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Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

Rapid-Fire Idea Dialogues Catalyze Work to Combat COVID-19

Novel approaches to addressing COVID-19 aren't coming from one field or institution, one world leader or one small group of heroes; they're bubbling to the surface out of collaborations among experts thinking and working together across disciplines, sectors and geographies. We're already seeing this manifest in the form of new collaborations among Northwestern and other university researchers, industry and policy leaders. Here are a few examples stemming from rapid-fire Idea Dialogues Northwestern Buffett hosted this month on different dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic:  
  • International Medical Supply Sourcing: Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) here in Chicago and around the world brought Northwestern faculty from engineering and materials science, immunology and pathology, transportation studies, anthropology, law and management studies together with counterparts in Mexico to address fraud in global medical supply chains. The conversations are ongoing, but have already led to a set of best practices in international medical supply sourcing, meant to be adapted to local contexts as appropriate based on applicable regulatory and legal requirements.

  • Policy: The Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine’s Institute for Global Health and Northwestern Buffett will create a robust repository of policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The repository will help illuminate policy options lower and middle income countries facing a surge of COVID-19 cases can consider, and how different policy responses have correlated with COVID-19 infection and death rates.

    Insight on policy responses to COVID-19 is also emerging from Meridian 180, a virtual community of 1,500 thought leaders representing the academic, government, corporate and nonprofit sectors that Northwestern Buffett convenes. Meridian 180 provides dedicated space for the kind of intellectual risk taking and multilingual dialogue that can surface novel approaches to addressing complex global challenges, and has shed light on policy response to COVID-19 from Bogotá, Columbia to Taegu, South Korea: the role of central governments and health care providers, the limitations of basic welfare systems, how responses to COVID-19 are exacerbating inequalities and how to incentivize cooperation with public health recommendations, among other issues.

  • Engineering & Manufacturing: Faculty at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Mexico's Universidad Panamericana (UP) have established an exchange group dedicated to addressing PPE engineering and manufacturing challenges. Northwestern University engineer Mike Beltran is working with UP engineers to devise a large-scale PPE manufacturing process suitable to the materials and resources available in Mexico City. Also, Northwestern computer scientist Josiah Hester recently received an National Science Foundation grant to develop low-cost, battery-less smart masks with built-in sensors for detecting viral exposure and signaling whether wearers need to adjust or fix their masks. Dr. Hester plans to work with colleagues at UP to pilot this new technology in Mexico City.
These are of course among many examples of the collaborative, transnational work underway to address COVID-19. It is truly inspiring to see how much we know, and how much we can achieve, when we dedicate our efforts to fostering the kind of collaborative genius required to address global challenges that no single individual or institution alone can solve.