Group photo of the Munk One case competition 2019 participants
Munk One, Munk School

Addressing Toronto’s opioid crisis through collaboration

Over the course of Fall Reading Week, Munk One students participated in the annual Munk One Case Competition. The teams had 24 hours to come up with a solution to a secret case, which they pitched to a panel of esteemed judges. This year’s topic concerned the opioid crisis in Toronto and the related issues of stigma, physical barriers, and the capacity to receive care. Read more about the competition and what students had to say about their experience below.

The annual Munk One Case Competition got off to an exciting start as the secret case was revealed to participating students with the knowledge that, at the same time tomorrow, they would need to pitch a proposed solution to a panel of experts. As a central part of the Munk One program, this was a highly-anticipated day not only for the participants but also for the second-year alumni organizers who have been busy putting together this legacy gift since March.

There is a common phrase ubiquitous within Munk One, which challenges students to “think global, act local.” The spirit of this was captured in the surprise case students had to tackle – Toronto’s opioid crisis.

“You have been recruited by Toronto Public Health to propose an intervention focused on opioid abuse in Toronto. Your team can choose to focus on one of the following issues:

  1. Reducing stigma towards opioid users

  2. Mitigating physical barriers to accessing treatment

  3. Increasing the capacity for opioid users to receive care

If successful, your team will be granted $1,000,000 in order to pilot your idea. Your solution can access additional funding sources outside of this grant, but you must be able to identify specific sources.”

– 2019 Munk One Case Competition Case Guide

To get participants thinking about the scope, challenges, and opportunities within this complex problem, the case reveal was accompanied by a keynote presentation by Dr. Tara Gomes, epidemiologist and Principal Investigator with the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN). Her research group’s findings on the gendered impacts of different opioid treatments, as well as her emphasis on understanding the diversity of individuals who are affected by this problem particularly struck a chord of inspiration for students.

From there, the brainstorming process began as students were assigned into randomized groups and given a comprehensive case guide. Mentors from the Masters of Global Affairs program, as well as Munk One alumni dropped in by the end of the day to offer advice on pitching, narrowing purpose, and logistics.

As the evening set in, groups took their work online and to dorm rooms in order to reach the firm 10 AM deadline the next day. The panel of judges who adjudicated their ideas included: Mr. Rick Frank, and articling student at Cooper, Sandler, Shime, & Bergman LLP working in human rights law, police law, and criminal law; Professor Richard Foty, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Health Policy Management and Evaluation at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health; and Dr. Abhimanyu Sub, Academic Director of Safer Opioid Prescribing and community-based family doctor.

To impress the panel of judges, teams prepared appendixes, printed materials and even a prototype. For the Blue Team, their preventative and treatment-based solution creatively proposed the use of VR technology to reduce pain and limit the prescription of opioids. The Red Team sought to address the challenges women face in getting safe, non-traumatic opioid treatment by proposing the establishment of treatment centres within existing Toronto women’s shelters. Along the lines of creating a solution for a specific population, the Green Team sought to deliver more culturally-sensitive care for Indigenous women via a treatment centre partnership with an existing Indigenous service provider.  Understanding that a large barrier to receiving regular treatment for those with children is a lack of sort-term and affordable childcare, the Yellow Team proposed the construction of a free, drop-in daycare service across from the existing Metro Health treatment centre.

Following thoughtful deliberation, the judges awarded the winning title to the Red Team, with Yellow Team as a follow-up winner. Unanimous praise was given for all teams for their preparation on such a short timeline, professionalism, and effective communication. The impressiveness of this was also considerable, given that many participants had never competed in a similar event before. In true Munk One fashion, all teams listened intently to feedback on how to improve for their second semester Dragon’s Den assignment, in which they will have an entire semester to craft an intervention and pitch to judges.

After the Case Competition, Munk One student and participant Wan Li reflected on her time:

“Overall, I thought it was a great experience to learn about the opioid crisis. The intense and time-sensitive environment allow me to better understand the people who are affected, especially how we need more policies and solutions that provide incentives for them to get help so they can overcome existing barriers and societal stigma (for instance, the Indigenous community and women impacted by this crisis are particularly vulnerable.) On the other hand, the arbitrary team arrangement also meant that I got to know other classmates a lot better. I appreciate that the Munk seniors organised this event for our class and I feel much more prepared for the Dragon’s Den next semester!”

For fellow cohort member and teammate Atharv Agrawal, the Case Competition was a different learning experience from classes:

“Coming into the Case Competition, I did not really know what to expect. During those 24 hours of brainstorming, discussion, planning, and taking power naps in the boardroom every once in a while, I learned a lot. In our Munk One classes, we go to such great lengths to analyse and study interventions, but in the case competition, the tables were turned and we were faced with the prospect of being the ones judged rather than being the judges ourselves. I believe that this change in perspective was much needed and immensely helpful as it made us realise how tough doing such work is. The fact that this was based on my experience of participating in a mere simulation made me develop a sense of respect for all those changemakers out there who muster up the courage to take initiative!”

Congratulations to all Munk One students who participated in the competition, and to the second-year organizers for putting together this annual event!