Established by Teresa Heinz to honor the memory of her late husband, U.S. Senator John Heinz, the Heinz Awards celebrates his accomplishments and spirit by recognizing the extraordinary achievements of individuals in the areas of greatest importance to him.
This year’s recipients include an interdisciplinary artist – choreographer, writer, visual artist and curator – whose richly moving body of work interweaves movement, media, visual arts and language; an environmental psychologist whose research on the impact of urban green space on physical and mental health is changing forest and landscape design policy; an education reformer whose bold new models for preparing, equipping and training teachers and school leaders is effecting dramatic, positive change in public school classrooms and increasing teacher diversity; a global expert on freshwater microplastic pollution whose research is raising awareness of microplastics, microfibers and other contaminants in our freshwater systems, leading to worldwide policy change; a marine ecologist working at the intersection of science and policy to protect the world’s last pristine marine environments; and a social entrepreneur whose global nonprofit is opening doors of economic opportunity for high impact companies in developing countries and in the U.S.
Collectively, they represent the vision, creativity and determination that produce achievements of lasting good and meaningful impact, which the Heinz Awards hopes to inspire.
Ralph Lemon, choreographer and interdisciplinary artist, is recognized for an extensive body of work that defies traditional conventions of dance and theater, creating multifaceted works of movement, visual art and language that explore stories of race, identity, spirituality and heritage.
An artist working at the forefront of contemporary dance for many years, Mr. Lemon integrates dance forms known for intense physicality and emotion, with elements of theater, drawing, film, writing and ethnography.
Mr. Lemon began his professional career as a member of the Nancy Hauser Dance Company, and later worked with Meredith Monk before founding the Ralph Lemon Dance Company in 1985 for which he won an ardent following and critical notice. Over the next decade he choreographed over 30 works for his and other companies, including the Alvin Ailey Repertory Company, Limon Dance Company, Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genéve, Lyon Opera Ballet, New Dance Ensemble and the Boston Ballet.
In 1995, however, Mr. Lemon chose to disband the company to pursue a broader artistic vision. Unfettered by the administration of running a formal company, Mr. Lemon began constructing an unprecedented art/performance work, The Geography Trilogy, a decade-long anthropological and artistic inquiry into race, identity and spirituality.
“My work and creativity began to explode when I folded my more traditional company and began to travel the world and collaborate with artists of different cultures.”
More recently, Mr. Lemon has created a series of new multimedia and performance works, including How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere? (2008), a raw multidisciplinary work that revolves around Mr. Lemon’s collaboration with Walter Carter, a centenarian, former sharecropper and lifetime resident of the Mississippi Delta. The work crosses genres throughout its performance, moving between free-form dance, film projection and spoken narration.
In 2014, Mr. Lemon presented Scaffold Room, an installation and live performance that uses a two-story room built of scaffolding as the architectural base for its two performers, and for mounted video screens projecting slow motion images. Awash with unrestrained grief, the work presents its performers channeling a range of media personalities through voice and dialogue.
Described as fierce and emotionally fraught, his broad spectrum of work and evolving artistic legacy continues to influence both the current and next generation of choreographers and artists. Mr. Lemon is currently the Sachs Visiting Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a Visual Arts Mentor at Columbia University School of the Arts.
Dr. Ming Kuo, an environmental psychologist, is recognized for her research on the impact of green spaces on physical and mental health, and children’s cognitive development. Dr. Kuo’s work has documented and empirically solidified the links between heathy urban green spaces and stronger and safer neighborhoods, reduced aggression and crime and reduced ADHD symptoms.
Dr. Kuo’s rigorous studies have shaped environmental psychology into the vibrant and growing field it is today, and her findings are having national and international impacts on environmental policy, urban forestry programs and federal landscaping guidelines.
One of Dr. Kuo’s first major contributions examined the role of greenery on crime and aggression in urban settings. In the 1990s, Dr. Kuo and Dr. Bill Sullivan, co-founders of the Human-Environment Research Lab, studied a public housing area in which residents were randomly assigned to apartments, some with greener settings and some without. Tests on the effect of greenery showed that residents in buildings with proximity to greenery had lower rates of aggression and violence. A comparison of police reports for the buildings showed that more greenery also correlated with lower crime rates. The research suggests that planting even a few trees in otherwise barren urban areas could help to create safer neighborhoods.
In the 2000s, Dr. Kuo collaborated with Dr. Andrea Faber Taylor to study whether exposure to green space influences the severity of ADHD symptoms. Results from a parent survey study found that ADHD symptoms were lessened after short-term activities in green outdoor settings.
