The Alliance for Human Development (AHD) is a new platform created to advance research and research partnerships on the critical importance of the first 2000 days of life on a child’s life-long health, learning and social wellbeing.

About AHD

Supported by the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, the Alliance for Human Development provides the institutional umbrella to support research that applies a transdisciplinary focus to improve the health and well-being of children across the life-course. Its mission is to generate new knowledge on the science behind human development, to develop effective interventions to improve maternal and child well-being, and to shape the national and global policy agenda in human development. The Alliance will harness the remarkable value accruing from its research partnerships in Canada, India, Bangladesh, South Africa and Kenya to establish a network of researchers focused on optimizing the health and well-being of children globally.

Recent Events

Advancing Early Childhood Development: From Science to Scale
MAY 1, 2017, Ottawa

The symposium was held in partnership by the Aga Khan Foundation Canada and the Alliance for Human Development. It presented the findings from the Lancet series on early childhood development and the way forward to meet the needs of the most at risk populations. Presentations and discussions on how Canada contributes to advancing early childhood development globally and nationally were also discussed.  A panel of experts examined institutional perspectives and approaches to design and expand programmes and policies to help children, their family and their society to thrive.
To watch a webcast of the event, please click here!

Special guests:

  • The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development
  • Ted Chaiban, Director of Programmes, UNICEF


  • Dr. Stephen Lye, Executive Director, Alliance for Human Development; Senior Investigator, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute
  • Dr. Zulfiqar A. Bhutta, Robert Harding Inaugural Chair in Global Child Health, Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids); Co-Director, SickKids Centre for Global Child Health; and Founding Director, Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health, Aga Khan University
  • Dr. Pia Britto, Chief and Senior Advisor, Early Childhood Development, UNICEF

And speakers:

  • Dr. Catherine Birken, Scientist, SickKids Research Institute
  • Dr. Shoo Lee, Scientific Director, Canadian Institutes for Health Research
  • Dr. Kofi Marfo, Executive Director, Institute for Human Development, Aga Khan University
  • Dr. Stephen McGurk, Vice President, Programs and Partnership Branch, International Development Research Centre
  • Dr. Karlee Silver, Vice President, Programs, Grand Challenges Canada


AHD is committed to a new way of advancing knowledge in the field of early child development. Our researchers come together across academic boundaries and apply a holistic perspective to the most pressing questions about optimal child development. This trans-disciplinary approach to research matches our commitment to move the knowledge beyond the academic silos, through policy and practice to affect positive outcomes in the lives of children and their families.

Research Projects

CIHR Healthy Life Trajectories Initiative (HeLTI) – South Africa

The burden of non-communicable diseases in low and middle income countries (LMICs) is significant and increasing due to several risk factors including undernutrition at early age, sedentary behaviour, poor diet, and heredity. South Africa’s evolving burden of diseases is particularly challenging due to persisting infant malnutrition that co-exists with high prevalence of obesity notably among women, and rising rates of diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

It is recognised that prevention of obesity in women of reproductive age is critical both for their health and for that of their children but efforts to address the paradoxical challenges of stunting in early childhood and escalating obesity have been largely unsuccessful. To date, interventions in overweight pregnant women have not produced appreciable impact on pregnancy and birth outcomes. This suggests that the pre-conception periods may be key windows of opportunity to intervene to prevent obesity and contribute to the survival and wellbeing of newborns throughout their lives.

This project will begin laying the foundations for healthy trajectories by improving women’s health prior to and during pregnancy and reinforcing optimal health in the infant. A team of experts from South Africa (SA) and Canada will focus on a longitudinal analysis of how early-life exposures in the preconception period and during pregnancy, infancy and childhood impact life-long trajectories of health and development of children in SA. The research team will recruit women of childbearing age from Soweto, a historically disadvantaged urban area of Johannesburg, to establish a preconception cohort and evaluate the impact of a package of interventions on children’s health, cognitive and behavioural outcomes. The team will engage with community and policy makers to ensure that the information that will be generated can be applied to policies and practices in SA and potentially other LMICs to enhance the life-long wellbeing of children.

The project will be co-led by the Alliance for Human Development and the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the South African Medical Research Council are equally co-funding this CAD 5 million project over 5 years

Over the last three decades there have been remarkable achievements in improving maternal and child health across the world. The steep reductions in neonatal and maternal mortality over the 15-year period of the Millennium Development Goals are illustrative of what is attainable when national and international stakeholders make concerted efforts to address significant global challenges.

However, and despite the significant success in reducing child mortality, millions of children are left behind with little or no support to address the deprivation, the stress and the inequalities they face that too often shape and limit their future. While the effectiveness of interventions made in the early years of childhood to improve growth and developmental outcomes is well established, it is estimated that over 250 million children under-5 years in low- and middle-income countries are at risk of not reaching their development potential. Many of these are living today in conflict zones, in transitional or permanent refugee contexts and in marginalized and informal settlements. The plight of displaced and refugee families is of special concern.

The project aims at supporting the world’s most marginalized and at-risk populations of children to thrive and reach their full potential and providing a better understanding of vulnerability and resilience in the early years of development. It will design and evaluate the effectiveness of an integrated package of interventions that will target the critical areas of child development in one of the multiple informal settlements around Nairobi that are home to internally and externally displaced families. The project will also build capacity in the science of Early Childhood Development for frontline worker, researchers and leaders in policy and practice. Project outputs will close the gap in the global body of knowledge on early childhood development specifically related to marginalized and refugee/displaced settings.

The project will be co-led by the Alliance for Human Development and the Aga Khan University’s Institute of Human Development.

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Aga Khan Foundation Canada are equally co-funding this CAD 2 million project over 3 years.

More projects coming soon

The Team

Executive Director Dr. Stephen Lye Ph.D. is a world expert in women’s and infant health and the mechanisms underlying preterm birth. He has published over 180 research papers on pregnancy and maternal-child health and holds a Canada Research Chair in Improved Health and Function. He is a Professor of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Physiology and Medicine at the University of Toronto and Associate Director of the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital. [Full Bio]
Director of Research Dr. Stephen Matthews is an international leader in research focused on understanding how alterations in the fetal environment can affect developmental trajectories leading to permanent modification of endocrine function and behaviour. His recent research has established that the effects of such environmental manipulation can extend across multiple generations. He has also identified novel mechanisms of fetal brain protection. Dr. Matthews is a Professor of Physiology, Obstetrics and Gynecology and Medicine. [Full Bio]
Dr. Marie-Claude Martin’s work focuses on the development of a global research partnership to support early childhood development in low and middle income countries. She has designed and led a number of multi-country research initiatives in topics spanning health equity, poverty and human development through her previous association with Canada’s International Development Research Centre and UNICEF’s Office of Research [Full Bio]

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