Year in review: University helping drive social, economic innovation in time of crisis

Originally published by Joy Johnson in Business in Vancouver.

At the close of a very challenging year, it’s important to take stock of the lessons learned during the worst health and economic crisis in living memory.

For me, the pandemic has been a powerful reminder of the ways in which our individual destinies are linked to the well-being of everyone in the wider community. And although we have a long way to go before COVID-19 is behind us, I believe we can build on that lesson to chart a better post-pandemic future.

As Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) new president, I have seen the spirit of self-sacrifice at work throughout the university over these last few months.

This effort, and the acts of generosity and public service by so many across B.C., is inspiring. It has given me renewed hope that we can summon the will to tackle some of the biggest challenges ahead of us.

SFU can play a major role in this larger effort by marshalling our resources to support the many communities we serve, including the business community with whom we’ve nurtured lasting partnerships over many years of collaboration.

Through our extensive co-operative education programs, SFU is providing local business with access to on-campus talent and, in turn, providing our students with hands-on, relevant experience. Through workshops organized by SFU’s Beedie School of Business and the City of Surrey, we are helping local businesses adapt to a fast-changing marketplace. Workshops like these have been a huge success with participation from across the business community. We’re also partnering with Mitacs to offer a Business Strategy Internship Program that awards students with funding to help businesses succeed.

READ: Making a difference in the COVID environment

SFU is also helping to drive social and economic innovation that strengthens communities while expanding our economy. For example, through SFU VentureLabs, we’re helping new companies scale up science and technology innovations, many of them related to the pandemic. With VentureLabs’ support, A&K Robotics is developing a robot that can disinfect large areas of floor and high-touch surfaces, and Curatio, a health networking company, is working on a new social media platform that gives COVID-19 patients the tools they need to recover from home. And with plans for a new Quantum Algorithms Institute hosted on our Surrey campus, SFU is also helping to shape B.C.’s overall economic direction by cementing the province as a global leader in quantum computing.

Just as we look back at turning points in history to explain our present, future generations will judge our response to COVID-19 to help understand theirs.

 It is my fervent hope that when they do, 2020 will be remembered not only for the pain and dislocation the pandemic has caused, but also as a pivot point that brought us together to help build more resilient, prosperous and sustainable communities. 

Joy Johnson is president and vice-chancellor of Simon Fraser University.

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