By: Leslie McCarley
1 Oct, 2020
Laura Arrell is the managing director of the Arrell Family Foundation, which works to improve human and planetary health through food. Although she had been a director of her family’s foundation for many years, she took on the task of running it four years ago, in 2016. The foundation began supporting CIFAR that same year.
Prior to managing the foundation, she was a managing director at Toronto investment bank Raymond James, where she worked for 15 years. Arrell is also a mother of three children, and is passionate about travel and food.
How did you become involved with CIFAR?
We became involved with CIFAR through Alan Bernstein, whom we got to know when he provided great advice to our family leading up to our gift to the University of Guelph to create the Arrell Food Institute. I have come to work closely with him related to the Arrell Food Institute, where he serves as an advisor. He has incredible science acumen and there couldn’t be a better leader for CIFAR. Strong organizations are led by brilliant leaders, and Alan fits the bill.
What has been the most exciting and interesting aspect of your involvement?
If we want to find solutions to the world’s biggest challenges, we have to be agnostic about borders, and collaborate across disciplines. CIFAR’s global community of top researchers sets the bar for what research should be. I’m inspired by the unique borderless approach to research and policy influence.
Is there a particular area of the work that CIFAR does that has been most compelling to you?
The research CIFAR is doing in its Humans & the Microbiome program — with its potential implications for mental health and overall well-being — is absolutely fascinating. There’s no denying these days that gut health and the microbiome should be a key area of research focus and application.
I’m also very interested in brain research. I have close personal connections with people living with Parkinson’s and bipolar disorder, and so research with potential applications for them has been a big focus of our foundation. CIFAR’s Brain, Mind & Consciousness program is doing really important, fundamental work understanding the underpinnings of those conditions.
With many demands on your time and resources, why give to CIFAR? Why now?
I think we’re really backing a good leader. Both my father and I, with our business backgrounds, look at grants that we’re making as investments: You wouldn’t invest in a publicly listed company with a weak CEO. We really believe in backing good people, and Alan, and CIFAR, are among the very best.
What do you wish other people knew about CIFAR, and what might you say to somebody else considering supporting the work that we do?
It’s funny you ask, because I often talk about CIFAR with friends and encourage them to get involved. There are so many great areas of activity that I can usually find a fit for someone’s priorities in life.
As we get great research coming out in key areas like AI and the microbiome that are in the public interest right now, hopefully the public awareness of CIFAR grows. I think funders want to support good people and good research, and I certainly think that CIFAR is a very well-run organization that knows how to build teams and get the best of the best together. You’re a class act!
CIFAR is a registered charitable organization supported by the governments of Canada, Alberta and Quebec, as well as foundations, individuals, corporations and Canadian and international partner organizations.