Developing new avenues for research funding

Posted on Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Dominique Arel assis dans un fauteuil, micro à la main.

Dominique Arel offers some words of advice at a training session for University deans and academic leaders in November 2015

By Johanne Adam

In Canada, the majority of research chairs are funded through federal and provincial grants. However, governments have started moving away from funding university research, a concerning situation that has led many researchers to look for alternate sources in order to continue their work.

This particular situation is what led Dominique Arel, who holds the University of Ottawa’s Chair of Ukrainian Studies, to approach the Development Office 11 years ago to develop a strategy to help finance the Chair. Today, the Chair of Ukrainian Studies is funded almost entirely by private monies—something rarely seen in the world of academic research.

“My goal is to establish a fund of at least $3 million. This is the amount required to ensure the research chair remains viable and independent,” says Professor Arel.

Initially, Arel’s efforts were focused on obtaining funds for specific projects—known as soft money. Such funds cannot be invested, however, but they can be renewed.

This is in fact the type of donation that made it possible to create the annual Danyliw Research Seminar, first held in 2005 and dedicated to providing a forum for research on contemporary Ukraine. Over the past 11 years, many researchers, students and postdoctoral fellows from Europe, the US and Canada have presented their work at this seminar. The event has garnered a considerable reputation among members of the international research community and has enjoyed a growing number of participants each year.

Research achievements

In spite of the benefits of soft money, endowed funds are nonetheless necessary for the survival of a research chair. The invested capital withdrawn from endowed funds makes it possible to fund long-term projects and allows the chairholder’s position to be filled. “It’s important to remember that before soliciting potential donors for major gifts, we need to prove that we’re deserving of the funds,” says Arel. “Soft money is a good way of doing this. It’s an excellent means for establishing our sphere of influence and level of expertise.”

Potential donors—those most likely to be interested in the work of the Chair of Ukrainian Studies—tend to be Canadians of Ukrainian origin. Peter and Doris Kule, an Alberta couple with strong ties to the Ukraine, are among major contributors to the Chair.

“Towards the end of the first decade of 2000, the Kules made a donation of $500,000, which was matched by the Ontario government,” says Arel. These long-time philanthropists, who made their fortune in the hotel industry, have also contributed to the Ukrainian studies programs at University of Alberta and endowed theology chairs at Saint Paul University.

The couple’s generous donation allowed the University of Ottawa to establish the Kule Doctoral Scholarships on Ukraine. These scholarships have made it possible for the first two recipients, Natalia Stepaniuk and Klavdia Tatar, to carry out their doctoral research on contemporary Ukraine with all expenses paid for up to four years.

“Our efforts have allowed us to build strong relationships with a number of potential donors. It’s a long process, but I think we’re on track for reaching our funding targets,” says Professor Arel. 


In 2015, the University of Ottawa launched a $400 million fundraising campaign. Defy the Conventional: The Campaign for uOttawa is raising funds to support priorities in every faculty. The campaign will help uOttawa recruit and retain top talent and enrich the student experience.  Donations will also support innovative capital projects.

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