Local non-profit wins national innovation challenge aimed at helping underserved populations screen for colorectal cancer

The Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre (pictured) is set to receive $100,000 to implement its solution focused on increasing health literacy, raising awareness about colon-friendly healthy diets, and enhancing accessibility to colorectal cancer screening and primary care. The centre aims to not only educate but also normalize the discussion around colorectal cancer, creating the tagline Everybody Eats, Everybody Poops. Photo credit: Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre


St. Catharines-based Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre (NFAMC) has been named the $100,000 grand prize winner of the Innovating for Everyone: The Colorectal Cancer Early Detection Challenge.  

The nationwide challenge consisted of a partnership between MaRS Discovery District and the Canadian Cancer Society to address gaps in colorectal cancer screening programs by engaging underserved populations that face barriers in early detection. 

Underserved populations include people with lower income, new immigrants, people living in rural and remote areas, as well as racialized and marginalized communities. 

“We sought to spark innovation that could generate tangible evidenced based impact in breaking down barriers to the early detection of colorectal cancer screening,” said MaRS Chief Delivery Officer Krista Jones during opening remarks at the winner announcement

“The winners of this challenge [are] organizations that have shown exceptional creativity and commitment to improve the access to colorectal cancer screening. Their solutions have the potential to save lives and transform the way we approach early detection, not just for colorectal cancer but potentially for other health issues as well.”

The NFAMC’s solution focuses on increasing health literacy, raising awareness about colon-friendly healthy diets, and enhancing accessibility to colorectal cancer screening and primary care. 

Part of NFAMC’s initiative will see recent graduates of its Internationally Educated Healthcare Professionals program lead promotion of colorectal cancer screenings – utilizing their health care background, as well as knowledge of other languages, to make screenings more accessible for underserved communities. 

“Our plan is to host at least eight magnet events serving roughly 2,400 newcomers who are specifically older racialized community members who will be able to have dinners that are specifically catered for colorectal cancer friendly meal, and we are going to talk about prevention and give out kits,” said NFAMC executive director Emily Kovacs in a video following the winner announcement. 

Research has shown that low health literacy, language barriers, and less access to care put older racialized immigrants at a disadvantage when it came to colorectal cancer screenings and information about it.

“Our vision for the future involves expanding our reach, adapting into different populations and different venues, and forging strategic partnership with our academic and research partners to maximize its impact on colorectal cancer early detection rates and promote equitable health care access for all. Collaborating with these entities can help us leverage cutting edge technologies, research findings and clinical expertise to continually improve and refine our solution,” said Kovacs, speaking to MaRS.  

The runner-up, Flemingdon Health Centre, will receive $50,000. This community based non-profit organization offers free health services to newcomers and low-income populations in the Flemingdon and Thorncliffe Park neighbourhoods in Toronto. 

Colorectal cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancer as well as one of the leading causes of cancer-related death in Canada. However, survival rates with early detection are promising, which highlights the importance of this initiative. 

The winners of the early detection challenge were assessed on feasibility, overall impact, potential for adoption, approach to innovation, and the target addressed. 

To read more about the winners visit the announcement page here


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