Dr. Kuo’s recently co-authored study, “Do Lessons in Nature Boost Subsequent Classroom Engagement - Refueling Students in Flight,” which was reported in Frontiers in Psychology, found similar results with children who had not been diagnosed with ADHD. Rather than causing children to be overly excited and unable to refocus, time outdoors measurably extended children’s ability to concentrate and engage when they returned to the classroom.
Dr. Kuo and collaborators are currently in the middle of a three-year project (2016-2019) to examine how green space influences health expenditures among more than four million members of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California health system. Using Kaiser’s comprehensive database of health utilization and cost data, the project is estimating the health care return on investment relative to cities’ expenditures on forestry.
A compelling communicator and speaker, Dr. Kuo’s work is impacting policy in the United States and around the world.
Norman Atkins, education reformer, is recognized for pioneering new education and teacher training models that are affecting dramatic, positive change in educational achievement among low-income student populations, and for co-founding the Relay Graduate School of Education, the first major redesign of teacher preparation in this country in decades.
After observing public school and small, community school classrooms in New York City in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods with the Robin Hood Foundation, Mr. Atkins founded Uncommon Schools, an organization that establishes and manages urban schools that prepare low-income children for college.
Seeing a disconnect between how education schools are preparing aspiring teachers, and what teachers need to know to be successful in the classroom, Mr. Atkins went on to co-found the Relay Graduate School of Education, a title that refers to the idea that it takes a relay of highly effective teachers to put a child on a positive academic and life trajectory.
The Relay approach differs from traditional teacher education in that it thoughtfully integrates theory and practice, immersing aspiring and early career teachers in PK-12 classrooms, and providing them with intensive feedback. Graduate students engage in teaching sessions that allow them to deliver lessons, receive guidance on how they can improve their approach, then repeat their session, applying what they have learned from faculty master teachers.
To graduate, Relay students must deliver measurable results in the classroom and prove they’ve helped their students master the year’s academic content.
This past school year, Relay trained 3,000 current and aspiring teachers and 750 school leaders nationwide. On average, the children taught by Relay students average 1.3 years of growth in reading in a single year.
At a time when enrollment in teacher preparatory programs is declining — a factor in teacher shortages nationwide — Mr. Atkins ensures that Relay is marking a 40 percent increase year-over-year in its teacher and principal training programs, and attracts a diverse teacher workforce.
Dr. Sherri Mason, a global expert on microplastics, is recognized for her groundbreaking research identifying the presence of microbeads and microfibers in fresh water, and for raising awareness of the potential impact of microplastics and associated contaminants on the food chain and human health, resulting in state, federal and international policy change.
A professor of chemistry and chair of the department of geology and environmental science at the State University of New York in Fredonia, New York, Dr. Mason gained initial recognition as the first to research and identify microplastics pollution in the Great Lakes, the largest freshwater system in the world.
Her work has drawn international attention to the threats posed by microplastics in freshwater and led to the passage of state measures banning microbeads (extremely small pieces of plastic used in cleansing products as exfoliating agents) and to the enactment of the federal Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015.
Other countries are following suit. The Canadian and New Zealand governments banned microbeads in early 2018, and the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries are rolling out bans on microbead-laden products over the next two years. To date, 448 brands from 119 different manufacturers have promised to remove plastic microbeads from their products.
“Eliminating the use of plastic bags, straws or plastic utensils individually may not seem like a lot, but it adds up when you consider that there are seven billion of us on the planet.”
Dr. Mason is also leading research on another non-biodegradable material that is finding its way into the freshwater food chain — synthetic fibers from materials commonly used for fleece clothing and blankets. Tiny fibers from the fabric are thought to enter the ecosystem during the wash cycle, after which their small size allows them to pass through filtration systems at wastewater treatment facilities. The fibers are ingested by fish and enter the food web, introducing chemical contaminants that are potentially harmful to both aquatic organisms and humans, including endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins and carcinogens.
Dr. Mason is also using her expertise to expand her focus to include the presence of microplastics in drinking water. In March 2018, the results of a new study conducted by Dr. Mason on analyzed bottled water from nine countries — the U.S., China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Lebanon, Kenya and Thailand —revealed that 93 percent showed some contamination from microplastics, or plastic debris less than five millimeters in length. This study has prompted plans for a review by the World Health Organization. Dr. Mason was recently invited to join the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) Working Group 40, a body that advises the United Nations on the scientific aspects of marine environmental protection. GESAMP is presently working on a paper regarding methods for sampling and reporting data for plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, as well as in freshwater.
Dr. Enric Sala, a marine ecologist, is recognized for his worldwide efforts to survey, research and protect the Earth’s remaining pristine ocean places. A National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, Dr. Sala’s career is dedicated to restoring the health and productivity of the Earth’s oceans, and his more than 120 scientific publications are widely recognized and implemented in conservation efforts.
