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Naomi Azrieli, chair and CEO of the Azrieli Foundation, in 2019.Yuri Dojc/The Azrieli Foundation

The organizer: Naomi Azrieli

The pitch: Donating over $1-million to Holland Bloorview’s Bloorview Research Institute

The reason: To fund research into neurodevelopment

When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold last year, Naomi Azrieli knew research scientists would be hard hit as funding dried up and labs were forced to close because of restrictions on social movement.

Dr. Azrieli heads the Azrieli Foundation, a family foundation set up by her father, David Azrieli, which supports a variety of initiatives in education and health care. One of the foundation’s key priorities is funding research into neurodevelopment. “We have a deep belief that every human being deserves to live the fullest life that they can,” Dr. Azrieli said from her home in Toronto. “If you want to define what a successful society is, it’s one that’s inclusive of the most vulnerable and can offer opportunities to them.”

Dr. Azrieli said the foundation has had a keen interest in the work being done at Toronto’s Bloorview Research Institute, part of the Holland Bloorview Hospital, which is one of Canada’s largest childhood disability research centres. When she learned that the pandemic had shut down nearly all of the institute’s research projects, the foundation donated just over $1-million to keep the labs open.

The funding supported 14 research initiatives, including six led by scientists in their early research careers and eight run by students. The projects covered a range of areas from acquired brain injury and autism to social justice issues.

Dr. Azrieli said the research has personal significance since several members of her family have neurodevelopmental disorders. “Our experiences with my older brother and cousins led us to want to support research in this area,” she said. “We do a lot of granting in different fields, and this one [to Bloorview] feels so good to me. You could really see the impact. Research was not stopped.”

She added that the foundation expects to continue working with Holland Bloorview. “When the pandemic is over, people with disabilities are still going to be there. People with neurodevelopmental disorders are still going to need help. The research still needs to continue.”

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