When Djavad Mowafaghian was just a baby, his father died from a stroke. By the time he was 10, he was working to help support his mother and two sisters in his home city of Tehran.
The family's humble circumstances led Mr. Mowafaghian to develop a relentless work ethic, tempered by his mother's reminders to help others and be grateful for what you have.
Now, after suffering two strokes himself, the 90-year-old's name graces a building in recognition of his $15-million gift to the University of British Columbia's faculty of medicine.
The Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health opened in 2014.
"He's a very humble man, but giving back is something he got from his mother. It's part of his family values," says Mr. Mowafaghian's nephew, Hamid Eshghi, president of the North Vancouver-based Djavad Mowafaghian Foundation.
As a younger man, Mr. Mowafaghian ran a large construction company in Iran. Following the 1979 revolution, he left for Europe and then moved in 1987 to Vancouver, where he oversaw a commercial construction firm. Years before he started his charitable foundation in 2003, the electrical engineer supported several organizations in Iran and Canada related to children's health and education.
While those causes remain his passion and his organization's focus, Mr. Mowafaghian broadened his giving portfolio after he experienced his first stroke in 2010. He wanted to support the kind of medical treatment he received during his recovery.
"After my uncle had the stroke, he wanted to fund a project related to the brain," says Mr. Eshghi. His uncle would drive out to the building frequently during construction. It became a point of pride for the Order of Canada and Humanitarian Award recipient.
"He was so happy when we learned about this – it is the No. 1 brain health centre in Canada, with top researchers and doctors."
The $70-million centre offers research, clinical expertise and patient care in neuroscience, psychiatry and neurology all under one roof and operates under a partnership between UBC and Vancouver Coastal Health.
Since completion of the building, Mr. Mowafaghian suffered a second stroke and remains in hospital overseas.
"We can't change it and we can't cure him, but we can do something: His legacy and his name will live on and this foundation will continue," Mr. Eshghi says. (Mr. Mowafaghian transferred all of his company's assets to the foundation.)
Given the widespread strain on the public health-care system, major gifts to hospitals and health centres from people like Mr. Mowafaghian are becoming increasingly vital. While they don't necessarily result in naming opportunities, in part because some donors opt to remain anonymous, Vancouver has many recent examples of those that have.
In late March, billionaire Jimmy Pattison gave $75-million to St. Paul's Foundation, the largest donation in Canadian history by a private citizen to a single medical facility. His name will grace the 18.4-acre health campus that will house the new St. Paul's Hospital.
At the end of May, Vancouver General Hospital announced it would rename its Centennial Pavilion after the late Leon Judah Blackmore, a Vancouver developer whose own foundation made an $18.4-million donation to the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation.
In 2015, Paul Myers, a one-time plumbing apprentice who bought and expanded the North Vancouver-based company he started at, gave $25-million to that city's Lions Gate Hospital Foundation. The facility's acute-care tower was renamed in his honour.
Each of those donors had spent time in the hospital he supported, either as a patient himself, by a family member's side, or both. Such individuals could be classified as "grateful patients," says Terry Burton, a Windsor-based philanthropic consultant. Usually, the significance of their gifts goes beyond an expression of gratitude.
"Some donors are choosing to feel thankful for the prosperity they've enjoyed. They want their grandchildren to know about this and that they, too, can have an impact," says Mr. Burton, president of Dig In Research.
While hospitals across the country rely on named gift strategies to sustain the work they do, British Columbia is unique in that the provincial government has established a naming privileges policy. Any large donation associated with naming opportunities must be approved by cabinet.
"I think the province of B.C. has been wise to put this naming policy in place; it makes sure there is that check and balance," says Angela Chapman, senior vice-president of philanthropy at the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation.
She notes that the foundation also draws up a naming agreement to accompany each major gift: "It outlines terms and expectations so that there are no surprises on either side. It's a very important document in the journey toward naming rights."
Ontario is grappling with the issue of naming rights, with Health Minister Eric Hoskins proposing that hospitals be banned from being renamed at the behest of wealthy donors to ensure that such institutions reflect that they are part of a publicly funded system.
(Common sense also plays a role in appropriate naming opportunities. Mr. Burton learned of a case where a Canadian hospital was approached by a personal-injury law firm seeking to make a large gift in exchange for the emergency ward being named after it. That never happened.)
Ms. Chapman says large donations are crucial when it comes to hospitals being able to address capital costs; without such "lead" gifts, government funding can be more challenging to secure.
"The capital dollars are usually the game-changing investments," Ms. Chapman says. "Unfortunately, we [hospitals] are in a situation where capital dollars are so rare. The province [of B.C.] and the Ministry of Health are looking more and more to philanthropy and partnering with philanthropy to make sure projects get done."
Ms. Chapman notes that although the foundation has many large-scale donors who wish to remain anonymous, those who opt for naming opportunities typically want to do more than leave a mark on a community. "It's an intergenerational message to make sure that that philanthropic culture continues in the family," she says.
Major gifts are rarely an individual's first donation to an organization. St. Paul's Foundation CEO Dick Vollet says that while philanthropists fill the gap between a hospital's vision and the place where various levels of government can step in, large donations typically result from relationships that have been cultivated for years.
"It puts a little bit more pressure on us as the foundation to live up to that relationship that we've nurtured," Mr. Vollet says. "How do you say thank you to a man like Jimmy Pattison for $75-million? We build him a world-class medical centre so he's proud to put his name on it.
"For most donors who give at that level, it really does come down to having their name associated from a legacy perspective with world-class leaders, researchers, doctors, programs or facilities, and that's a responsibility we should all take very seriously."