Our Seed Grant Initiative

Nine Research Grants Awarded to Improve Health in Toronto and Beyond

This spring, the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, Wellesley Institute and Toronto Public Health awarded our first seed grants to the following nine research teams comprised of community, public sector and university collaborators to address a range of social determinants of health to improve the health of Torontonians and beyond.

Photo by Diego Torres Silvestre via Flickr.

Photo by Diego Torres Silvestre via Flickr.

“More than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and as more people migrate to cities to seek employment, public health professionals must be thinking about ways to ensure that those cities promote health equity for all citizens,” said Professor Dan Sellen, Associate Dean of Research at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, “Health inequities persist in the GTA. That’s why these partner-based, solutions-focused research projects are so crucial”.

In April 2015, public health and community engagement leaders from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, the Wellesley Institute and Toronto Public Health reviewed 30 grant applications related to creating resilient cities, the built environment and health and place-based interventions. For example, one project will help homeless people deal with extreme temperatures while living on the city streets.  Other projects will foster a sense of community for people living in apartment towers and make it safer for kids to bike and walk to school in rush hour. “Our innovative grant scheme will bring academics and communities together to improve the health of Torontonians. We need everyone working side by side if we are going to meet the challenges we face,” said Dr. Kwame McKenzie, CEO of Wellesley Institute.

The grants were enabled by the Healthier Cities and Communities Hub as part of its mission to improve urban and community health locally and beyond. Project teams unite experts from diverse fields, including leaders in community based and public service organizations, architecture, business, medicine, engineering and public health who proposed innovative projects that will help generate solutions to health challenges faced by many people in the GTA. “The healthier cities and communities hub and its seed grant program strengthens connections between community organizations, academics and the public sector,” said Monica Campbell, Director of Healthy Public Policy at Toronto Public Health and Assistant Professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health Occupational and Environmental Health Division, “The hub and the seed grant will support research on vital public health policies and programs aimed at improving health and equity in the Toronto region. Toronto Public Health is pleased to contribute funds and in-kind support to this important initiative.”

Professor Dan Sellen, Associate Dean of Research, Dalla Lana School of Public Health (photo by Colin Payson).

Professor Dan Sellen, Associate Dean of Research, Dalla Lana School of Public Health (photo by Colin Payson).

The following projects have been funded in this first round:

  1. Developing a framework to evaluate the health impacts of apartment neighbourhood improvement initiatives such as the Tower Renewal Program in Toronto, led by Roshanak Mehdipanah, Monica Campbell, James Dunn, Graeme Stewart (Urbana Solutions +  and Toronto Public Health).

2. Falling through the Cracks in Employment Services: Improving Social Well-Being through Community-Based Youth Employment Solutions, led by William Sinclair (St. Stephen’s Community House).

3. Green Access Action Research (GreenAAR) Project: Building Local Environmental Leadership to Promote Green Living and Food Security: a place-based pilot initiative in the Taylor Massey neighborhood, led by Yogendra Shakya and Akm Alamgir (Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services).

4. Creating a ‘Town Centre’ in a Tower Neighbourhood, led by Nancy Smith Lea and Car Martin (Toronto Centre for Active Transportation / Clean Air Partnership).

5. Understanding the health impact of extreme temperatures on homeless populations with a view to enhancing Toronto’s extreme weather plans and responses: developing a research proposal, led by Kate Bassil and Stephen Hwang (Toronto Public Health and St. Michael’s Hospital).

6. A Guide to Safer Streets near Schools, led by Katie Wittman (Green Communities Canada and Dalla Lana School of Public Health).

7. Promoting Resilient Relationships among Newcomer Youth, led by Chris Rahim and Lisa Randall (METRAC: Action on Violence).

8. Building Roads Together: Evaluating, Enhancing, and Expanding a Walk and Roll Peer Support Program, led by Farah Naaz Mawani and Susan Lynn Hardie (Farahway Global, Centre for Social Innovation – Regent Park and Dalla Lana School of Public Health).

9. Building the economic resiliency of communities: Exploring the acceptability and feasibility of establishing a time bank in St. James Town, led by Andrew Pinto (St. Michael’s Hospital) with LIFT (Low Income Families Together).

A workshop is planned for late 2016 for projects leads to share and discuss their preliminary findings with a range of stakeholders across the city.

We hope to issue a new call for applications every two years as part of a broader plan to catalyze a vibrant community-based research community oriented to solutions-focused research on pressing urban health equity issues.


Notes of Appreciation

The funding partners are grateful to the following individuals for their significant work in reviewing the applications:

  • Meredith Davis, Research & Evaluation Manager, Community Food Centers Canada
  • Dionne Gesink, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Dalla Lana School of Public Health
  • Daniel Grace, Associate Professor of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences, Dalla Lana School of Public Health
  • Andrew Koch, Health Planner, Unison Health and Community Services
  • Heather Manson, Chief, Health Promotion, Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention, Public Health Ontario,
  • Kwame McKenzie, CEO, The Wellesley Institute
  • Patricia O’Campo, Healthier Cities & Communities HubCo-lead
  • Brenda Roche, Director of Research, Wellesley Institute
  • Karen Wade, Supervisor, Healthy Public Policy, Toronto Public Health
  • Daniel Sellen, Associate Dean of Research, Dalla Lana School of Public Health (Review Committee Chair)

A very special thank-you to Dan Sellen (Associate Dean of Research, DLSPH) for his tireless work in creating all the processes and approvals required to implement the review process and funding approvals, to Kwame McKenzie and his staff at the Wellesley Institute, as well as Monica Campbell at Toronto Public Health for their significant contributions. Please join us also in thanking Brenda Ross for her significant contributions, the members of the review committee (listed below), Rebecca Cheff,  as well as DLSPH staff members who contributed significantly to this process (Lee Vernich, Mavic Galicia, Melodie Buhagiar, Palwasha Asey, Robin Hurst and Nicole Bodnar).


4 thoughts on “Our Seed Grant Initiative

  1. Blake and Patricia,

    I want to thank you and your Hub team for developing the Seed Grant opportunity. It takes tons of hard work and months of collaborative discussions to pull something like this together, and you’ve done it!

    As a former academic now working for a grass roots agency, I know that even the best research from the former seldom informs the community activism of the latter. Community-based agencies scramble to find funds to pay their front-line program staff. Usually, we lack the support needed to assess our interventions in depth and publish reports that share best practices, and unforeseen pitfalls, with similar organizations. This is not a deficit that good intentions, by themselves, can overcome. The best academics want to be useful to community activists; wise community activists know they need praxis-oriented research to guide and improve their work. But for a myriad of reasons, it’s not easy to get us working together consistently. Occasional meetings, sure; consistent collaboration, rare. The Seed Grant provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate (among other things) the benefits of ongoing collaboration between praxis-oriented academics and research-aware community activists. Together, we can make a much larger positive impact — deeper and wider — than we can ever make on our own.


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