayed up nights, cremating and burying COVID victims. In Delhi, a couple ferried patients to hospitals while braving personal tragedies. A doctor succumbed to the virus while helping patients as the country plunged into deep despair, gasping for oxygen and scrambling for hospital beds. A youth leader rose above party lines to create a volunteer group to fill in the gaps where the State failed us. Away from the limelight, a Bollywood producer helped victims financially and with medical aid. While one legacy business house increased its philanthropic allocation by over 500% in 2021, another went beyond its corporate responsibilities to provide safety and financial care for not only its employees but also the communities around its plants. As the country limped back to normalcy, two young girls vanquished severe odds to bring back sporting laurels.

On the anniversary of Outlook Business, we bring you these stories of hope and inspiration that rose from the ashes of the pandemic. As 2021 nears its end and we take stock of the year gone by, here are 21 changemakers who shaped the year. Most of them are unsung heroes—discovered and brought to you by the Outlook team from around the country. We present them to you in a brand-new design.

“Bring me the two most precious things in the city," said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird… — reads Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince. Wilde’s ‘city’ failed to appreciate the ‘Happy Prince’ and the ‘little Swallow’ but here’s hoping our changemakers will be remembered and their spirit, celebrated.