UofT crest + ISI logo lockup

Institutional Strategic Initiatives 2019-2024

Interdisciplinary research excellence

Message from Leadership

The University of Toronto’s Institutional Strategic Initiatives (ISIs) are rooted in a simple, yet powerful idea — by building large-scale interdisciplinary research networks, we can foster the collaboration needed to solve the world’s most complex problems. 

Since 2019, 22 ISIs have been launched at U of T. This number includes both pre-existing initiatives that joined the portfolio and new initiatives, three of which reflect Provostial priorities in student mental health, Black research excellence, and Indigenous research excellence. The ISIs cover diverse subjects including human health, climate change, urban infrastructure and mobility, artificial intelligence, robotics, data science, and the digital humanities. Our office has also supported the development of nascent initiatives in quantum technologies and social justice. We have become a laboratory for collaboration and an acceleration space in the university, providing structure and support to propel interdisciplinary research excellence.

ISIs have had a broad impact—in research, innovation, and policy—with wide-reaching benefits for students, researchers, industry, and the public. They are advancing the fight against cancer, creating new carbon-capture technology, and developing tools to support decision-making for the housing crisis.

They are bringing social justice to equity-deserving groups, creating pandemic-ready testing facilities, and developing new drugs and transplant procedures. As a magnet to attract resources to the university, ISIs have secured some of the largest research grants in Canadian history. Indeed, the portfolio was given the ambitious goal of attracting $300 million in external funding by 2024, a figure the ISIs have collectively surpassed. As of April 2024, the ISI portfolio has secured $490 million in total external funding. 

We extend our thanks to all the people inside and outside the university that have made these achievements possible: students, faculty, staff, industry and hospital partners, and donors as well as our collaborators from U of T’s academic divisions who are participating in the ISIs. We would also like to thank our collaborators from the Offices of: the Vice-President, Research and Innovation; Vice-President and Provost; Vice-President, International; Government Relations; Communications; University Advancement; and People Strategy, Equity and Culture.

Here, we showcase just some of the many remarkable stories from the ISIs and the related initiatives we support. We hope that as you read about the people who make up our interlinked communities and learn about the difference they are making in the world, you will feel the same sense of pride that we feel in being part of these ambitious initiatives.

Timothy Chan, wearing a light blue shirt and a black blazer
Timothy Chan
Associate Vice-President 
and Vice-Provost, Strategic Initiatives
Arij al chawaf
Executive Director, 
Strategic Initiatives

The ISI Model

The creation of the Institutional Strategic Initiatives Office (ISI Office) and the ISI portfolio stem from a consultation process that took place in 2018, when faculty and university leadership took a close look at the institution’s research collaboration potential.

They wanted to support the development and sustainability of large-scale, cross-divisional, and interdisciplinary initiatives, but acknowledged that the size and complexity of the institution made this difficult. What was needed was a dedicated space, where initiatives with the greatest potential to act on the most pressing social, economic, political and environmental issues could be quickly identified, tested, and grown, ensuring that strategic institutional investment could have the most impact. 

The ISI Office was created in 2019 to drive this goal: to coordinate university resources, facilitate relationship building, and serve as a connection hub that incubates, catalyzes and supports high-impact research spanning disciplines and academic divisions.

Through the ISI Office, and in collaboration with colleagues in the academic divisions and shared services, ISIs have gained access to supports that have propelled their research networks forward. Importantly, this support has strengthened the readiness of ISIs and their partners to capitalize on large-scale, external competitions and opportunities. It has also increased the ability of ISIs to deliver training and resources for students, early-career researchers, and faculty as well as contribute to the university’s equity, diversity and inclusion goals. 

The start-up environment in which ISIs were conceived has enabled the rapid incubation of initiatives, with many lessons learned in a short time about the specific innovation needs of large-scale research collaboration. One of those lessons is that the contributions of each ISI will differ: some ISIs will serve as a space to pilot an idea; other ISIs will grow and begin multi-year and multi-partner journeys that will have wide contributions across many academic fields. 

The stories in this report speak to the breadth and depth of the successes of the ISIs and the viability of the ISI model as a template for purposeful seeding of research networks in pursuit of solving the world’s grand challenges. 

