The Women’s Executive Network (WXN), a North American organization that celebrates and promotes women in leadership roles across professions, has unveiled its 2023 Top 100 list of Canada’s Most Powerful Women and Dr. Susanne Benseler from the University of Calgary is part of that prestigious list.
While Benseler, MD, PhD, has expressed humbleness and gratitude for her name being announced in the Professional category, her colleagues say it's both fitting and well-deserved.
"It’s an honour — honouring a passionate team of child-health research partners,” says Benseler, director of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) and a professor in the Cumming School of Medicine.
She views her roles as leader and partner — with ACHRI, as a practising paediatrician and researcher, as a collaborator with institutes and community partners, and now as director of the largest research project to take place in Canada focused on children’s health and wellness, One Child Every Child — as providing an environment where everyone’s voice matters and where the needs of children are at the centre. It’s a place where breaking down barriers to communication and understanding is the norm, and where everyone is focused on the goal of having all children thrive.
Known by her colleagues as Susa, Benseler began her work in Calgary a decade ago when she moved from Toronto after a decade of work at SickKids. In considering her options at that time, she felt UCalgary offered “the most innovative, free and collegial environment.” Over the years, through her leadership, ACHRI has been central to the development of significant initiatives focused on children’s mental and physical health.
Benseler celebrates UCalgary’s vision in developing the Child Health and Wellness Strategy, the first of its kind at a Canadian post-secondary institution, and credits the philosophy behind the strategy for creating an environment where everyone is a welcome contributor to optimal child health and wellness.
“Susa's level of commitment to collaboration and empowerment, not only of research and clinical experts, but of the children and families, themselves, is truly inspiring,” says Saifa Koonar, BComm'92, MBA'02, president and CEO of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation (ACHF).
Earlier this year, UCalgary became the anchor point for a $125-million grant from the Government of Canada through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF), to conduct research into children’s health and wellness, from expectant mothers throughout childhood to policy change. One Child Every Child has more than 130 international partners in more than 30 countries and, through passionate community investments, its total research envelope has grown to $268 million.
As project lead of One Child Every Child, Benseler credits UCalgary and its passionate partners including the Alberta Children’s Hospital, Alberta Health Services and the ACHF with creating an environment where this collaborative work can take place.
“There’s something about Calgary that lets us think outside the box, to build multidisciplinary partnerships,” she says. “We’ve found the sweet spot between what children, families and community need and what we as researchers and care providers can truly deliver on.”
Koonar adds: “It’s her contagious passion and incredible energy, together with her brilliance, that has united child-health experts across the country in coming together for the development of a national strategy to solve the biggest health challenges facing our kids today.”
Benseler believes the entrepreneurial environment at UCalgary opens the door to these types of activities. “Working here in Calgary, an openness exists,” she says. “A desire to connect with people with whom you might not typically partner, with people who are much more open to risk-taking than other places across the country. We are a cross-sectoral family with a passion for all children, families and communities. That's the Alberta spirit as it has always been.”
"We’re a province of innovators and entrepreneurs; people who aren't afraid to push the boundaries just a little bit to try something new and learn from it.”
WXN, a member-based organization, is North America’s No. 1 and only organization that meaningfully propels and celebrates the advancement of professional women at all levels, in all sectors and of all ages. WXN delivers this advancement through training, events, mentoring, networking, and award and recognition programs for members and partners. WXN operates in Canada and the U.S.