Believe the Impossible: CIFAR is making societies stronger worldwide
Stronger societies create conditions that lead to better lives for individuals and communities. For four decades, CIFAR researchers have sought to understand the conditions needed for resilient communities.
In celebration of CIFAR’s 40th anniversary, we look at three key research milestones that helped improve the lives of people around the world.
The World Happiness Report
Does happiness play a role in the creation of more resilient communities? It is a question that intrigued CIFAR Distinguished Fellow John Helliwell, then co-director of CIFAR’s Social Interactions, Identity & Well-Being program.
In 2012, Helliwell shared his findings as co-author of The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s first World Happiness Report. The report reviews the state of happiness worldwide and shows how the new science of happiness explains personal and national variations in happiness. It continues to be issued annually, incorporating data from 150 countries.
“CIFAR has helped greatly to create the research, to assemble a critical mass [of knowledge], and to communicate the results in the academic and policy communities and to the broader public,” shared Helliwell in a news story about the first report.
Early childhood development
Much like Helliwell and the study of happiness, Fraser Mustard, CIFAR’s founding president, was among the first to note the importance of the first five years in a child’s life, and the vital role an individual’s formative years play throughout their lifetime.
In 1999, Mustard and the Honourable Margaret Norrie McCain assembled a team to study the relationship between early brain and child development, and learning, behaviour and health. Employing CIFAR’s approach to exploring complex questions, the team met with researchers from across disciplines and borders, including members from three other CIFAR programs at the time (Population Health, Human Development, and Economic Growth).
The Early Years Study outlined an astonishing (for the time) conclusion: “We consider, in view of this evidence, that the period of early child development is equal to or, in some cases, greater in importance for the quality of the next generation than the periods children and youth spend in education or post secondary education.”
The report included an influential series of recommendations that laid the foundations for today’s full-day kindergarten and parenting centres — including government support for these programs.
Socially assistive robots for long-term care
Goldie Nejat, a Fellow in CIFAR’s Innovation, Equity & the Future of Prosperity program, is studying the other end of life’s continuum, assessing how we care for the oldest among us and whether new technologies might help address the needs of this vulnerable population.
Nejat’s recent work on socially assistive robots focuses on how human-robot interactions are interpreted by humans and under what conditions they contribute to addressing social hardship — especially social isolation in long-term care facilities.
“It’s important for older adults to be healthy as they age, be active and take part in social interactions,” Nejat told U of T News. “There’s a lot of potential for robots to support their everyday lives in this way.”
CIFAR is grateful to our generous and loyal donors who have supported research on creating stronger societies over several decades, including Scotiabank, BMO Financial Group, and the Max Bell Foundation.
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.