Supporting character-driven leaders around the world through the pandemic

June 24, 2020

After graduating with the 2015 cohort, McCain Institute for International Leadership Next Generation Leader (NGL) Mohammed Al Tarawneh returned to his home country of Jordan with goals to promote democratic engagement and create a safe space for Jordanian youth in political and social expression while preserving the national identity of the country.

Using the McCain Institute leadership development model, Al Tarawneh has achieved substantial success by incorporating the Train the Trainer program into his NGO Blue Umbrella’s mission. In the past year and a half, Blue Umbrella launched a leadership training project that has trained over 1,200 youth to date, and has now become one of the most prominent leadership programs in Jordan.  McCain Institute logo Download Full Image

The McCain Institute has granted the 2020 Catalyst Grant to Al Tarawneh and three other NGLs — Mira Koroma Dumbaya (Sierra Leone, 2017 cohort), Aliz Pocsuvalszki (Hungary, 2019 cohort) and Gantuya Sainkhuu (Mongolia, 2018 cohort) — to continue the support of character-driven leadership development.

Catalyst Grants support and encourage top achievement in the implementation of an NGL’s Leadership Action Plan — a strategy each NGL develops during their program year that brings about positive change in their home communities.

"Being a Catalyst Grant winner is not just a privilege, but it's a commitment to continue my leadership journey,” Al Tarawneh said. “It's a clear message from the McCain Institute family that my passion to lead and serve is recognized and admired. In this critical time, solidarity and support are essential and help us to empower youth and implement the leadership activities for the young leaders of Jordan in the schools and to make these aspirations a reality."

With this Catalyst Grant, Al Tarawneh will continue to expand and diversify his leadership development efforts to an even younger audience, establishing a Leaders Club in high schools across Jordan and a leadership training center for Jordan’s refugee population.

See how the 2020 winners will use their Catalyst Grants and keep up with past recipients on the McCain Institute website

The Institute also awarded nine NGLs with the COVID-19 In The Arena Grant to support and encourage their leadership around the world in the adversity of the pandemic.

Vimal Kumar, an NGL from India (2020 cohort), is the founder of Movement for Scavenger Community (MSC) an organization committed to the eradication of manual scavenging in India and bringing education and awareness to the existing scavenger community. To date, MSC has established six Jai Bhim centers that have provided 15,000 people with free meals in the poorest communities, working together with upper caste members through collective community action. 

These areas house the majority of those affected most by the COVID-19 lockdown: essential workers, such as sanitation laborers, and the now-jobless residents, such as domestic sweepers.

“Our activities related to the education classes are paused nowadays, but communities are looking towards us for the help,” Kumar said. “In this difficult situation, I am my community’s leader, and I can’t sit silent. So we have to stand with the community to support them for food and safety gear.”

Kumar will use his micro-grant to purchase safety tools like gloves, masks and soap for the essential workers and food for the jobless families.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread around the world, another virus, albeit not a pathogen, has emerged. This is the virus of disinformation, a tool often used by authoritarian and rogue governments to try and sow confusion among their adversaries at home and abroad. As we have seen, U.S. and European efforts to clamp down on disinformation spread by the likes of Russia and China has been met with mixed results.

NGL Leon Hernandez (2017 cohort) has been engaged in this battle in his home country of Venezuela. There, the regime of Nicolas Maduro has used misinformation and fake news to deflect from his inadequate response to the virus’ impact on the Venezuelan people. Launching daily reports on specific cases of spreading fake news, Hernandez and his organization, Observatorio Venezolano de Fake News, have detected more than 600 individual cases of deliberate fake news since its June 2019 launch.

However, with the coronavirus taking aim at the already-ailing Venezuelan people, his work (now from home) is more important than ever. Not only has Hernandez been at the forefront of identifying misinformation, he has also been speaking out about how everyday citizens can recognize it for themselves.

“The fight against disinformation is part of this duty of creating a model of communication for democracy, because the education and promotion of a cleaner public opinion, one based on real facts, are needed to improve the awareness about the manipulation of information that is established by dictatorships and socialists regimes,” Hernandez said.

While information about the pandemic is scarce and contradictory, Hernandez will generate five publications that provide documented information and dismantling fake news circulating in Venezuela to better inform citizens and give journalists tools to fight disinformation.

In Ethiopia, Judge Selamawit Girmay Birhane (2019 cohort) focuses her goals on children. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the closure of schools, children have been left in more vulnerable to various dangers including the virus. Birhane took the initiative to convene a meeting with the neighborhood association and community police to make a plan on how to address 600 households’ needs.

“As a result, our association executive committee is now mobilizing to donate basic food and safety materials for those who are affected by the current crises,” Birhane said. “We have already set an optimized intervention standard, which can optimally sustain the family for one month and keep our community safe through minimizing the possible causes for spread of COVID-19.”

