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The Curiosity Series: COVID-19 as a Disruptor

Category:Event Highlight
By: Ashnie Badal
December 03, 2020

The chaos of the pandemic has made issues of inequity, harmful silences, and systemic failures plain to see.

Merely realizing these deeply rooted shortcomings, however, is not enough.

As part of our Curiosity sub-series––COVID-19 As a Disruptor––we’ve been probing at how the pandemic has affected people in various ways. The goal of these conversations is to encourage people to reflect in their own communities and on their own experiences to take action for change.

Though we didn’t know it yet, the central theme of these conversations was set in our May Curiosity Series. Our guest panelists for that session emphasized, over and over, how much people’s interactions with one another have changed, and how the effects of that would be different for different segments of the population.

There were thoughts around the mental health effects of this new normal, but also around the fact that in the rush of dealing with the pandemic, the needs of many populations were overlooked. This includes those who didn’t have the option to work from home and were suddenly out of a job or who live in public housing with greater difficulty creating space between them and their neighbors. 

The turbulence of pandemic has emphasized how the needs of low income families and minority groups are often overlooked and unaccounted for. And, unprompted, this fact continued to be the common thread of all the panel discussions in this sub-series, which has so far shined a light on higher education, entertainment and events, and healthcare delivery. 

In the September installment, our panelists highlighted how one of the biggest impacts of the pandemic has been to unmask issues around access to higher education and shortcomings with respect to equity and community inclusion (ECI). Technological limitations, lack of spatial boundaries in the home, and the struggle to have the necessary mentally capacity are some factors that affect one’s ability to learn/teach from home. Because these challenges tend to affect marginalized groups more frequently, extra effort to give people a fair chance must become a priority to fully capitalize on the new opportunities enabled by remote learning and teaching.

Dr. Denise O’Neil Green, Ryerson’s Vice President of ECI, highlighted her division’s action to connect with 400+ indigenous students, individually and by phone. In these calls, Dr. Green and her team learned about many student’s lack of resources (in terms of technology and food), and were able to supply them with materials needed to remain in school and to contribute to their food security during this time. 

In October, the conversation was centered around ways to re-engage for the sports and entertainment industry, which echoed the importance of really listening to target audiences to understand what they need and meet them where they are.

Sathish Bala, the CEO of DESIFEST, external link (a Toronto-based South Asian music festival), highlighted his new initiatives since April 2020, all of which were to maintain a sense of connection and community in the South Asian population. Through DESIFEST, he has put on over 75 showcases and reached over 1M people. 

Social interactions play a critical role in our wellbeing and creatively designing virtual experiences that meet the needs of people during this time is crucial. Sathish also mentioned that these carefully executed changes allowed him to connect with more people with greater significance than before, and these insights will impact his initiatives well after the heat of the pandemic.

Our most recent panel in November hammered the point home. In healthcare systems and delivery, poorly designed systems and decision-making have catastrophic and unevenly distributed impact.

A bright light of the panel was the reminder that while bureaucratic procedures can complicate decision-making processes, there are ways to enhance patient care. And it often starts with being transparent, as per Dr. Tara Kiran, the Fidani Chair in Improvement and Innovation and Vice-Chair Quality and Innovation at the Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto. 

She believes that healthcare systems “need to do a better job of partnering with patients.” And timely, clear information is key: the public can get immediate updates about packages we’ve purchased, for example, from who is handling it at any moment to when we can expect it at our doorstep. Yet, when it comes to our own well being, there is so much that we’re not told and not made aware of. There should be more access points to resources and experts in the healthcare field to inform people about their options, educate them on common symptoms for life-threatening diseases, and to highlight what internal procedures look like so they’re better equipped to make decisions for their wellbeing. 

This becomes most pressing when referring to elderly populations, immigrant families, low-income residents, and other minority groups. These groups often have limited access to resources or aren’t familiar with the systems they must navigate to get the help they need. They’re also more commonly stigmatized or stereotyped when seeking care, putting their health more at risk.

The discussion emphasized that Healthcare systems should be constantly modified to better serve communities who up to this point have been overlooked, not just those who can advocate for themselves, or for whom getting resources to and communicating with is simpler.

Dr. Lisa Richardson, a general internal medicine specialist at the University Health Network (UHN), encouraged innovators to look within their own communities. Designing solutions that truly fill gaps come from being connected to the problem and experiencing the impacts of the unmet needs.

By addressing challenges in addition to opportunities for change, the Curiosity Series hopes to inspire the audience to get creative with their problem-solving abilities and picture themselves as agents of change.

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The next Curiosity Series panel is scheduled for January 19th from 2-3 pm and the topic is Retail Experience and Supply Chains. Use this link to reserve your spot, external link.

Check out the links below for recordings of the Fall panels!