A revolution in child health and wellness is underway at the University of Calgary. The One Child Every Child (OCEC) initiative is set to rewrite Canada's narrative in child-health outcomes. This ambitious initiative is more than an investment in research; it's a profound commitment to every child's right to optimal health and the brightest possible future.
Despite Canada being one of the wealthiest nations, UNICEF ranked it 30th out of 38 wealthy nations in child health-and-wellness outcomes in 2020. This alarming statistic sparked a response from UCalgary, leading to the creation of the OCEC initiative.
Collaboration for a better future
This groundbreaking initiative is backed by a robust $268-million investment, including the largest research grant ($125 million from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund) in UCalgary's history. This funding, coupled with unprecedented contributions from partners and donors, amplifies the initiative's potential to dramatically enhance children's lives.
“This transformational national investment in child health and well-being will allow us to develop new diagnostic tools for Canadian hospitals and build national training platforms for health-care professionals,” says research lead Dr. Susa Benseler, MD, PhD, director of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) at UCalgary.
The OCEC initiative thrives on collaboration, inclusivity and resourcefulness. It unites researchers, health-care providers, equity-deserving communities, educators, and national partners from Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, forming a holistic, transdisciplinary network dedicated to advancing child health and well-being.
“We are passionate about better meeting the needs of the children we serve. Relationships, partnerships, people … they are the heart of One Child Every Child,” says Benseler.
Through UCalgary, 132 organizations across 25 countries, including UNICEF, Children’s Healthcare Canada, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Azrieli Foundation are on board. Additionally, more than 250 unique health-delivery organizations have joined the cause, forming a powerful global alliance for children's health.
“This level of collaboration is a very unique thing because we're saying that we, together as a group, as a community, are committed to a better future for one child … and every child,” says Benseler. “We are setting out to change our society in a way that children can thrive.”
Addressing one of society’s biggest challenges
OCEC focuses on three strategic areas: Better Beginnings, Precision Health and Wellness, and Vulnerable to Thriving. Each area is a vital piece of the puzzle, contributing to a comprehensive approach to child health that is primed to create lasting societal benefits.
The initiative arose from a dynamic partnership with the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute at the University of Alberta. “Collectively, we represent the largest and most productive concentration of child-health researchers in Canada,” says Dr. Benedikt Hallgrimsson, PhD, deputy director of ACHRI and co-author of the scientific strategy for OCEC.
“As we make scientific discoveries, we will work with our partners to implement those findings and overcome barriers to optimal child health.”
Strategy 2 of UCalgary's new strategic plan, Ahead of Tomorrow, emphasizes the role of research and innovation in addressing society’s biggest challenges. The OCEC initiative embodies this strategic vision, demonstrating how research can fuel real-world impact, provide invaluable experience for students, foster innovative discoveries for scholars and facilitate meaningful collaborations with community partners.
“Data and discoveries from our research will be shared with policy-makers and partners to guide decisions with the potential for the biggest impact,” says Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research). “Embedding research in all that we do enhances our ability to change the world.”
As UCalgary steps forward with the One Child Every Child initiative, it's clear that this is about more than research — it's about committing to a future where every child has the chance to thrive. By focusing on the youngest members of our society, UCalgary is not only changing the face of research, but also shaping a healthier, brighter future for all.
“One Child Every Child is not about showing that one group is better than the other, but that, together, we are so much better than individual buckets of excellence,” says Benseler. “It's not surprising that it comes out of the University of Calgary, because that's who we are. That's what we do; we think outside the box.”