The Lupina Foundation

HEALTH

A Small Foundation with a Big Idea

Many of the most talented young social science researchers in Canada have a hard time pushing the boundaries of research – and taking the kinds of risks that yield powerful social innovations – because government funding has a very narrow focus. Peter Warrian and his wife Margret Hovanec established the Lupina Foundation of Toronto, in part, to address this “creativity gap” in social science research funding. With broad experience in industry, government, the nonprofit sector, academia and therapeutic settings, Warrian and Hovanec drew from their own background to target their philanthropic efforts on a small number of ambitious and innovative projects.

logos-munk-uoftWhen Warrian and Hovanec were getting their foundation off the ground, health research was their starting point. The founders chose to refine their philanthropic focus further, targeting research at the intersection of social science and health. Indeed, the mission of the Lupina Foundation is to identify the social determinants of health, particularly women’s health. According to Warrian, taking a historical view helped him to realize that the improvement in people’s health over the past 150 years have as much to do with social change and innovation as with advancements in medical treatments. One of Lupina’s successful funding programs is the Comparative Program on Health and Society (CPHS). Founded in 2000, CPHS is a research program based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. Lupina partnered with the Munk School to establish CPHS in order to support innovative, cross-disciplinary research projects on the social factors that contribute to health outcomes – projects that are less likely to receive funding from mainstream governmental sources.

Warrian and Hovanec also realized that they were most interested in making “human resource bets”. Therefore, CPHS was designed not to target a specific research agenda, but rather to support promising researchers from a variety of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities with the potential to enhance our understanding of health issues by adopting unique and creative perspectives. The researchers that Lupina supports are in the early stages of their careers, a time when a small grant can make a very big difference. By establishing an atmosphere of support and collaboration for scholars at the doctoral and post-doctoral levels and from a variety of disciplines within the humanities and social sciences, Lupina is using CPHS to develop the next generation of social innovators in the health arena.

A Transformative Institutional Partnership

A unique partnership with the University of Toronto is a key component of CPHS’s success. According to Warrian, “when Lupina set out, we were betting on humanities and social sciences… it made sense to go to the University of Toronto, one of the best universities in these areas in Canada.” Warrian was not interested in working with an institution that would “talk the language of partnership” but not follow through. Warrian and Hovanec wanted a partner that would be comfortable with Lupina’s continued engagement in their funding program. They found the right partner in the Munk School, an auxiliary body of the university with the kind of diversity and creativity that matched Lupina’s mission and Warrian and Hovanec’s vision.

In addition to understanding the importance of partnering with an institution with top-notch researchers and a similar worldview, Warrian also recognized that “if a small foundation is going to succeed in a university setting, you need to build a relationship with an academic champion.” That champion was Janice Stein, the Director of the Munk School. Indeed, Warrian lauds Stein’s abilities to “always push the envelope”, to identify important issues and challenges and to maintain a collaborative relationship with Lupina – all attributes that mesh perfectly with Lupina’s values and goals for CPHS.

Developing a Community of Innovative Scholars

Peter Warrian and Margret Hovanec at a PFC conference

Peter Warrian and Margret Hovanec at a PFC conference

Lupina’s success with CPHS is evidenced in its successful track record of selecting and supporting young researchers with the potential to move up through the ranks of academia. For example, since 2000, Lupina has funded 150 CPHS doctoral and postdoctoral fellow – and 45 of these researchers have gone on to tenure-track academic positions. One such grant recipients was Lisa Forman, who received a postdoctoral fellowship from Lupina to conduct her cross-disciplinary research on human rights law, trade law and medicine at CPHS beginning in 2007. She is currently the Lupina Assistant Professor in global health and human rights at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and the director of CPHS. Forman’s career trajectory highlights the importance of Lupina’s funding strategy for the success of promising researchers with interests that are “off the beaten track”.

Forman credits the “enabling environment for academic advancement” as one of the key characteristics of CPHS that has allowed the program to facilitate such positive outcomes for its research fellows. Indeed, Forman describes CPHS during her fellowship as a place in which the “primary consideration was how can we help you progress as an academic.” Warrian concurs, although he emphasizes that CPHS does not only foster an environment of intellectual and academic support for fellows. Lupina’s funding strategy also means that this highly selective program can offer fellows a meaningful amount of financial support over and above the very modest amounts provided by grants from government agencies. For Warrian, this means that the researchers are supported in their “prime time of need and you get a lot of return on your dollar.” At the time of her own fellowship, as well as today, Forman has found that, through Lupina’s mission and funding strategy, CPHS has developed a focus on promoting the development of young researchers that is unique within the university context.

In addition to the supportive attention directed at individual CPHS fellows, Forman feels the program is successful because it “fosters commonalities among disciplines.” She describes the atmosphere at CPHS as “academic finishing school” for interdisciplinary research. Current CPHS fellows hail from social science backgrounds as diverse as architecture, anthropology, commerce, law, history, philosophy, political science, public health, and sociology. Research interests vary from community resilience to midwifery to autonomy in mental health treatment to neighborhood effects on access to health care. Forman has found that the diversity of backgrounds, perspectives and interests among the fellows leads to an “incredibly vibrant community” that “makes for a much freer way to engage with peers.” CPHS fosters dynamic and engaging communication across disciplines and the ability to understand other disciplines’ perspectives and methodologies. Fellows then are able to take this powerful experience of engagement in an interdisciplinary intellectual community and diffuse that mindset of sharing, innovation and cross-fertilization to their future institutions throughout the academic community.

Growing Lupina and CPHS

Today, CPHS is a vibrant and diverse research institute with an impressive roster of researchers at the master’s, doctoral and post-doctoral levels. Lupina’s success with CHPS has led the Foundation to commit to funding this program for the next five years. Warrian is justifiably proud of Lupina’s ability to “be small but have a major impact.” He looks forward to growing the emphasis on social innovation within CPHS, potentially by combining the support of academic research with support of intervention programs that apply research findings in real- world contexts. Lupina will continue to adopt a long-range view through all of its unique programming, targeting its funding to maximize the benefits for community health.