Suzanne Tough stands outside in front of a tree, smiling at the camera. She has short strawberry blonde hair and is wearing a bright blue blouse.

Suzanne Tough PhD: Professor, University of Calgary, Canada

The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Suzanne Tough to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.

#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?

Suzanne Tough: Children who have problems with learning and relationships at school entry are at risk for a lifetime of problems, including mental health [issues], school failure, addiction, and interaction with the justice system. The All Our Families Cohort is an innovation that allows us to quantify the impact of risk as well as protective factors (such as mental health, social support, parenting competency and/or adversity) on child development, so that programs can be most effective.

#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?

ST: The application of contemporary data, which quantifies the importance of social support and inexpensive community resources to help families with young children succeed, was a breakthrough. We have quantified the value of resilience in the midst of risk using data from my All Our Families Cohort. Although families may experience poor mental health, addiction, violence, low income and/or language problems, the majority cope well because of social support, optimism, esteem, and good interpersonal relationships. Consequently, community programs that help parents develop interpersonal skills, friendships, parenting skills, and positive outlooks can mitigate some of the influence of adversity and help children and families; no pharmaceuticals required.

#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?

ST: When communities are thriving, nothing happens. Children are healthy and able to learn, violence and addiction are reduced, and neighborhoods are safe and supportive. In a crisis-driven world, there are obstacles for the investments that support ‘nothing happening.’ AOF has addressed this by sharing compelling research with decision makers and responding to their needs for evidence.

#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?

ST: I have a vision for communities of safe and happy children, skilled and loving caregivers, and compassionate strangers. My work links to my vision of how we can create thriving environments and make it easier for people to experience joy and well being.

#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?

ST: I hope young women focus on the inspiring nature of science and inquiry. I hope they view constructive feedback, debate and failure as essential to creating solutions for an inclusive and civic society. 

#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?

ST: Women who express leadership, personal responsibility, integrity, courage, collaboration, and mentorship will contribute to innovations which address our most complex problems.

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Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.