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Highlights from Week 2 Mission: Set Your Targets

Last week, our Lab members got our message out to a wide audience using traditional media. This week, with the goal of getting institutions to sign on to the Open COVID Pledge, we shifted gears to highly targeted creative advocacy. 

MISSION 2: Get an institution to sign the Open COVID Pledge, using creative methods to reach people in power.

Why this mission? Because: 

  1. By finding a specific individual target who can make a decision as well, and brainstorming ways to reach and persuade them that are personalized to that target, participants get a great exercise in strategic thinking.
  2. By using creative strategies to get an institution to sign on, participants get to break away from stale methods like open letters and try something surprising and bold.
  3. By asking institutions to sign onto the Open COVID Pledge, participants are working together with existing advocacy efforts instead of reinventing the wheel.
Our Innovation Lab members blew us away with their teamwork, strategic thinking, and experimentation. Read on for four different stories that showcase some of the coolest and most creative thinking that came out of the Labs this week.

The Wolverines

This week, Wolverine Lab member Jenny Neal asked the question: “Who has the power in Canada to change the status quo?” What followed was an incredible back-and-forth among members as they analyzed the situation in Canada together and worked towards a strategy! First, attention turned towards an existing UAEM petition to the Canadian government to create affordability conditions for COVID-19 diagnostics and vaccines to receive public funding. As the discussion continued, participants dove into the nitty-gritty policy details and possibilities for change, with Louise Kyle sharing this podcast about the Canadian Patent Act in response to a suggestion from member Thomas Dashwood, and Jennifer Nguyen sharing the licensing policy of the University of Saskatchewan for the team to analyze.

As Lab members worked towards this week’s mission, they began to identify promising candidates for the Pledge, including a company making COVID-19 diagnostic tests and a research institute working on a vaccine. Team member Yuka Sai even found and shared a long list of Canadian institutions with public funding for vaccines. Together, the team created talking points, following a two-pronged strategy for addressing different kinds of targets: ones with a personal connection to a Lab member, and ones without an existing connection. In the process, the team was showing the rest of us the full potential of this week’s mission as an exercise in personalizing our advocacy efforts and using the power of “kind activism,” inspired by the Sarah Corbett video we shared in last week’s newsletter. This week, the Wolverines led the charge with in-depth research and thoughtful strategy. Watch this space to see where their efforts go!

The Seals

Over in the Seal Lab, our participants were all about creative collaboration. Participants brainstormed ways to tap into existing student networks to target universities and research institutes like Cambridge and McGill. But as many team members noted, university chancellors receive open letters and petitions from students all the time. And right now, administrators are more stressed and distracted than ever. What could the Lab do to be bold and actually grab their targets’ attention?

Sofia Weiss-Goitiandia, interested in targeting Cambridge, suggested that they make videos instead of letters—an idea seconded by Sofie Farkas, who had already begun to plan a video targeting McGill’s Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity! The Seal team didn’t stop there, however. Another brainstorming session led to even more creative and offbeat ideas, including writing songs to their targets and crafting DIY audio cards. With a strategy in place and tactics in development, we can’t wait to see what the Seal Lab does next.


The Foxes

In the Fox Lab, team members quickly identified a target together, writing a letter to Dr. Paul Duprex at the University of Pittsburgh. Not content with just an e-mail, the team members engaged in the Cost-Benefit Analysis tool they had learned in this week’s curriculum to come up with even more creative strategies to engage Dr. Duprex. Noting that April is National Poetry Month, Kisha Lynn suggested writing poems to Dr. Duprex and other Center for Vaccine Research staff—or even inviting poets to contribute to a Free The Vaccine zine. The group also discussed the scars left by the polio vaccine as a visual symbol for the work of Dr. Salk. Could those images also be material for art as advocacy? Stay tuned to see what our Fox Lab members do!

The Otters

In the Otter Lab, participants came up with the creative idea to use the famous USC vs. UCLA sports rivalry to their advantage, prompted by an idea from Katy Licina! With the universities’ scores on UAEM’s Global Health Report Card and results on UAEM’s Clinical Trials Report as a starting point, the Free The Vaccine campaign could give the schools a chance to play against each other—even if sports this season are cancelled. With trading cards featuring researchers instead of athletes, the Otter team plans to ask those researchers to improve theri most important stat by signing on to the Open COVID Pledge. And that’s not all: the Otter team hopes to give the winners a trophy. 

Together, the team has identified a number of researchers working on COVID-19 as their star players. Here’s one example of what the COVID-19 trading cards could look like. We’ll keep you updated as the project progresses!

While those are only a few stories of how our teams worked together this week, they showcase the kind of innovative thinking that’s brewing in our labs. You can look forward to next week’s update as our teams continue their targeted advocacy efforts—and push the boundaries with even more creative tactics!  

We remain on target for our ambitious goal: 

Ensure that publicly-funded diagnostic tools, treatment, and the COVID-19 vaccine will be sustainably priced, available to all and free at the point-of-delivery.

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