Inclusivity is key to Canadian innovation

The CFI's annual public meeting highlighted how Canada’s tradition of innovation will carry us through challenging times

OTTAWA, ONTARIO — Inclusivity is the crucial element to innovation, according to the keynote panelists at the 2020 annual public meeting of the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) on November 26.

The Right Honourable David Johnston, Canada’s 28th Governor General and Chair of the Rideau Hall Foundation Board of Directors, and Catherine Girard, professor of microbiology at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi took part in a virtual discussion moderated by Roseann O’Reilly Runte, CFI President and CEO, on Canada’s tradition of innovation.

Mr. Johnston spoke about the difference between diversity and inclusivity. He said that the key is to move from diversity, which is a static recording of the differences between people, to inclusivity, which encourages participation of different people with varied backgrounds and perspectives. “The idea,” he says, “is to get people to draw upon their own traditions to create a synthesis of cultures.”

Professor Girard spoke about how inclusivity can help advance science. She said that inclusivity must include acknowledgement and recognition that there are multiple ways of knowing and of measuring success. Early in the pandemic, when her research was put on hold, for example, Professor Girard and her team worked with their First Nations and Inuit partners to find out if migrating snow geese could carry the disease north from the COVID hot spot of New York State. In a matter of weeks, Girard and her research partners figured out how to safely test hundreds of birds and rapidly confirm that they were COVID-19 negative. It was an important success for First Nations and Inuit communities, and an example of how bringing together different perspectives can create innovative solutions.

The annual public meeting also included an overview of the CFI’s financial report for 2019-20 as well as presentations by Dr. Runte and Ingrid Pickering, Chair of the CFI’s Board of Directors. They touched on various activities the CFI had undertaken in response to the pandemic, including the launch of two Exceptional Opportunities Fund competitions to support COVID-19 research being done in Canadian universities, colleges and research hospitals.

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Dr. Runte also highlighted how critical it is to maintain innovative research infrastructure. As we began to feel the impact of the global pandemic, she said, our past investments in infrastructure meant Canadian labs were well positioned to tackle the challenges we faced.