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Inspired gifts to science

by Cynthia Macdonald Jun 3 / 19

The philanthropists behind the great discoveries

Researchers are celebrated for the advances they make in science, technology, innovation and scholarship. Behind the great discoveries are often visionary philanthropists who understand the importance of risk-taking.

The discovery of DNA, the structure of the atom and the moons of Jupiter, the invention of the thermometer and the polio vaccine: these great scientific advances changed the course of history. None might have been possible without support from individuals who were both generous and visionary.

The idea that scientific research is wholly funded by government and industry only became entrenched around the mid-20th century. Before that, scientists often relied on private patronage to fund their projects — when they didn’t pay for them on their own.

The silent partners behind our greatest inventions sometimes do not get the credit they deserve. These include the Duke of Devonshire, who founded the famed Cavendish laboratory where Watson and Crick conducted their Nobel Prize-winning research into DNA. And shipping magnate Daniel Ludwig, whose $2.5 billion fortune has funded decades of cancer research.

Every field of human endeavour—from the environment, to medicine, to social well-being and more—benefits from a world-class research system.”
— Naomi Azrieli


To this list we can add a growing body of committed donors who are shaping the future of science — many of them by giving to CIFAR. Science philanthropists are both idealistic and adventurous, realizing that the eventual rewards of basic research can far outweigh the risks.

“CIFAR’s donor community gives us the means and the relationships we need to be bold and to address the most important questions of our time,” says Dr. Alan Bernstein, CIFAR president and CEO. “Their support and personal interest in our work is both essential and inspirational.”

Some donors fund entire research programs that span a period of years. Others support aspects of our research programs or other organizational priorities. “We have loyal supporters who have been contributing over a long period of time and we couldn’t operate without their sustained generosity,” says Dr. Bernstein. Whatever their level of support, donors to fundamental research understand that research is the driver of real impact in the world.

CIFAR donors are no exception. They are knowledgeable and forward-thinking, and many advocate for and invest in science. In the May 7, 2017 issue of Maclean’s, a group of science philanthropists — including long-time CIFAR supporters Naomi Azrieli and Lorne Trottier — wrote an op-ed urging governments to join them in backing the cause of fundamental research.

“Every field of human endeavour — from the environment, to medicine, to social well-being and more — benefits from a world-class research system,” says Azrieli, Chair and CEO of the Azrieli Foundation. “I believe that each and every Canadian has the potential to help create that kind of system for our country.”

Like others who give to science, Azrieli cares deeply about the state of the world she will eventually leave behind. Science philanthropists often cite climate change and the fate of the oceans as two areas of obvious and critical concern. Disease research is another.

In this new climate of science philanthropy, CIFAR’s donors and partners are not just a critical source of support for the research efforts of our fellows. In their willingness to support long term, high risk fundamental research, they are very much discoverers themselves.