With this micro-grant, Birhane expects to supply families with food, sanitation materials and personal protective equipment.

Six more NGLs received the COVID-19 In The Arena Grant for pandemic relief efforts in their communities: Ezzeddine Ben Rhima (Tunisia, 2017 cohort), Dael Dervishi (Albania, 2017 cohort), Ljubomir Filipović (Montenegro, 2019 cohort), Sahana Mishra (India, 2015 cohort) and Jerlie Requerme (The Philippines, 2020 cohort). 

See how the 2020 winners will use their micro-grants on the McCain Institute website.

About the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University

Inspired by the character-driven leadership of Sen. John McCain and his family’s legacy of public service, the McCain Institute implements programs and initiatives to make a difference in people’s lives across a range of critical areas: leadership development, human rights, rule of law, national security, counterterrorism and combatting human trafficking. More information can be found here.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the institute is proudly part of ASU, the largest public university in America — ranked No. 1 in innovation for five years running.

Staci McDermott

Communications Manager, McCain Institute for International Leadership


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ASU faculty respond to global health crisis with innovative ideas

June 24, 2020

5 research teams from College of Health Solutions awarded total of $100K to research consequences of pandemic on community issues

The task of redesigning Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions from an institution of disparate departments to one of translational networks was no small feat. But it’s what leaders foresaw as a necessary step toward bringing it to a place where it could better serve the community it inhabits — one of the cornerstones of ASU’s charter.

In the midst of a global crisis, what that looks like is experts coming together from a variety of fields to conduct research that has the potential for real, measurable impact. Not ones to disappoint, when College of Health Solutions Dean Deborah Helitzer put out a call to faculty to submit ideas for pilot studies that would address the innumerable consequences of the pandemic, almost 20 teams responded with proposals.

“When we re-formed, we re-formed around the idea that we would focus on disease prevention and that we would bring all of our transdisciplinary focuses in both research and education to the table,” Helitzer said. “And we’ve done that in little ways, chipping away at it here and there, but COVID-19 really gave us the opportunity to do that with abandon. It’s a good opportunity to enact the vision of the college, and it’s become something that has really galvanized the faculty.”

In the end, a total of $100,000 was dispersed among five teams to fund research into such areas as the pandemic’s effect on opioid use disorder treatment, a distinctly local concern in Arizona, where Gov. Doug Ducey declared opioid use a statewide health emergency in 2016.

“We’re seen as the translational arm of ASU,” Helitzer said of the college. “What we do is implement research findings in the community to make a difference.”

Scott Leischow, College of Health Solutions professor and director of translational research for the college, remarked that leadership was impressed with the diverse scope of the projects.

“We are pleased that the range of projects funded reflects the complexity of COVID-19, including an understanding of the nature of the virus itself, how health care systems are adapting and how individuals are striving to cope with the dramatic life changes brought about by COVID-19,” he said.

The five teams and their proposed projects are:

COVID-19 pandemic response with electronic health record and patient-reported measurement

  • Rodger Kessler, research professor, College of Health Solutions
  • Mindy McEntee, postdoctoral scholar, College of Health Solutions
  • Brad Doebbeling, professor, College of Health Solutions

The COVID-19 pandemic amplifies the importance of current and ongoing surveillance of patients and families directly affected by the virus, and those at high risk for infection. There is also a large population of patients who may not get infected, but whose overall function, quality of life and engagement in health care, such as elders and/or those with two or more chronic medical and/or behavioral conditions, leave them at high risk of poor outcomes. These issues are magnified among populations from racial and ethnic groups, and those with significant social determinants of health.

We will implement and evaluate an electronic health record and a patient-reported, measurement-based surveillance system to identify the most vulnerable patients and assess identified quality of life and social determinants of health. This data will create a real-time risk score and risk stratification subgroups and implement care pathways for identified sub groups. We will work with three Phoenix community-based health care systems who primarily work with underserved racial and ethnic populations. If successful, we will create a rapidly generalizable infrastructure for surveillance, intervention and monitoring, and identify facilitators and barriers to implementation.

Next-generation sequencing and genomic epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 patients in Arizona

The goal of our project is to sequence SARS-CoV-2 virus from positive patients in Abrazo Health Network that have linked clinical data, including severity and co-morbidities, to analyze genomic and phenotypic differences. During pandemics such as this, novel data science and informatics methods are needed to extend traditional epidemiology that capture data from case investigations and lab tests.

One example is genomic epidemiology, an extension to the monitoring of rapidly evolving pathogens. Here, next-generation sequencing (NGS) has the ability to produce large amounts of valuable data for bioinformatics analysis such as phylogeography, a field that studies the geographical lineages of species such as vertebrates or viruses and uses sequence data to model a pathogen’s geographic diffusion and genetic diversity over time. We will leverage a collaboration between ASU and Abrazo Health Network to sequence specimens from a repository drawn from over 150 SARS-CoV-2-positive patients.

