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International and Global Health Awards from the Gairdner Foundation: Perspective from a funder

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International and Global Health Awards from the Gairdner Foundation Sarah Devonshire, Senior Project Manager Image of an award medal on a red ribbon and the Gairdner logo

Preface:  We’re always keen to bring attention to funders who have awards programs that are adept at recognizing the most cutting-edge research and researchers who deserve attention. Recently we spoke with Sarah Devonshire from the Gairdner Foundation about their prestigious International and Global Health Awards.

October 1, 2023 is this year’s deadline for nominations for the International Award and the Global Health Award.

Tell us more about the Gairdner Foundation

The Gairdner Foundation was established in 1957 and the first awards were granted in 1959. Currently we have 6 full-time staff members working here in Canada. “The mission of the Gairdner Foundation is to celebrate, inform and inspire scientific excellence around the globe.” [1]

What is your role at the Gairdner Foundation?

I’ve been working for the Gairdner Foundation for 12 years now and currently as a Senior Program Manager. I run our awards programs, including the nomination and adjudication processes, and oversee our Canadian programming and research competitions, e.g. the Early Career Investigator Competition and our Partnered Scientific Symposia.

How has the Gairdner Foundation been adapting to internal and external changes?

We’re exploring  new styles of working and connecting with our partners and audiences in person and virtually. We also make sure that we are listening to our nominators, partners and adjudicators to improve our awards process from education to selection.

Tell us more about the International Awards

We try to be ahead of the curve and recognize innovative, groundbreaking researchers in biomedicine.

 ¼ of our International Award winners go on to receive a Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology, or in Chemistry for biochemical research. 

We were even connecting young students with Gairdner winner David Julius (UCSF) [2] through a partnership with “Exploring By the Seat of Your Pants” on the day he got the call about his Nobel Prize.

Tell us more about the Global Health Awards

These Awards go to researchers working on areas that will change health equity worldwide, ranging from basic science to implementation and policy interventions. We are lucky that Canada has a strong presence in health research worldwide through research institutions and organizations like Grand Challenges Canada and IDRC. IDRC alone offers a significant amount of funding to development and scientific health research around the world, and we often find out IDRC has been a funder for many of our recipients- there is a correlation there.

Do you have diversity within your application pool?

There are certainly members of groups traditionally underrepresented in awards among our applicant pool, but we would like to see more nominations for women and researchers in LMICs, among others. 

There are a lot of reasons for unequal representation in the nomination pool, and one is simply – traditional nomination solicitation channels aren’t always equally accessible in a practical sense. We try to reach out to organizations and networks that represent these groups to make sure the opportunity is visible. Our awards go to the best science in the running, but we need to make sure we have the full representation of scientific accomplishment in our nomination pool to make sure we are recognizing the best science being done worldwide.

What have you done to make the award program more visible and accessible globally?

If people want to complete the application in another language, we are willing to do the translation on our end. We’ve done it for nomination letters of support that come in, and this is not a problem at all. 

In fact, we have our International nomination guidelines translated from English to French and Chinese, and our global health guidelines are currently available in English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Arabic. 

We also organize web based informational sessions for the awards. The links are on our website, and we spread these out so individuals from all time zones can attend. These sessions really help us understand if we have gaps in the information we provide on the awards and nomination process, and in our outreach efforts.

What makes your award program unique?

One concept we have is making sure nomination is a very open process. We don’t have limitations around who can put forth nominations for our awards. In fact, nominations could come from anyone including a science literate person in the general public. 

We also make sure we are sharing exceptional science with students, other researchers and the public. In particular, each October the awardees speak at events across Canada and we host several international-level research symposia before having our Awards Gala here in Toronto.

What advice do you have for people putting forward nominees?

Nominate researchers doing work that excites you. And ask for help. If you have any questions about your nominee, the process or the nomination itself, we are always happy to connect.


[1] Mission of the Gairdner Foundation.

[2] David Julius is the 96th Gairdner Laureate to Win the Nobel Prize.


Thank you to Sarah Devonshire for contributing to our funder perspective series.

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