The Company We Keep: Bridget McNulty


  by QW+ staff writer

The Company We Keep: Bridget McNulty

Bridget McNulty is known as the leading voice for diabetes in South Africa, and it’s a role she takes very seriously. She is the co-founder of Sweet Life Diabetes Community, South Africa’s largest online diabetes community, and the current chairperson of SA Diabetes Advocacy.

Pronouns: She/Her

Born: 1982

Status: Married to a lovely man with two lovely kids (7 and 9 years old).

School: Maris Stella, Durban.

University: Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania (USA).

First job: Features writer at Real Simple magazine.

Home: Hout Bay, Cape Town – the most magical ocean-and-mountain village that feels truly South African.

Transport: Walking, as much as possible…

Book on your bedside table: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius to dip into whenever, currently reading Invisible Acts of Power by Caroline Myss.

Music in your playlist: Phoenix is my go-to Best Band of All Time. But I have a selection of wussy / pop / alternative / nouveau classique that has been described as ‘eclectic’ (insult? compliment?)

Describe your job in no more than seven words: Empowering South Africans with diabetes through education.

What keeps you awake at night? Figuring out why people act the way they do… The most endlessly fascinating question of all.

Who is your biggest hero? I’m not one for big heroes, to be honest. I’m most amazed by the ordinary heroes we meet every day, who keep on persevering when things are so hard…. Parents of kids with Type 1 diabetes, who have to inject their toddlers multiple times a day. Anyone living with diabetes, and juggling a chronic condition on top of all the demands of everyday life. Anyone walking through grief, which is the hardest journey I know.

Remote or office? Remote! Any day of the week.

What’s the most exciting part of your job? Connecting with the Sweet Life community. We have this extraordinary online community of people with diabetes who are so present and authentic and willing to share their lived experience with us, every day. It never fails to energise me.

Career highlight? Sweet Life was chosen as a Top 3 finalist for the DCB Innovation Challenge last year, and flown to Switzerland for a week-long bootcamp in the Swiss Alps followed by a 5-minute live pitch in front of a crowd of 300. Totally thrilling. The other obvious highlight is launching our diabetes stock photo library on Unsplash. Over 150 images of people with diabetes doing all the things we do – taking medication, checking blood sugar, cooking and eating healthy food, exercising, hanging out with friends. We launched it as part of the #LanguageMatters campaign, to counteract diabetes stigma, and the images have been viewed 8,918,909 times in less than a year!

What is your superpower? Taking terrible experiences and turning them into positive. A Type 1 diabetes diagnosis led to Sweet Life, South Africa’s largest online diabetes community. My mom dying very suddenly led to The Grief Handbook: A guide through the worst days of your life.

What is the least known fact about you? That I actually believe myself to be lazy at heart. I love nothing more than lying down reading! It is my favourite activity.

If you could get the ear of one person, to convince them your work is important, who would it be? Dr Joe Phaahla, the South African Minister of Health. There is no national diabetes education programme in South Africa, yet diabetes kills more women than anything else. We obviously need to fix this, and we believe we have a solution. The endorsement of the Minister of Health would fast-track our solution into reality, I believe.

If you had the power to pass a presidential decree, what would it be? That diabetes is given as much national attention as HIV and TB.

Your best piece of advice? Today? Lao Tzu’s advice: “Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.”

What’s your next big thing? The Sweetlife diabetes education chatbot on WhatsApp! It’s the first step of a diabetes education solution for all South Africans.

What do you do to relax? Read, go for nature walks, play with my kids, eat delicious food, swim in the sea… All the good stuff.