March 16, 2022

One Health at UCalgary receives its first endowment

Honorary Consul of the Netherlands honours her father with new EPPO Fund
Irene Bakker and Eppo Bakker
Irene Bakker and her father, Eppo Bakker. Rinus Borgsteede

A generous donation to One Health at UCalgary (OH@UC) will support students and help them solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

The EPPO Fund, the first endowment received by OH@UC, has been established by Irene Bakker, Honorary Consul of the Netherlands in southern Alberta, in remembrance of her father, Eppo Bakker.

The new fund will allow university students, primarily from the Netherlands, to come to Calgary to participate in OH@UC’s research projects and summer institute. More than honouring her father’s name, Eppo now also stands for “Encouraging Pioneers Pursuing One Health,” says Bakker.

It makes sense that all the departments of the university work together, like human and veterinary medicine, design and agriculture. You're much stronger if everybody works together.

“My father would be very proud of this, giving an opportunity for Dutch students to come over here. The whole family is very honoured,” she says.

One Health approach 'essential'

The EPPO Fund, which will support three students for four months each, or one student for a year, is a significant endowment, says Dr. Herman Barkema, DVM, PhD, OH@UC’s scientific director, professor, and NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Infectious Diseases of Dairy Cattle.

“It is essential that we educate young people in the One Health approach because it is the approach we need for problems like climate change, antimicrobial resistance, pandemics — all these important issues that we’re facing right now need a transdisciplinary approach,” says Barkema.

“Students need to be trained that you cannot work in silos, but you have to work with people in other disciplines to solve these problems.” 

Barkema and Bakker, both born and raised in the Netherlands, have known each other for decades. “She’s very interested in supporting the education of young people,” Barkema says. 

Canada-Netherlands connection runs deep

Bakker’s parents lived in Amsterdam and survived the Dutch famine of 1944-1945 — known as the Hunger Winter — and saw Jewish friends murdered during the Holocaust. They were always incredibly grateful to Canada for liberating the Netherlands from Nazi occupation. 

“I always wanted to start an endowment fund or scholarship for my father,” Bakker says. “I had one for my mother already. That was easy because mom was an opera singer and she was into music and so I went to the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity to create an opportunity for her, the Maria Francisca Josepha Brouwer Endowment Fund for Dutch opera singers, musicians and dancers.

"Then I said, ‘Well, what do I do for my father?’”

Eppo Bakker was a Dutch entrepreneur who did business in Canada, which made OH@UC — an initiative that fosters innovative and entrepreneurial thinking — a fitting home for the fund created in his honour. It’s a legacy that will benefit society for generations to come, as shared earlier this month at an event announcing the EPPO Fund.

Event kicks off transdisciplinary collaboration

"The University of Calgary mobilizes its wealth of expertise and talent to tackle the world’s biggest problems at the interface of animal, human and environmental health," says Dr. Ed McCauley, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Calgary.

"Now, with the support of our community, we are determined to advance our One Health vision of using transdisciplinary collaboration, entrepreneurial thinking and innovation to create effective solutions. Irene’s gift to establish the EPPO Endowment is fostering international student participation in the One Health program and developing the next generation of problem-solvers, both locally and globally." 

Also in attendance at the event was Bakker’s nephew, James Chapman. A beloved family story tells how his grandmother, Bakker’s aunt, followed a “liberator” back to Canada to marry him. When the soldier asked what she’d like for an engagement present, a ring or a bicycle, the young Dutch bride said, “Of course, I want a bicycle.” 

To Bakker, this gift to One Health is much like that bicycle. “You give people the means to be independent and enhance their lives through education and experience,” she says.

Decades later, Bakker is pleased to do her part to continue the bond between Canada and the Netherlands. “It's a very strong connection between the two countries,” she says. “I like to get young people from the Netherlands to study here. And, with One Health, working together with different departments in the university, I think you stand stronger.”

One Health at UCalgary (OH@UC) was founded in 2019 as an emerging, cross-cutting research theme that takes a systems view of complex problems, recognizing interconnections of people and animals in their shared environments. The One Health lens encompasses the social, economic, cultural, physical, built and political environments that can either promote or inhibit wellness. This approach uses innovative strategies to meet the needs of today’s and future generations by respecting nature, environmental limits and social justice.