Acceptance and Commitment to Empowerment (ACE) Intervention: Reducing HIV Stigma and Promoting Community Resilience Through Capacity Building

HIV stigma is a priority issue that negatively affects people living with HIV (PLHIV) or vulnerable to HIV, especially in terms of accessing HIV and mental health care. The Project ACE intervention program consists of evidence-based trainings in reducing stigma at the individual and collective levels.

Our Project is carried out in six local sites across Canada: Alberta (Calgary, Edmonton), and Ontario (Greater Toronto Area (GTA), London, Niagara & Ottawa)

Study Purpose

We aim to study the efficacy, satisfaction, and cost-effectiveness of online ACE training at 6 project sites in Alberta (Calgary, Edmonton) and Ontario (Greater Toronto Area (GTA), London, Niagara & Ottawa).


The ACE program consists of: (a) six weekly self-directed learning modules with experiential and reflective learning activities; and (b) six weekly online group debriefing sessions in which the facilitators debrief the learning activities and participants can share their insights. 

Applying the integrated ACE model, and using a similar online format as WE-CARE and PACER,

The modules are underpinned by the values and principles of social justice and equity, empathy and compassion, collective empowerment, and recognition of our interdependence.
The learning strategies are collaborative and informed by Freirean pedagogy of critical dialogue and reflection.
The learning modules also promote skills and capacity through six psychological emancipatory processes as described above under the explanation of ACT and SJCB:
  • defusion (observing thoughts as thoughts)
  • acceptance (of experiences of emotions and feelings)
  • contact with the present moment (mindfulness)
  • self-as-context (observer self, interconnectedness, and self-perspective)
  • values (being clear about what matters)
  • committed action (taking action based on values)

Project Activities

Phase One

Contextual Assessment and application

The purpose of the contextual assessment is to explore and identify the local sociocultural contexts and existing responses in the affected communities.  We will engage service providers, community leaders and members of affected communities in focus groups to explore their experiences and/or perspectives on HIV stigma, existing community strategies or gaps in reducing HIV stigma, and access to relevant support.  The results of Phase One will be used to inform the refinement of the ACE online intervention learning activities to promote local and community-specific relevance and increase effectiveness.

Phase Two

ACE Train-the-Trainer Community Capacity Building

We will engage and build capacity among service providers and community leaders using a “train-the-trainer” capacity-building approach. ACE graduates from Phase Two will be mentored to become ACE facilitators and facilitate intervention groups of community members of the affected communities. These trained service providers and community leaders will collaborate in small teams of 4-5 members and be mentored by the principal investigators to facilitate the ACE intervention for community members in Phase Three.

Phase Three

ACE Training with Community Members

We will recruit about 280-300 community participants living with, affected by, or vulnerable to HIV to take part in the ACE online training to reduce stigma and promote collective resilience.

Expected Outcomes

Knowledge gained from this study will inform HIV stigma reduction in affected communities. It will advance our understanding of the factors, processes, contexts and costs that influence the adoption of evidence-based interventions in different settings. The online version of ACE offers access flexibility and potential integration or scaled up across Canada.