Scaling Up Leadership in a Time of Crisis

Illustration. Bird's eye view of pedestrians standing in a grid

When faced with an enemy like COVID-19—novel, invisible, deadly, and little understood—informed leadership is crucial. And yet, Andrew Morris- Singer, MD ’07, saw the United States facing the onset of this global crisis with “a vacuum of leadership” and “gutted” pandemic response and public health systems. Andrew and his husband, Corey Morris-Singer, PhD ’12, leaped to provide that leadership in the philanthropic sector, magnifying the work of experts across public health and bioscience. One of their first priorities? Helping two centers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health with key roles in confronting COVID-19 scale up their operations.

Harvard Chan’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics (CCDD), led by professor of epidemiology Marc Lipsitch, and Ariadne Labs, a joint venture of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital led by Asaf Bitton, MPH ’10, received a combined total of $1.4 million thanks to a generous gift from Andrew and Corey through their foundation.

“COVID-19 represents an extraordinary challenge to our society and our systems of care,” says Andrew. “We believe that both the CCDD and Ariadne Labs are going to make critical contributions to addressing this crisis.”

The $900,000 gift to Harvard Chan’s CCDD will enable the center to continue its emergency work modeling and predicting the spread and impact of COVID-19, as well as the impact of shelter-in-place orders and social distancing. CCDD has been advising the White House and governors across the country, improving testing procedures and availability in Massachusetts and elsewhere, and finding innovative ways to uncover hidden information about the pandemic—from predicting disease prevalence using infec- tion rates among travelers to reporting on the effectiveness of social distancing using data from social media.

An additional gift of $500,000 will allow Ariadne Labs to expand its current work around community mitigation strategies, such as social distancing; partner with other countries facing the pandemic; establish guidelines on practice and protective equipment for hospital systems; and establish guidelines for obstetrics, surgery, virtual ambulatory care, and caring for the elderly during the crisis.

The Morris-Singers are both deeply involved in health systems science and practice. Andrew is a general internist who focuses on leadership development in health care. Corey is a cell biologist by training and founder and past president of the Harvard GSAS Science Policy Group. He has been an advocate for support of science education and biomedical research funding.

The two co-founded the nonprofit Primary Care Progress, which Andrew continues to chair, to help support and develop leadership and change-management skills among U.S. primary care practitioners. Through the Morris-Singer Foundation, these practitioners seek to help those on the front lines solve problems quickly, based on their own knowledge and experience. That includes providing general operating support with few restrictions, which minimizes the red tape needed for experts to deploy resources quickly to areas of greatest need. “We’re trying to get more resources to where they can have an immediate impact in the face of this crisis,” says Corey, “but also to where they will be building the capacity for healthier and more resilient communities.”

Alison Cashin