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Relieving the burden: 9 alums who are helping overcome COVID-19 challenges

From feeding frontline workers to starting a virtual barbershop, alumni are contributing across the globe.
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Adair Roberts (right) founded Feed the Frontlines Toronto to deliver meals to healthcare and social service workers

As the fallout from COVID-19 continues to disrupt almost every aspect of modern life, alumni around the world are working to help address a huge range of suddenly unmet needs, from healthcare worker capacity to distance learning to reliable electricity. Below, we highlight some alumni who are making an impact.

Dmitry Melnik – Providing frontline care to patients

Dmitry Melnik in nurse scrubs and mask
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In addition to his full-time role as an executive at SAP, Dmitry Melnik (MSW 99-01) works as an RN at Shannondell, a cardiac and orthopedic rehab hospital in Pennsylvania. In the face of COVID-19 and its challenges to healthcare workers, Dmitry remains steadfast in his passion for helping others. “Nursing became my way of giving back,” says Dmitry. “Working with patients reminds me of who we are – humans. COVID-19 does not change that. We have to continue to push through and help the less fortunate.”

David Gettman – Providing a free early-education app for locked-down families

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David Gettman’s (LON 00-12) EdTech startup My Nursery Child (also known as My Montessori Child) has turned its attention to families on lockdown, adapting its educational management software for free use by families of young children all around the world. ‘My Child at Home’ intelligently suggests activities to observe and shares the results with friends, family and the nursery. David explains, "with most of our clients – nurseries, pre-schools and daycare centers – forced to close, we wanted to support directly the families they could no longer serve."

Oliver Kharraz – Helping to meet the rising demand for virtual care in the U.S.

Zocdoc
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With the disruption to in-person doctor appointments in the U.S., Oliver Kharraz (MUN, NYO 01-07), co-founder and CEO of Zocdoc, is working to meet the rising demand for virtual care. “We dramatically accelerated our telehealth plans in response to COVID-19 and have unlocked a critical supply of new virtual appointments virtually overnight,” explains Oliver. Within its first month, Zocdoc has become among the country’s largest and fastest-growing telehealth platforms, adding around one million Video Visit appointments to its marketplace.

Michael Liebreich – Offering a transportation alternative for critical workers 

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“In the last week, we learned that at least twenty London bus drivers and other transport workers have died due to Covid-19,” says Michael Liebreich (LON 90-95), Chairman of London-based smart mobility startup Zeelo. Pivoting from a corporate shuttle service, Zeelo now serves critical worker service clients, helping employers shuttle essential staff in food, health and logistics to and from their places of work. “Providing safe transportation – safe for drivers, safe for passengers – is absolutely vital in the fight to get on top of this ghastly virus,” Michael says.

Al Kinel – Developing a solution for COVID-19 patients to monitor their health from home 

Al Kinel
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Al Kinel (DCO 90-92), President of Strategic Interests, is partnering with Israeli digital health startup Datos Health to deliver a solution for hospitals and public health departments to monitor patients at home. The technology remotely monitors patients who are COVID-positive and those who are symptomatic or who may have been exposed to the virus. “Since leaving McKinsey, I have developed a passion for digital health solutions, community activism, and helping unleash the power of Israeli entrepreneurship,” says Al. “I was able to bring all three together to help my community in Rochester, New York and other regions fight the coronavirus pandemic.”

Zachary Carpenter (NJE/QB 14-19), Daniel Herz-Roiphe (NYO 10-12), Luca Naef (ZRH 18-19), and Danielle Rubin (NYO 16-19) – Identifying alternative drug-repurposing options 

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Alums at VantAI have been working to identify drugs that might effectively fight COVID-19. “During the early phase of the outbreak, we noticed that a lot of the initial drug-repurposing efforts were focused on the same handful of viral and human proteins,” explains Zachary. “We felt our models could make a difference in finding promising therapies that worked through pathways others were overlooking." VantAI has identified dozens of previously unknown COVID-19 targets related to every stage of the viral lifecycle and the human immune response to the virus and is teaming up with research organizations and pharmaceutical companies to investigate further.

Adair Roberts – Feeding healthcare and social service workers in Toronto 

People in medical masks give thumbs up sign in front of carts of food for delivery
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Adair Roberts (TOR 89-91, 93-97), founder of Feed the Frontlines Toronto, has been raising funds to purchase meals for healthcare and social services workers battling COVID-19 on the frontlines. Sourced from local, independently owned restaurants that would otherwise be struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic, Feed the Frontlines TO is delivering 1,000-2,000 meals per week. “What we’re doing is a small thing, but it’s something, and it helps take away the feeling of powerlessness that can come with a threat of this nature,” Adair says. Her idea has also led to the launch of Feed the Frontlines NYC and has inspired similar initiatives across the U.S. and Canada.

Jeroen Sibia –Tackling hair hygiene in the UK 

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Jeroen Sibia (right) and his co-founder Dan Silvertown

DIY grooming site Lockdown Haircut, co-founded by Jeroen Sibia (LON 11-12), is the UK’s first virtual barbershop. “It started as me trying desperately to avoid a bowl cut from Mum,” jokes Jeroen. Lockdown Haircut allows customers to book a 20-minute online video appointment for £15 with a professional barber to walk them through doing their own haircut. When the service launched on Monday, April 20, they were already fully booked. All fees go directly to the participating barbers and all profits are donated to the NHS.

Manya Ranjan – Ensuring reliable access to power in India

Manya Ranjan
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Manya Ranjan (DCO, HOU, PHL 11-17), Chief Asset Officer for Sterlite Power, has been working to ensure that electricity keeps flowing despite government restrictions that severely limit people movement. “Having a power outage in any part of the country during a lockdown would be devastating,” he says. He also helped to ensure that a show of solidarity ordered by the Prime Minister – powering down lights and illuminating the country by candlelight to invoke the autumn festival of Diwali – went smoothly. “This was an unprecedented event for the grid. The grid planners went into overdrive from the moment the event was announced,” says Manya. “It gave me the chance to ensure reliable access to power through a very difficult phase for the country. I couldn’t have asked for a better moment.”

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There are many other alumni making contributions. Here are some we’ve seen in the news. If you know of one we missed, please let us know.

Anupam Agarwal (DEL 06-15) and Karan Jain (SYD, DEL 03-15), co-founders of Revv, offer 1,000 rental cars at no fee for healthcare workers in five Indian cities

Pierluigi Antonelli (MIL, ROM, CHI 94-99), CEO of Angelini Pharma, says "We won't raise prices by a single cent" on sought-after sanitizer in Italy as long as virus crisis lasts

Anjun Attam (MUM, DEL 14-15) contributes tech expertise to CovidMaps, an app that provides users with information on how and where to find essentials in their neighborhoods

Vittorio Colao (MIL 86-96) named head of Italy’s task force to plan country's exit from coronavirus lockdown

Michael Faye's (NYO 09-14) nonprofit Give Directly spearheads efforts to raise $100m to give to poorest Americans affected by coronavirus

Alan Lau (HKO 97-16), CEO of online insurance company WeSure, offers complimentary coverage plans to some segments in response to COVID-19

Luis Guillermo Plata (BOG 98-99) appointed to coordinate the COVID response strategy for Colombia

Vivian Shen's (SVO 14-16) online coding startup Juni Learning teaches kids to code during pandemic

Tidjane Thiam (PAR 86-94, 00-02) appointed President of Africa's COVID task force

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