Our Story

The Simons Foundation was established in 1985 by Jennifer Allen Simons, C.M., Ph.D., LL.D. in order to work against the negative effects of technology – specifically to further education on the dangers of nuclear weapons and the need for their elimination and prohibition for all time. Today, The Simons Foundation is a key global player working with multilateral institutions, NGOs and educational institutions to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Dr. Simons became concerned about nuclear dangers during the build-up of nuclear weapons in the early 1980s under Reagan. When her daughter began having nightmares about nuclear war, Dr. Simons wondered if fear of nuclear weapons had become part of the psyche of young people in North America. Two U.S. psychological studies, one of kindergarten-age children and one of college students, supported her belief. Neither group of youth mentioned nuclear war as a conscious concern, yet the studies showed it was the major feature in their dreams.

Early Activities

Wondering if gender explained differences in physics research – for example, Madame Curie's radioactivity research, which resulted in the use of radium to alleviate suffering, versus Edward Teller's lifelong focus of advancing thermonuclear weapons and the hydrogen bomb – Dr. Simons' first action was to endow a doctoral scholarship for women entering Physics at Simon Fraser University (SFU).

The Canadian Centre for Arms Control and Disarmament was the first non-governmental organization (NGO) to receive Foundation funding. During her tenure as a board member of that organization, Dr. Simons visited the Soviet Union in 1991 as a member of the Centre’s Delegation to request that the Soviet Union not resume nuclear testing in the Arctic and to express concern about nuclear waste dumped there. This concern continued and in 2008 the Foundation, in partnership with SFU, convened the Arctic Security in the 21st Century conference and now also offers the Disarming Arctic Security briefing papers focussing on military policies and practices in the Arctic.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Dr. Simons visited most of the Central European countries with the idea of helping to end the divide. She chose Czechoslovakia as the country for the Foundation’s activity and initiated and developed two academic exchange programmes: one between Charles University in Prague and SFU, and the other between Charles University and the University of British Columbia (UBC). Dr. Simons participated in the development of the Social Work department at Charles University, a Self-Help Centre at the Prague YMCA, and is now Honorary Chair of the Department of Social Work. The Foundation provided a significant grant to financially ground the Center for Theoretical Study at Charles University and the Academy of Sciences, a centre bridging the divide and open to academics and high-level scholars from around the world. The Foundation also partnered with the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly and the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs in a conference in Prague to discuss whether or not the Czech Republic (which it had become) would join NATO.

Nuclear Disarmament

At the end of the Cold War, when interest in nuclear disarmament diminished, funding dried up and the subject disappeared from university curricula, The Simons Foundation continued its support, initiating, funding and participating in the work of NGOs and funding disarmament education. 

Of major interest to Dr. Simons is the question of the legality of nuclear weapons. She is working to have the threat and use of nuclear weapons declared illegal under International Law and International Humanitarian Law as a crime against humanity. The Simons Foundation supports the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and, through it, International Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms. Dr. Simons was a founding member and The Simons Foundation the initial and primary funder of Middle Powers Initiative, and initial funder of its project Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

Dr. Simons was appointed to the Canadian Delegation to the 2000 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference and to the 2002 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Prepcom. As well, she committed CAD$1 million at the United Nations to encourage a country to take up the UN call for a Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction, which the Government of Sweden heeded. Dr. Simons provided organizational support throughout the work of the Commission.

Global Zero, a project to eliminate nuclear weapons by 2030, is currently a major project of the Foundation. Dr. Simons is a founding partner and The Simons Foundation the principal sponsor.

Space Security & Genocide Prevention

The Simons Foundation initiated with Project Ploughshares, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, and the UN Institute for Disarmament Research a conference on Space Security at the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. These conferences, which The Simons Foundation continues to sponsor, have become an annual event.   The Foundation is also a member of the Governance Group of Spacesecurity.org, a consortium of governmental, non-governmental, and academic organizations that produces the annual Space Security Index.  Former Canadian Ambassador, Paul Meyer, has joined the Foundation as a Senior Fellow and is responsible for the Space Security programme.

The Simons Foundation became involved in the work for the prevention of genocide as the sole private Canadian funder of the Canadian government’s independent International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty and the report of the Commission, The Responsibility to Protect. The Foundation’s contribution continued with the funding for General (now Senator) Roméo Dallaire’s research, essential for his role as special advisor on Genocide Prevention to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Today, Dr. Simons is a member of the National Steering Committee, and the Foundation provides lead support for the Will to Intervene (W2I) Research project at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University. The Foundation also provides support for research and development of a UN Emergency Peace Service, a Global Action to Prevent War project.

Other projects in the area of human security are the initial grant to War Child Canada and grants to Amnesty International and Journalists for Human Rights. As well, The Simons Foundation was active in the coalition for the Landmines Treaty. It was executive producer of a documentary on landmines (one of a series of four on Human Security Issues) in partnership with B.C.'s Knowledge Network, which aired the documentary multiple times and then distributed it widely. The Foundation has remained active in funding organizations for the removal of landmines. Dr. Simons was a recipient of the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal for her contribution in this area.

Disarmament Education

Underlying all of The Simons Foundation’s work is the emphasis on education – the dissemination of information to the wider public in order to raise awareness of issues that endanger human lives and affect the security of all humans.

The Foundation has particularly concerned itself with nuclear disarmament; however, peace education through its documentary series, its earlier relationships with Global Education Associates and with the Hague Appeal for Peace has also been a focus. Following the massacre of women engineering students at École Polytechnique de Montréal, the Foundation established entrance scholarships for women entering Engineering at Concordia and UBC. As well, the Foundation endowed scholarships for lone parents, women entering in both trades and technical programmes and female doctoral students in the science and the humanities. The Foundation also endowed a professorship in Human Security at UBC's Liu Institute for Global Issues.

The Simons Foundation partnered with The University of British Columbia to create The Simons Centre in Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Research at the Liu Institute for Global Issues, UBC, and endowed the position of Director, a Post-doctoral Fellowship, a Research Scholarship Programme in Disarmament for students at UBC, and endowed a Professorship in Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Research.

At Simon Fraser University, The Simons Foundation endowed two chairs: the tenured Simons Chair in International Law and Human Security and the Simons Visiting Chair in International Law and Human Security.

Dr. Simons also initiated and partnered in a Master’s and Doctoral Scholarship Programme with the International Security Research Outreach Programme (ISROP) of Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs (now Global Affairs Canada). The intention of this programme is to develop a community of scholars in the area of disarmament and non-proliferation, from which the Department can draw to develop policy.