The power of this archive is that clinical information has been abstracted from the patient from whom each sample was collected. Patient clinical data includes COVID-19 severity, past medical illness, medications, vital signs, laboratory test results, trajectory of disease in hospital and outcome. We will utilize the clinical data to group patients into meaningfully distinctive categories, such as severe vs. mild presentation, respiratory-limited illness vs. gastrointestinal illness, lymphocyte suppressed vs. nonsuppressed and other comparisons. We will analyze the association between SARS-CoV-2 viruses in Arizona and clinical severity. This combined effort will support hypothesis generation for experimental virology studies that we will initiate as part of larger funding after this pilot project.

Mindfulness takes practice: Mobile health tools for building persistent mindfulness meditation habits

This pilot intervention will test a novel mobile health (mHealth) tool for building persistent mindfulness mediation habits which are known to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Researchers are warning that the COVID-19 pandemic will likely inflict long-lasting emotional trauma, including PTSD, on an unprecedented global scale, and this mHealth intervention has the potential to be widely disseminated for addressing this impending public health issue.

Our approach is based on habit formation theories in both economics and psychology and will use a combination of reminders and personalized contextual cues for initiating a daily meditation routine. We will use a new experimental research design to uncover the optimal type, timing and sequence of reminders and contextual cues for best supporting this habit formation process which we will further investigate and rigorously evaluate in a larger subsequent study. Importantly, this mHealth tool is being developed in tandem with a popular commercial medication smartphone app, so this research will be directly implementable among a large existing population of meditation app users. 

Understanding the impacts of COVID-19 on opioid use disorder treatment: From organizational level response to patient experiences

  • Raminta Daniulaityte, associate professor, College of Health Solutions
  • Natasha Mendoza, associate professor, School of Social Work
  • Melanie Gall, research professor and co-director of the Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security at ASU
  • Brad Doebbeling, professor, College of Health Solutions
  • Leah Gerber, professor of conservation science, School of Life Sciences

The SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic is an unprecedented and rapidly evolving public health emergency. Vulnerable populations, such as individuals with opioid use disorder, are particularly susceptible to adverse consequences, ranging from increased risk of COVID-19 infection to difficulties accessing substance-use treatment services. The overall goal of the proposed study is to assess the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on the ongoing opioid crisis in Arizona. This proposed study leverages an interdisciplinary collaboration among experts in opioid use disorder, behavioral health, emergency management, internal medicine and infectious disease epidemiology. It builds on a collaborative partnership with the Community Medical Services (CMS), one of the leading providers of substance use treatment, which operates over 40 clinics across nine states, including more than 20 in Arizona.

The key aims of the study are to: 1) assess organization-level preparedness, policy and responses to COVID-19-related impacts on service provision by the opioid treatment programs in Arizona 2) obtain a preliminary understanding of the impacts of COVID-19 on individuals with opioid use disorder in Arizona in terms of their (a) health-related risks, (b) substance use behaviors (c) treatment access (d) medication-assisted treatment adherence and (d) overall well-being and resiliency. The study will integrate content analysis of intra-agency policy and planning documents related to emergency operations and disaster preparedness, focus groups with service providers and a brief web-based survey, along with in-depth qualitative interviews with individuals who attend opioid use disorder treatment programs in Arizona. The study findings will be used as preliminary data to develop collaborative National Institute on Drug Abuse proposals for a multisite implementation study of pilot-developed recommendations for practice.

Food security and food access in Arizona: What has changed since the coronavirus outbreak?

  • Francesco Acciai, research scholar, College of Health Solutions
  • Aggie Noah, assistant professor of Asian Pacific American studies, School of Social Transformation
  • Anna Josephson, assistant professor, University of Arizona Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics
  • Punam Ohri-Vachaspati, professor, College of Health Solutions

COVID-19 has quickly and profoundly affected several aspects of our society by disrupting the lives of millions of people and causing record-high unemployment rates, putting a strain on food supply and increasing rates of food insecurity. Using Qualtrics survey panels, our study will assess food insecurity, food access and affordability in a representative sample of Arizona residents at two time points since the coronavirus outbreak. Because the impact of the pandemic on people living at or near poverty is likely to be more profound, we will oversample lower-income households.

Our survey will include established and validated measures of food insecurity as well as newly developed and tested questions designed to capture the challenges that have emerged since the coronavirus outbreak. The results from this study will be useful for policymakers in the state for addressing current and future emergencies. This study is part of a concerted national effort undertaken by a network of researchers from different institutions around the country, whereby each research team will investigate the issues related to food security and food access in their respective states.

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay