Expanding CIFAR’s global reach: A Q&A with Lissa Matyas, VP, Global Government Affairs
A recognized thought leader in science and technology research-funding, Lissa Matyas shares her vision for CIFAR’s global presence.
In order for research advances to make a real-world impact on society, strong and strategic international partnerships and government relations are key. This is where Lissa Matyas excels.
With a proven track record of provincial, national, and international relationship building and leadership, Matyas took on the role of VP, Global Government Affairs in April 2022 with the goal of promoting CIFAR on the world stage and fostering new public partnership opportunities. As CIFAR celebrates its 40th anniversary, Matyas shares her insights on the organization’s strengths over the past 40 years and its continued upward trajectory.
CIFAR: Tell us about global government affairs at CIFAR.
Lissa Matyas: Our focus is to grow and deepen CIFAR’s partnerships between federal, provincial, and international partners, and spend our time cultivating long-term relationships. We want to continue to engage with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) and other partners in the federal government, and be able to shape some provincial offerings that address provincial strategic priorities and science and innovation strategies. We’ll also focus on developing strategic international partnerships, where it makes sense for CIFAR and leverages our strengths and impact.
CIFAR: Having recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, what is your sense of CIFAR’s global reputation as it stands today?
Lissa Matyas: Over the past few years, CIFAR has become more known internationally. National and international partners become very interested when they learn about CIFAR’s role in the global science and innovation ecosystem. They love the model and feel that it’s important to have this well-respected global organization that is able to convene top researchers from anywhere in the world, but is outside of government and therefore a neutral body. This allows researchers to truly push the boundaries of science. Governments from around the world can benefit from these novel approaches to addressing global challenges, as well as advance entirely new industries such as AI, quantum, and other fields which have significant roots within CIFAR programming.
CIFAR: How do you envision CIFAR building on its successes and forging new international partnerships and opportunities?
Lissa Matyas: Having that international mix of researchers from different disciplines, that’s really unusual, and that’s part of CIFAR’s recipe for success. CIFAR is a world leader in the ‘science of team science’ while other research organizations really struggle to do this well. A significant number of our fellows and global scholars are based in the US and Western Europe and so we are discussing new partnerships with these countries. Equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) is also a big priority for CIFAR and we’re planting the seeds now for partnerships with other countries further afield. The best partnerships are a win for each partner and usually lead to more and more exciting collaborations and greater global impact. That’s really the future of the next 40 years of CIFAR, becoming truly global, not just in terms of partners, but also in terms of impact and addressing global challenges together. CIFAR is like the venture capital of science, seeding high-risk, high-reward projects knowing that not all of the avenues of research will bear fruit, but many that do can have huge dividends, both in terms of economic and social impact, not just in Canada but globally.
CIFAR: Canada is the first country to have a national AI strategy. How can the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy lead in example for other governments around the world?
Lissa Matyas: A lot of foreign governments are coming to meet with CIFAR to ask us how we did it. Being the first country to ever have a national AI strategy puts Canada on the map as an AI leader. The Government of Canada recently renewed the strategy for a second term and, with this funding, CIFAR will be able to continue to push the boundaries of fundamental AI research as well as its applications in important areas such as health, the environment, and energy. This is really exciting for foreign governments and funding agencies to see, as they’re also looking to engage in meaningful ways with academics on deploying AI in essentially all areas and fields. The Pan-Canadian AI Strategy has become a CIFAR calling card and helps put Canada and CIFAR on the map, opening up new opportunities for us and for the AI institutes.
CIFAR: What do you think CIFAR’s most unique or greatest strength is, in terms of our potential to be a global leader in research?
Lissa Matyas:. I think it’s quite a unique place for high-risk, high-reward experimentation, and for researchers to come together to develop new technologies and new approaches to solving global challenges. And, we’re providing a really important service to governments in Canada and around the world by calling attention to the importance of things that might not necessarily affect each of us today, but could in 5 years, 10 years, or 20 years. The outcomes of our programs can have an impact on government policy-making, and both public and private investments and economic development strategies and directions. When you look at what CIFAR has done for AI and quantum and how this work has created such high-growth sectors and high-paying jobs in Canada, it’s quite remarkable. The fact that we have the world’s top researchers all coming together around these important questions. The result is frequently the world’s greatest treasure-trove of commercialization opportunities. Where else can you find such a rich and varied pool of new ideas and directions? We have over 20 Nobel Laureates coming out of CIFAR programs and not one researcher has ever declined the invitation to participate in one of our programs. There is a reason for that!
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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.