Nov 21, 2022

Changing the Face of Philanthropy

Alumni, Giving, Inclusion & Diversity
Stephanie Zhou and Colin Lynch
Erin Howe
Stephanie Zhou and Colin Lynch
By Deanna Cheng

Health equity is deeply personal for Stephanie Zhou (MSc ’18, MD ’18) and her partner Colin Lynch.

It’s a commitment whose origins stretch back to both their childhoods when, due to various health conditions, each spent significant amounts of time in and out of hospitals and doctors’ offices.

“I spent much of my first six years in the hospital. As a young child, I considered the hospital nurses to be like close family members. I still remember their names,” says Lynch, a child of immigrant parents and a Scarborough native. Today he is Managing Director and Head of Global Real Estate Investments at TD Asset Management and co-founder of the Black Opportunity Fund, a community-led organization that seeks to improve the social and economic well-being of Canada’s Black communities by funding Black-led not-for-profits, charities and businesses.

While Lynch was struggling with his health as a young boy, Zhou was growing up with her newly immigrated family in a small, subsidized housing unit in Toronto’s Alexandra Park. Mold and unsafe living conditions in her family’s apartment resulted in her experiencing her own health challenges — with repeated respiratory illnesses that required frequent hospitalization.

“Being in the hospital a lot, I could see how people from low-income backgrounds interact with health services on a regular basis,” says Zhou, now assistant professor of family and community medicine in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, as well as an addictions specialist physician at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and a clinical lead at the Don Mills-Eglinton Family Health Organization. “It greatly influenced my decision to study addiction medicine and primary care.”

The care Zhou and Lynch received quickly became an important part of their identities. Now, building off their foundational experiences with the health care system and its service for patients from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, they are coming forward to champion greater health equity through support for students in the University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine.

Zhou and Lynch have made a generous gift to establish The Equity Award — a new fund that will support and empower MD students with demonstrated financial need who also show a commitment to supporting their peers from less advantaged backgrounds.

For Zhou, supporting learners at Temerty Medicine feels particularly meaningful, especially as a first-generation post-secondary student herself. Because her parents were unable to fund her education, she relied on bursaries and awards during her time as a student in the Faculty.

“Receiving these bursaries and awards helped take away a lot of the stress and allowed me to focus on my studies,” says Zhou, who also helped develop the financial literacy curriculum in the MD Program. “The financial support allowed me to fully engage in the student community and make lifelong friends. But more importantly, it made me realize that there were donors behind those bursaries, and it set an example of individuals giving back.”

Both Zhou and Lynch also see this gift as an important contribution to the diversification of philanthropy.

“You can't have one segment of society creating and designing solutions to apply to other segments of society,” says Lynch. “Communities aren't monolithic, they're incredibly diverse within themselves. The people that are being impacted by philanthropy should also be part of the solution.”

“Representation matters,” adds Zhou. “When you ask 'what does a philanthropist look like?' you probably wouldn't envision someone who looks like us or shares our stories. If we want to engage with diverse donors, we need to change the face of philanthropy.”

As to why they decided to name it The Equity Award?

“Equity is a financial term,” says Zhou. “It’s an investment but it also refers to fairness. I didn’t want the award to be focused on our name. I wanted it to be focused on the word equity and what equity stands for.”

“The Equity Award is an award for students with financial need, but it takes it one step further,” she adds. “It encourages students to pay it forward by taking action towards equity while they are young — leveraging their resources to uplift those who are socially or economically disadvantaged.”

“The award to me is action oriented,” says Lynch. “It tells students to not just reflect on a problem, but to go out and do something about it.”

With The Equity Award, Zhou and Lynch hope to lead a new generation of young, racialized philanthropists who are changing the face of what giving looks like.

“I hope that this award inspires and empowers people,” says Lynch. “This award demonstrates that individuals who are young and from different racialized communities, despite having financial need, can turn around and help other people as well.”

Both Zhou and Lynch have a lot to look forward to. While Lynch leads one of the largest real estate investment platforms in the country, he is also continuing to grow the Black Opportunity Fund’s capacity. Zhou was recently featured by WXN Network as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women. Together, they are setting an example for young people across Canada.

“We each have one precious and short life, so it’s important to use it as an opportunity to make an impact,” says Zhou.