ISI Portfolio Highlights

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University-wide consultation process identifies the need for cross-disciplinary initiatives to catalyze innovation and address complex, global challenges 

Launch of the ISI Office

Launch of the ISI Office
Four pre-existing initiatives join the portfolio:

Logos for Medicine by Design, PRiME, School of Cities, Schwartz Reisman Institute
$4.7 million

Total external funding secured by ISIs

Five new initiatives launched

Five new ISIs created:

$33.7 million

Total external funding secured by ISIs 

New ISIs:

Seven new ISIs created:

Logos for: Black Research Network, CDHI (Critical Digital Humanities), Data Sciences Institute, EPIC (Emerging and Pandemic Infections Consortium), Indigenous Research Network, Mobility Network, Robotics Institute
Launch of Groundbreakers

Launch of Groundbreakers, a 10-part multimedia series that profiles research leaders and game-changing innovations from across the portfolio

TISS donation

$20 million gift from the Larry and Judy Tanenbaum Family Foundation founds the Tanenbaum Institute for Science in Sport (TISS) 


Joins the portfolio:

Four new initiatives launched

Four new ISIs created:

Logos for Climate Positive Energy, Inlight: Student Mental Health Research, Institute for Pandemics, TISS (Tanenbaum Institute for Science in Sport)
Major Grant — Toronto High Containment Facility (THCF)

EPIC secures $35 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) Biosciences Research Infrastructure Fund for upgrades to the Toronto High Containment Facility (THCF); part of an $85 million plan to upgrade the 20-year-old facility 

Groundbreakers, Season 2
Celine Xiao speaks with Ainka Jess in a lab, both are in white coats.
$85.7 million

Total external funding secured by ISIs 

Schmidt AI in science PDF program

Acceleration Consortium and Data Sciences Institute support securing the Eric and Wendy Schmidt AI in Science Postdoctoral Fellowship program; U of T is the only Canadian university among nine from around the world, thus far, participating in the inaugural cohort of this prestigious program 

OSDD Network

ISI Office and SGC support a $49 million Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) win by Conscience for open science drug discovery and development of treatments with experimental work planned at U of T 


Attracting support for high-impact, interdisciplinary research

Grainy black and white photo of Convocation Hall, King's College Circle, and the CN tower visible in the background

Attracting support for high-impact, interdisciplinary research

Photo: David Lee
Total external funding attracted across the ISI portfolio*

In partnership with the ISI Office and our collaborators, the ISIs have unlocked new resources, including some of the largest research grants in Canadian history.
[*$490M as of April 2024]

Advancing equity, diversity and inclusion in research

Black and white, grainy image of students in conversation with one another, sitting on bleachers in a lecture hall at UTSC

Advancing equity, diversity and inclusion in research

Photo: Matthew Dochstader/Paradox Images
ISI-led programs for trainees from equity-deserving groups

Through research, training and new programs, ISIs and our special initiatives are advancing equity, diversity, inclusion and social justice in a variety of ways. 

What does the Black Research Network mean to you?

I think the BRN plays an integral role. Supporting Black faculty members at a predominantly white institution is incredibly important. […] I think creating community for Black faculty members, offering social supports, development opportunities, networking opportunities, funding opportunities, all of these are really critical, and BRN does all of those things and more.

Tosen Nwadei
Assistant Professor at U of T Scarborough Management

Collaborative research solutions for a better world

Black and white photo of buildings at UTM

Collaborative research solutions for a better world

Photo: Kohila Kurunathan
Proportion of U of T’s 17 academic divisions that contribute membership across the ISI portfolio

Through interdisciplinary research collaboration, ISIs are driving solutions to complex challenges, from fighting climate change to preserving cultural heritage to improving the functioning of our cities.

Using low-cost technology to enable remote treatment for heart failure

New tools, models and partnerships

New tools, models and partnerships

Total external partnerships engaged across the ISI portfolio

ISIs are building strong partnerships with external organizations, translating expertise into actionable policies and testing out new frameworks to study complex global challenges.

Training the next generation of changemakers

Training the next generation of changemakers

Photo: Ali Candib
Undergraduate and graduate funded research opportunities provided by ISIs since 2021

Through research internships, exchange programs, workshops, microcredentials and many other programs, ISIs are investing in training and mentoring the next generation of researchers.

Looking ahead

Photo: Matthew Dochstader / Paradox Ima