Peterson and Christina Munck are the co-founders and directors of the Tula
Foundation. Eric was born and raised on Vancouver Island, Christina in the
south of England. The two met in England in 1976 when Eric arrived to start a
PhD and Christina was a technician in the laboratory. They have worked together
ever since, moving to Canada in 1982, first to Montreal where Eric was a faculty
member at McGill University, and subsequently to near Waterloo, Ontario to join
the tech boom of the late 1980’s and 1990’s.
Eric and Christina established the Tula
Foundation at the end of 2001 and moved to BC a couple of years later. The
endowment for Tula came from the sale of Mitra, a company Eric started about a
decade earlier. Mitra was in the vanguard of the wave of change that took
hospitals from light boxes and stacks of X-ray film to computer workstations,
digital archives and electronic health records. The Mitra ethos, which married
entrepreneurship and technology to a strong commitment to a social purpose, has
carried forward into Tula.
Christina bring complementary skills and sensibilities to the Tula Foundation.
Both are trained in biology, but whereas Eric favors the analytic and
engineering side of things—genomics, instrumentation, mathematical modeling,
infrastructure—Christina is more the natural historian. If you were to dissect
Tula’s tagline, Eric is more “Innovation & Solutions” and Christina is more
“in the Public Interest”, particularly as regards maintaining relationships
with Tula’s partners and local communities.
The Mitra pedigree gave Tula the know-how to build and operate public interest enterprises, rather than merely make donations in support of other organizations. Our capacity to finance our own operations lets us and our partners move quickly, decisively, driving innovation and accepting the risks that go with it.
The ingenuity and diverse skills of our staff and affiliates have allowed us tackle some very challenging applications in settings that would deter other organizations. We are patient and persistent, determined to succeed at tasks we set ourselves. And when we achieve success, we usually want to do more in the same vein, to build great programs for the long term.
One of Mitra’s secrets was its ability to catalyze massive collaboration among diverse partners around a shared mission—that being to bring standards and interoperability to diagnostic imaging systems in hospitals. That tradition of collaboration has carried over into Tula, where it is seen nowhere more strongly than in the Hakai Institute. There our own efforts are multiplied many times by our network of hundreds of collaborators from universities, government agencies, and First Nations.
Above all, when we commit to an initiative, we commit for the long term. As an experienced builder and operator, we know that nothing is easy, and that everything takes time to do well.
I’m always inspired by the people we work with. Our support staff, our in-house scientists and postdocs; plus our affiliates, students and visitors from around the world.
We can’t forget the people we work with on TulaSalud in Guatemala—our very first program. Over almost two decades it has grown from a local initiative, educating nurses for a few rural indigenous communities to a national program of rural healthcare that has focused on maternal and infant health, malaria and other endemic diseases, and programs for teenaged girls. It’s been great to see experienced local women take on strong leadership roles in the program.
The work of the Hakai Institute matches my life-long interests in coastal ecosystems and geography. I grew up close to the ocean and choose biology as a career. These days I enjoy being close to the science, inspired by the energy, ingenuity and spirit of collaboration I see in our science teams and visitors, always interested to share in their successes.
I’ve also had a life-long interest in science teaching in schools. The Central Coast, home to our Calvert Island Ecological Observatory, is a vast region with a few isolated (mostly indigenous) communities. Teachers at the community schools have few resources, particularly for science, and few opportunities for collaboration or professional development. We’ve developed two linked programs. First we convene workshops in the spring for teachers; then we have individual teachers back with their classes at the beginning of summer. We focus on science, but in the case of First Nations schools, there is typically also a cultural component delivered by elders and other experts. It’s a great experience for everyone, including our support staff, techs and visitors, who are always thrilled to pitch in. It’s great to get to know the kids and their families, and to keep track of them as they grow up.
We’re also interested in post-secondary scientific and technical education, and in creating opportunities for employment and leadership in these fields for First Nations communities. From the outset at Calvert Island we linked up with Coastal Guardian Watchmen, who play a critical role in all aspects of stewardship for Coastal First Nations –ensuring resources are sustainably managed, that rules and regulations are followed and that land and marine use agreements are implemented effectively. We’ve subsequently extended our partnership to other First Nations consortia from Vancouver Island to Haida Gwaii. Via workshops and other activities, we provide training, knowledge sharing, and participate with them in collaborative regional programs.
I am an enthusiastic consumer of scientific media myself, so I love to follow our own efforts in this regard. Yes, we need to pile up the formal peer-reviewed papers, but it is equally important to bring our science to our community partners and the general public. Making complex or abstract concepts accessible and interesting is a challenge. Our media team, including the Hakai Magazine, does an amazing job via text, images, videos, graphics—whatever it takes to tell stories that engage and educate.