Jan. 26, 2022

Canada’s largest non-corporate foundation gives from the heart

A transformative gift from the Azrieli Foundation aims to improve the lives of children and adults living with neurodevelopmental disabilities
Family behind the philanthropy
The family behind the philanthropy, from left: Sharon Azrieli, Stephanie Azrieli, Danna Azrieli, David Azrieli, and Naomi Azrieli. Photo taken in 2002 Azrieli Foundation

“The most impactful philanthropy and community engagement comes from the heart.” That’s the powerful, family philosophy that guides the remarkable generosity and vision of the Azrieli Foundation, the country’s largest non-corporate foundation.

The Foundation was established in 1989 by the late David J. Azrieli, C.M., C.Q., MArch. Based in Montreal, he was an influential leader in design and real estate in Canada and Israel starting in the 1960s, and an energetic force who pursued and completed a Master of Architecture at the age of 75.

Today, the Azrieli family’s steadfast commitment to expanding and deepening David’s extraordinary legacy includes a new $25-million gift to the University of Calgary — an investment that will ignite positive, transformative change to a cause close to the family’s heart.

As Azrieli Foundation chair and CEO Naomi Azrieli says, “Several members of my family have neurodevelopmental conditions and that motivated us to look for ways to make a difference.” She says that she and her sisters, Sharon and Danna, came to understand that “scientific research in neurodevelopmental disabilities is particularly underfunded — the needs are great but,” she adds, “the potential to catalyze positive change, scientifically and for families, is huge.”

David J. Azrieli

The late David J. Azrieli

Azrieli Foundation

Their gift to UCalgary establishes the Azrieli Accelerator, which will drive new discoveries to make a difference in the lives of individuals and their families living with ADHD, Fragile X, autism, and other NDDs, and their families.

It’s a significant step in the Azrieli Foundation’s strategy to create and enable centres of excellence in neurodevelopment. The new research accelerator at UCalgary not only fulfils the next stage of the family’s international initiative to enable excellence in neurodevelopment research, but honours and advances David Azrieli’s inspiring energy and compassion for people by aiming to improve the lives of neurodiverse individuals.  

Their gift to UCalgary is the Foundation’s first major philanthropic investment in Western Canada. As Naomi explains, the decision to choose UCalgary as the next partner came after the Foundation embarked on an extensive national scoping exercise. “The University of Calgary has a powerful combination of world-class researchers in multiple fields, an institutional philosophy of thinking outside traditional academic silos and, finally, the power to effectively implement innovative initiatives.”

The Accelerator will build on the university’s established excellence in life sciences, brain and mental health, and child health research, as well as its reputation for the best research facilities and leadership in microbiome research in Canada.

This approach will enable discoveries that will change the present and future health of our communities,” says Naomi. “UCalgary has a proven track record of producing successful interdisciplinary initiatives and rewarding collaboration. My family and I can’t wait to see what they accomplish.”

The Azrieli Accelerator will transform neurodevelopment research across the lifespan through collaborative and transdisciplinary teams committed to improving the lives of all those affected by neurodevelopmental disabilities. This new initiative — made possible by the Azrieli Foundation — will enhance collaborations across the university, in the community and throughout the global network. It builds upon the university’s more than 50-year history of advancing related research, which has been supported by transformative investments by government, community partners and generous philanthropists, including the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation; the Owerko, Cumming, Hotchkiss, Snyder, Mathison and Fenwick families; and many others.

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