Dr. Ifrah Magan Awarded Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Equity Scholars for Action Grant

Project will examine the critical role refugee-led organizations play in shaping health and health equity outcomes
Ifrah Magan headshot

Assistant Professor Ifrah Magan was awarded a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Equity Scholars for Action (HES4A) grant for her project “Examining the critical role refugee-led organizations play in shaping health and health equity outcomes.”

Over the course of the two-year study, Dr. Magan will work with Rohingya refugees from Myanmar living in Chicago, using a critical ethnographic method to illuminate the particular mechanisms through which refugee-led community organizations impact the overall health outcomes, mental health, and healing processes of individuals and families in refugee communities. In particular, the study will assess a range of potential mechanisms of change which will build knowledge of how culturally specific community leadership produces better health equity outcomes.

Too often, Dr. Magan said, the refugee health literature positions refugees as victims and focuses on what they are lacking and how they have suffered. “Refugees endure tremendous challenges related to fleeing their homeland, adapting to U.S. culture, having to learn English, and often not having access to healthcare, safe housing, food, and other resources. But refugees are also survivors who have much to contribute, formally and informally, to improving the health and well-being of their families and communities. I am seeking to help fill that gap by centering the community-level infrastructure mechanisms, expertise, and knowledge that shape the health and health equity outcomes of refugee populations.”

Dr. Magan, who is herself a refugee from Somalia, has been working with the Rohingya community in Chicago for over six years. “I am not entering this work as a researcher,” she noted. “I entered the community first and foremost as a volunteer community organizer when I was conducting my doctoral work in Chicago. This is important because building relationships with communities cannot happen during a two-year project. You have to have that foundation established in advance to do work with communities in an equitable way.”

“Professor Magan is poised with this prestigious grant to make transformative contributions to our understanding of how to reduce health disparities affecting refugee populations in the United States,” said Dr. Magan’s institutional mentor, Dr. Hirokazu Yoshikawa, the Courtney Sale Ross Professor of Globalization and Education at NYU Steinhardt and University Professor at NYU. “Building on her deep and sustained partnerships with refugee-led organizations, she will elucidate how healing spaces led by refugees themselves hold the key to reducing health disparities at the community level.”

In keeping with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s HES4A guidelines as well as her own values and principles, Dr. Magan will be partnering with the Rohingya Cultural Center in Chicago and investing grant funds and resources in the Rohingya community. She explained, “It has always been important to me to invest resources back into the community. As a community-based researcher, I believe in building the capacity of the community and equitably engaging community members at every stage of the project. I am grateful that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation put out this call for health equity scholars whose proposals reflect equity in every aspect.”

Dr. Magan hopes her findings will strength the collaboration efforts between refugee-led agencies and resettlement organizations, “Refugee resettlement agencies are important and have long played a pivotal role in helping refugees in the U.S.,” Dr. Magan said, “but our current model uses a one-size-fits-all approach to refugee resettlement. That needs to change. Organizations that are by and for refugees have the language provisions, cultural understanding, and personal experience to meet the specific needs of their communities. It is time to invest resources in and support such agencies.”