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Wrapping up an excellent year and looking forward

by Alan Bernstein Dec 15 / 16

As 2016 draws to a close, it’s a natural time to look back and to look forward. What has CIFAR accomplished over the past year and what do we hope to achieve next year?

alan-bernstein-portrait-2015-250x357In many ways, 2016 was a landmark year. In November, we brought together a diverse group of about 100 researchers and leaders from civil society and government at the CIFAR Forum on the Well-Being of the World’s Children. Attendees from 26 countries met to develop a broad perspective on children’s well-being encompassing health, education, human rights, resilience and fragility, child soldiers and refugees, and more.

Supported by Global Affairs Canada, the Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health at the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Forum represented an ambitious new activity for CIFAR. It was built on our 30-year contributions to the importance of the early years, which continues today with CIFAR’s program in Child & Brain Development.

The Forum was held in beautiful Canada House in London, England, and opened by Her Excellency Mrs. Janice Charette, Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. Honorary co-chairs were Sir Mark Walport, Government Chief Scientific Adviser in the United Kingdom, and the Honourable Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. The co-chairs were Drs. Tom Boyce, co-director of the Child & Brain Development program, and Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council.

In my view the Forum was an unqualified success. We are now following up with various partner organizations and participants and exploring various future activities.

This year we also launched the first cohort of 18 CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars. These outstanding academics from five countries, including Canada, are an incredible group of emerging research leaders from around the world. Other highlights in the past year included the “Our Musical Brain” event at Koerner Hall with CBC’s Julie Nesrallah and the Gryphon Trio, led by Senior Fellows Laurel Trainor (McMaster University) and Robert Zatorre (McGill University).

CIFAR has also been holding an important series of research workshops on ocean health and quantum materials, in collaboration with the U.S.’s Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation.

Finally, our fellows continue to demonstrate the highest level of international excellence in research that CIFAR is known for at the very highest level. An astounding 67 of our fellows and advisors received major awards and honours, including the Nobel Prize in Physics to Art McDonald, in the 12 months between June 2015 and June 2016.

As we approach the end of 2016, we are well on our way to an even more exciting 2017. John Hepburn, our new vice-president, research, and staff are planning a number of workshops emanating from the CIFAR Forum on the Well-Being of the World’s Children and our second Global Call for Ideas.

And our “Mission to Mars” – CIFAR’s move to new headquarters in the MaRS Centre – is on track for March. All of us at CIFAR are very excited about the move. The space will be totally open, aside from meeting rooms, and it will place us right in the middle of a dynamic and collaborative research and innovation ecosystem that has a start-up culture. To me, our new office goes far beyond just space: It is about redefining ourselves as a global research organization that is bringing together some of the world’s most extraordinary researchers to create knowledge that will transform our world.

As 2016 draws to a close, I wish all our friends and supporters and everyone in the extended CIFAR family a happy and restful holiday season and a healthy new year.