Dr. Sala is the founder and leader of National Geographic’s Pristine Seas, a project that draws on exploration, research, economic and policy analysis, together with effective media outreach, to inspire country leaders to protect the last truly wild places in the world’s oceans while ensuring that they will be effectively managed for years to come. Pristine Seas works in partnership with heads of state, local governments and communities, non-governmental organizations and business leaders to implement change. Since its creation, Pristine Seas has undertaken 26 expeditions and helped establish 19 marine protected areas (MPAs) to help safeguard more than five million square kilometers of the ocean. Two additional MPAs are expected to be established this year.
“Studies suggest that we need at least 30 percent of the ocean under protection, not only to save marine life, but to save us as well…Humans need a healthy ocean to survive.”
The 19 marine reserves inspired by the exploration and research conducted by Dr. Sala and his team include a broad representation of marine ecosystems, from shallow coral reefs to deep seamounts, from the Russian Arctic to Cape Horn in Chile, through tropical archipelagos and temperate seas harboring underwater forests of giant kelp. The best-known of these areas is probably in Ecuador, where Dr. Sala worked with the government to create a new marine sanctuary around the Galápagos Islands of Darwin and Wolf.
Dr. Sala dreams of a day where fishing boats are nowhere to be found in the open ocean. His long-term vision is to eliminate fishing on the high seas—those areas of open ocean beyond the 200 miles from any country’s shoreline—and to end the $4 billion being used to subsidize high seas fishing, which often involves the use of massive nets that pull up everything in their path, leaving behind entire swaths of the ocean devoid of marine life.
Linda Rottenberg, a social entrepreneur and global nonprofit CEO, is recognized for her leadership of Endeavor, the first organization of its kind to create opportunities for entrepreneurship and support the growth of companies in emerging economies around the world and in the United States.
The concept for Endeavor was developed following Ms. Rottenberg’s experiences in Argentina working with Ashoka, a global organization that identifies and invests in leading social entrepreneurs. Ms. Rottenberg observed that cultural and economic barriers were severely limiting entrepreneurship and the growth of new or young companies.
Believing that supporting high-impact entrepreneurs is the best way to create jobs and stimulate growth in emerging economies, Ms. Rottenberg co-founded Endeavor in 1997 as a new kind of nonprofit to help entrepreneurs and businesses overcome barriers to success. In each location, the Endeavor team curates a small group of local business leaders to fund local operations, forms a board of directors and builds a local volunteer network to mentor vetted entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are selected through a rigorous, 12- to 18-month process, after which they are given access to an international group of mentors, advisors and potential funding sources.
Under Ms. Rottenberg’s leadership, Endeavor has overseen chapter launches in 30 countries, including locations in South America, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia. In 2013, Endeavor launched the first U.S. affiliates in Miami, Detroit, Louisville, Atlanta, Puerto Rico and Buffalo. New chapters in Northwest Arkansas and Denver are planned for 2019.
To date, Endeavor has screened 60,000 prospective companies, choosing over 2,000 high- impact entrepreneurs and business owners to support. Collectively, these companies have created an estimated 1.5 million jobs and generated over $15 billion in revenue.
“Twenty years ago, there wasn’t even a word in Spanish or Arabic or Turkish for entrepreneur.”
Endeavor companies cover a variety of fields, including software, retail and consumer technology, smart city services, food and beverage, data and media, financial technology, healthcare, education and agriculture. On average they employ over 700 people each and grow two times faster than a typical company, with a pace of job creation that is said to be five times faster than average.
In 2012, Endeavor Catalyst Funds was created with investment capital of over $115 million and have co-invested alongside world-class venture capital and growth funds in Endeavor entrepreneur-led companies in 19 countries. With 80 percent of the funds supporting Endeavor companies, the remaining 20 percent will help fulfill Endeavor’s quest to become entirely self-sustaining.
Through Endeavor, Ms. Rottenberg is not only helping to drive economic and social change, she has established a model of business leaders giving back as mentors and investors with a stake in the health and growth of their local business communities.
This year’s awardees are exemplary for well-documented achievements in their respective disciplines, but more importantly, they have demonstrated an unwavering determination to create change, to foster good and to inspire new thinking, regardless of obstacles.
Each has taken their talents, the opportunities they have had to learn and study and achieve, and channeled these gifts into a life’s work that is making a better, more sustainable world for us and our children.
They are an inspiration to us all, and a reminder of humankind’s capacity for good.
— Teresa Heinz, Chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation
This year, the Heinz Awards celebrates 23 years of honoring the outstanding contributions of those who are changing our world for the better.