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Dr. Barrie Strafford's visionary gamble to end domestic violence

Lana Wells, associate professor in the Faculty of Social work, and the Brenda Strafford Chair in the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Photo: Riley Brandt
Social Work researcher Lana Wells says that when philanthropy is paired with vision it becomes a powerful force to change society.

Lana Wells, pauses a moment before answering. I’ve asked her what endowing a chair in the prevention of domestic violence has meant to her research, but she hesitates because it’s the wrong question to start with.  As Wells puts it, the real place to start is the fact that the Brenda Strafford Foundation chose to take the forward-looking approach of trying to prevent domestic violence before it even happens.

“He had a lot of vision,” says Wells and Associate Professor with the Faculty of Social Work. “Dr. Barrie Strafford’s vision for the chair was to try to stop the violence before it starts – to focus on primary prevention. That was very visionary. This area of research in the domestic violence field was just emerging so the fact that he set up a research chair with the goal of advancing primary prevention – of stopping the violence before it starts was extraordinary.”

Chair aimed at creating transformational change

The Brenda Strafford Chair in the Prevention of Domestic Violence was created in the Faculty of Social Work in 2007 as a partnership between the Brenda Strafford Foundation and the Government of Alberta and the Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary. Lana Wells was chosen to hold the chair and in 2010 she created Shift: The Project to End Domestic Violence with the goal of significantly reducing and preventing domestic violence in Alberta. Shift reflects the outlook of her research, to create transformational change using a primary prevention approach to stop first-time victimization and perpetration of domestic violence. 

Strafford, "Can we stop it from happening?"

Dr. Barrie Strafford, who passed away on April 25 of this year, was dedicated in his support of seniors, homeless Calgarians and women and families fleeing domestic violence. In reflecting on the legacy of his philanthropy and the creation of the Brenda Strafford Chair she says, “He had spent several decades putting money into the crisis response model – funding women's shelters and trying to find solutions after violence had occurred. He wanted to make sure women and children had a safe place to be. He was now saying, ‘Can we stop it from happening in the first place?”

What a Research Chair means for an investigator

Besides providing a base of funding to pursue her research, Wells says her endowed chair opens doors to other funding and partners and provides a certain level of social capital, which also helps the research agenda, “I think,” says Wells, “that having a chair position is a privilege not to be taken lightly. The position allows the time to work closely with government, community practitioners, researchers and activists to really test new ideas and solutions.”

As National Philanthropy Week continues Wells believes it’s important to acknowledge the contributions made to create a better society, especially when the investment might seem like a bit of gamble, backing a new approach. “I think that Barrie had a vision. He was trying to advance research where we don't have tons of science to draw on. He recognized the value of trying to stop the violence before it starts rather than focusing on what happens once people experience violence. I think that's the visionary piece.”