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Canada-India research centre builds healthier communities

Communities in Canada and India will be the first to try out new technologies related to water quality, infrastructure and public health, thanks to the new India-Canada Centre for Innovative Multidisciplinary Partnerships to Accelerate Community Transformation and Sustainability (IC-IMPACTS). The centre was announced in November as the winner of the Canada-India Research Centre of Excellence competition, an NCE initiative introduced in the 2011 federal budget.

“Canada needs to be connected to an international supply of ideas, research, talent and technologies in order to prosper in an increasingly competitive global environment,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper in announcing the competition results. “This new Canada-India Research Centre of Excellence will build stronger bilateral research ties and create valuable learning opportunities while generating positive economic and social benefits for both countries.”

Major Canadian and Indian universities, as well as various private and public sector partners in Canada and India, will pool their expertise in IC-IMPACTS’ efforts to develop and implement better ways of providing safe drinking water, building sustainable and affordable infrastructure, and preventing and treating diseases in the two countries. Once they have been tested and refined in a real-world setting in various partner communities, effective solutions will be shared with other communities.

Dr. Nemy Banthia

Dr. Nemy Banthia
Scientific Director, IC-IMPACTS

Establishing close ties with selected communities is a key element of IC-IMPACTS’ plan to achieve its three interconnected goals. “We were trying to match the needs with our capabilities,” explains Nemy Banthia, IC-IMPACTS Scientific Director. “In order to combine all these efforts and produce a real effect, that could only be done in a community context. We had to all come together in the different projects feeding into a larger entity. Our thinking was that we really needed to look at different sizes of communities.”

With three partner communities in India ranging in size from 20,000 to 5,000,000, the centre’s team members will be able to test technologies at different scales. Working with a group of remote and northern communities in Canada will add the challenges of dealing with colder climates, transportation logistics and energy costs.

The establishment of an innovative Community Impact Advisory Board will help IC-IMPACTS assess the relevance of specific research projects and ensure they address the needs of partner communities.

With the centre just beginning its work, the first priority is on tasks such as formulating the research program in conjunction with partners in India, and on generating funding for the portion of the R&D being conducted in India (projects carried out in Canada will be funded from IC-IMPACTS’ NCE grant). “The private sector is supporting this in India, and we have had success generating government funds as well,” says Dr. Banthia.

A Canadian group will travel to India in February to visit demonstration projects that illustrate the challenges IC-IMPACTS wants to solve. Some of these reflect collaborations already under way in India with the three main Canadian universities involved with the centre: the University of British Columbia, the University of Alberta and the University of Toronto.

Key project partners in India include top academic institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institute of Science; a group of not-for-profit agencies, community organizations and foundations that includes the Public Health Foundation of India, Butibori Manufacturers’ Association, Guru Nanak Mission Medical and Educational Trust, and the Rotary Club; and private-sector companies such as Reliance Industries Limited and Tata Consultancy Services.

Dr. Banthia expects partner communities to experience tangible changes within the centre’s five-year mandate in terms of improved water systems, sustainable infrastructure and disease prevention. Implementing successful technologies will also create commercialization and business opportunities in both countries.

Another important IC-IMPACTS legacy will be to add some 300 highly trained people to the ranks of those who will continue the pursuit of healthier communities. “Many of these, I’m hoping, will eventually become entrepreneurs who will start Canada-India businesses or work with Canadian or Indian companies,” notes Dr. Banthia. “This will promote not just transfer of technology but also trade and working together to improve quality of life.”

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