Visionary philanthropy drives innovative research

Commentary 15.06.2016

alan-bernstein-portrait-2015-250x357Philanthropy is the life-blood of CIFAR. It is thanks to philanthropists – individual and organizational – as well as generous government funding that we are able to help bring together the best researchers and give them the opportunities for collaborations that can change the world.

Last week  a thousand people gathered in Koerner Hall in Toronto for a CIFAR event called Our Musical Brain. The event brought together two of Canada’s leading neuroscientists and two Canadian musical guests – the Gryphon Trio and Julie Nesrallah – in an imaginative, educational and entertaining evening of art and science. The audience listened to wonderful performances  and heard about the latest in brain science from two of CIFAR’s newest fellows, Robert Zatorre of McGill University and Laurel Trainor of McMaster University.

The event was held in recognition of and thanks to the Azrieli Foundation, and its unprecedented donation to CIFAR of $10 million in support of two new programs, the Azrieli Program in Brain, Mind & Consciousness at CIFAR, and the CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars program.

The Azrieli Foundation’s gift to CIFAR – the largest private donation in the CIFAR’s history – will help us understand fundamental elements of the relationship between the brain and mind, including important questions about the origins and functions of consciousness.

The Azrieli Foundation is the kind of sophisticated and risk-taking donor that makes CIFAR possible. They understand research at the highest international level, the level of risk involved in undertaking high-risk, high-impact research, and the global nature of research in the 21st century. I’m excited to have the Azrieli Foundation as a new partner sharing our mission to achieve transformative knowledge and support the next generation of researchers.

 Already, the Azrieli Foundation gift has brought together 19 fellows and three advisors from fields as diverse as genetics, cognitive neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and philosophy of mind, and enabled them to work together to understand the nature and origins of consciousness. Their goal is to gain fundamental insights into the human experience, with results that could cast light on mental illnesses that include disorders of consciousness such as schizophrenia and autism.

The CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars program is preparing for its launch, with the final stages of the evaluation of applicants set for this week. I’ve been very gratified by the response. We received more than 200 applications from 31 countries, and the calibre of the applicants has been exceptional. We’ll announce our final selection of fellows in the fall, and begin placing them with mentors in our programs.

It is thanks to philanthropy and government support that CIFAR has been able to engage in these and other recent expansions that hold promise for improving the world. In addition to the Azrieli Program in Brain, Mind & Consciousness at CIFAR, we have recently institute three other programs – Bio-inspired Solar Energy, Humans & the Microbiome, and Molecular Architecture of Life. All of these programs hold promise to make major research impacts.

In addition to support from the Azrieli Foundation, the Azrieli Program in Brain, Mind & Consciousness at CIFAR is supported by Brain Canada through the Canada Brain Research Fund, Michael and Sonja Koerner, Richard M. Ivey, The Henry White Kinnear Foundation, Western University, and the governments of Canada, Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.

As CIFAR continues to fulfill its mission of connecting the best minds to create a better world, we will also continue to depend on visionary and caring philanthropists like the Azrieli Foundation to help provide the resources our researchers need.

For over 30 years, CIFAR has been Canada’s primary vehicle for connecting the world’s most distinguished scientists and scholars to address the most important, complex, and challenging questions of our time. We have been able to do this thanks to the generosity and the vision of donors like the Azrieli Foundation. For that, we are extremely grateful.


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