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Leaders share what they’ve learned from the Recover Hope Campaign to address substance use disorders.
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“Changing Hearts and Minds Takes Time”: How One Open School Chapter is Tackling Substance Use Disorders

By IHI Open School | Monday, January 14, 2019

Sarah Xiao and Marija Zivcevska are Chapter Leaders of the IHI Open School Chapter at the University of Toronto. Below, they reflect on their experience launching a project as part of the IHI Open School Recover Hope Campaign, which aims to improve the lives of 50,000 people with substance use disorders around the world. Learn from these student leaders why it’s critical to confront the stigma that surrounds substance use disorders as a first step towards helping people receive the treatment they deserve below:


Chapter members at the University of Toronto gather at their last conference.

What motivated you to start this work and what are you hoping to achieve?

Substance use disorders (SUDs) have been an active topic of discussion in our community, particularly with the recent legalization of cannabis. The culture of blame associated with substance use often prevents individuals from seeking the help they need. Our project aims to raise awareness and reduce stigma associated with SUDs, replacing judgement with empathy and compassion and creating a community of support.

Our year-long campaign will (1) build the capacity of interprofessional students at the University of Toronto to lead this work, (2) create a platform for individuals who are affected by SUDs to share their personal narratives, and (3) engage the Toronto community through a series of educational seminars, workshops, and various social media strategies by July 2019.

The catalyst for this endeavor was attending the IHI Open School’s Leadership Academy last summer. The opportunity to engage with other Open School Chapters and learn from the IHI team was incredibly empowering and gave us the foundation to launch this project.

How did you mobilize your Chapter around the Recover Hope Campaign and your project?

In the beginning, we took ample time to brainstorm ideas, create a timeline, and ensure that all leadership members had a clear idea of our Chapter’s vision for this project. One of the most important components of this planning process was creating a map of stakeholders and assets, which helped us understand the resources and individuals available to us and the steps we needed to take to engage others in this project. Clarifying how each person contributed to the campaign was incredibly useful to mobilize our Chapter members.

What challenges did you encounter? How did you successfully navigate those together?

One of the biggest challenges we came across was finding community members who wanted to share their stories – which is understandable given the stigma associated with SUDs. As a team, we recognized we would need to be creative in how we engaged people in the community – for example, beginning by reaching out to our personal networks. Again, revisiting and revising the stakeholder and asset map was key to overcoming this challenge. 

How are you tracking your progress, and what’s next for your project?

Our team quickly realized the difficulty of measuring engagement with a project like ours, which aims to educate participants and change mindsets. So far, we’ve identified several opportunities for measuring our impact, including pre- and post- surveys, social media engagement (shares, likes, and comments), and pledges to take action. We are also tracking demographic information of those sharing stories and attending events to understand if we are reaching a diverse audience representative of our community.

Next up, we are hosting a mini-symposium: “Narratives of Hope: Challenging Stigma and Raising Awareness on Substance Use,” which will showcase unique perspectives on the current substance use epidemic. Our panelists will challenge common misconceptions and examine the epidemic through a healthcare, industry, and patient lens. The event will explore harm reduction policy, the design of health care delivery systems related to SUD treatment, and the effects of SUDs on family and support systems. Following the panel, attendees will experience an art exhibit featuring the stories of community members who are impacted by substance use disorders.

What advice do you have for other Chapters interested in leading similar work to address the stigma surrounding substance use disorders?

Be patient. Changing hearts and minds takes time and requires consistency, understanding, and perseverance. In addition to our Narratives of Hope project, our Chapter is leading other work to advance our year-long campaign. To make our efforts feel manageable, more easily track our progress, and stay motivated as a team, we broke down our larger goal into smaller, more tangible steps.  Engaging in any type of change is difficult, but continuously engaging our community and individuals with lived experience has helped us stay ambitious about the impact we want to have together and remain deeply committed to this work.

Learn more about the Change the Narrative action area of the Recover Hope campaign and how you can take action to pursue our shared vision for change at www.ihi.org/RecoverHope.

Interested in the Recover Hope Campaign? Join us on January 22, 2019 from 5:00 – 6:00 PM ET to learn more and hear from other exciting projects recently launched by Open School Chapters.

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