Funding awards bring York health research to York Region communities

If where you’re born, live and work − and the health-care system you access − determines a lot about how healthy you’ll be, what can local governments and community agencies do to improve your well-being?

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has awarded York University and the United Way of York Region $93,000 to develop research initiatives that will examine how living conditions − the social determinants of health − affect health.

The funding, announced yesterday at York University’s fifth annual Knowledge Mobilization Expo at the Markham Convergence Centre, will be used for projects that will draw on the University’s strong interdisciplinary health research to respond to community needs and systemic social challenges identified by United Way of York Region.

“Social determinants of health are experienced where Canadians live − right in their communities,” said Ian Graham, vice-president of Knowledge Translation at CIHR. “University researchers and their partners in community health agencies, including those supported by the United Way, are critical to developing novel health services and health policies that have a direct outcome on the health of Canadians.”

“Collaborating and making research more accessible to our community partners and co-developing knowledge is a cornerstone of York University’s research enterprise,” said Stan Shapson, vice-president research & innovation. “For the last five years, we have collaborated with the United Way of York Region to connect researchers and graduate students with community and government organizations to find novel approaches that impact health and human services. York’s faculty members and our partners in community health agencies continue to work together to create innovative solutions that benefit the quality of life in our community.

The United Way of York Region also announced funding during the Knowledge Mobilization Expo. It is committing $150,000 through Change Inc., a social innovation incubator that it developed with York University to invest in new solutions to persistent social and health challenges faced by York Region residents.

Based at the University’s research offices in York Region, Change Inc. was launched in October 2010. The United Way funding, through its Strength Investments will allow Change Inc. to provide socially focused entrepreneurs, organizations and collaboratives with seed funding, physical space, shared administrative services and access to mentors, York researchers and graduate students.

“By allowing social innovations to start early, Change Inc. helps them to either fail fast or succeed quickly, allowing the innovation to scale across the region,” said Regional Councillor John Taylor. “York Region has all the elements needed to support social innovation: a research university, a change catalyst in United Way, a well-organized community sector, businesses who care about their employees as much as their products, innovative hospitals, and regional and municipal governments investing in health and human services. This innovation ecosystem will allow York Region to fill a gap in Canada’s innovation agenda.”

United Way of York Region’s Strength Investments is an example of this innovation, providing seed funding to build civic muscle. Strength Investments bring community, faith, business and agencies together to work on simple, collaborative and innovative solutions. The funding, which arose through research undertaken by three York University graduate students in the summer of 2010, represents a new way for the United Way to support the rich, informal network of caring and innovation that already exists across the region.

“Graduate student research was instrumental in undertaking neighbourhood level data collection and analysis that allowed us to develop an effective program,” says Daniele Zanotti, CEO, United Way of York Region. “It provided a framework for United Way of York Region to commit $150,000 to Strength Investments, which currently supports six separate projects.”