Leslie Jonas


Investing in a healthier world

McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics to benefit from $1-million philanthropic injection

“North America has a significant obesity crisis, which we think of as a health problem even though most of the levers for obesity lie outside the formal health care system,” notes Chris Lannon, the Managing Director of the McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics (MCCHE). “But we don’t have doctors telling someone ‘Here is your prescription, go change your socio-economic status,’ or ‘Here is a script, go lobby your government to change agricultural policies.’”

The link between health, nutrition and economics is often neglected, but thanks to the MCCHE, in collaboration with government, industry and NGO partners, this important connection is being more fully explored and understood. And a generous $1-million gift for operational funds from Quebec business leader Leslie Jonas, BSc’56, will enable the MCCHE to pursue its mandate more effectively.

The donation will provide a stable fund to support the MCCHE’s core activities, develop and launch a web-based knowledge platform for research, and implement a three-year overall strategic plan.

“It is incredibly difficult for a research centre to attract the core funding necessary to support its operational expenses,” says Lannon, who, as managing director, is responsible for managing finances, establishing and maintaining industry partnerships, developing the Centre’s profile, fundraising, organizing workshops, and ensuring all runs smoothly.

Created over a decade ago as the McGill World Platform for the Convergence of Health and Economics, the MCCHE is based in the Desautels Faculty of Management and has a core of 21 members from seven different McGill faculties; its name change, made official this January, reflects its new status as a formally recognized research centre.

The MCCHE supports research collaborations among McGill professors and with others across academia, government and industry. For instance, in addition to research on North America’s obesity crisis, it is running a global project investigating strategies to boost the consumption of pulses such as lentils, beans and chickpeas.

“Pulses are the main source of protein for almost two billion vegetarians globally, providing a huge dose of fibre along with amazing cardiovascular protection,” says Lannon. “In addition, they require significantly less water and nitrogen fertilization than other crops, making them much more sustainable. They’re a wonder crop.”

However, pulses rarely appear on the daily menu in the developed world. And even in countries like India, where they have long been a dietary staple, shifts in agricultural economics have driven pulse production down and prices up, reducing their availability for traditional consumers. The complex connections of factors governing pulse production and consumption are only now becoming understood, thanks to the MCCHE’s ability to create and support an international team of academic and industry researchers, pulse growers associations, policymakers and others.

But none of these activities – including research projects, international workshops, and educational opportunities for students – can happen without its core operations and staff. “The MCCHE’s small dedicated staff forms the backbone of these efforts,” says Lannon.

Thanks to Leslie Jonas’s generosity, that backbone is now much stronger.