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(Jennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail/Jennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail)
(Jennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail/Jennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail)

Samantha Nutt, champion of children in war zones Add to ...

The Transformational Canadians program celebrates 25 living citizens who have made a difference by immeasurably improving the lives of others. Readers were invited to nominate Canadians who fit this description. Over several weeks, a panel of six judges will select 25 Transformational Canadians from among the nominees.

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Nominations remain open until November 26. Submit yours today.

Samantha Nutt, executive director of War Child Canada, has been selected as one of 25 Transformational Canadians.

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Samantha Nutt may run a charitable organization, but she doesn't believe in charity. For the executive director of War Child Canada, which delivers development and humanitarian aid in nine war-ravaged nations, corporate social responsibility is more complicated than throwing money at a good cause.

Dr. Nutt also wants Canadian companies to think about fair labour practices - and to ensure they aren't implicated in the suffering of civilians elsewhere.

"It really is about respecting human rights at all levels and working much more concertedly to ensure that our business practices are appropriate," she says. "There's a disconnect between our corporate social policies and the values that we defend and uphold as Canadians on an international level."

Dr. Nutt, 41, is no armchair critic. As a relief worker for the United Nations and other organizations since the mid-1990s, the young doctor has braved war zones in countries such as Burundi, Iraq and Somalia. A small and striking woman, Dr. Nutt takes risks that few men would.

Early on, she also found a way to transform her frustration and disillusionment with the suffering she'd witnessed into lasting change. In 1999, Dr. Nutt launched Toronto-based War Child with her husband Eric Hoskins, a dashing fellow physician and humanitarian who is now Ontario's minister of citizenship and immigration.

War Child has since grown into an $8-million operation funded by donors ranging from government agencies to high-net-worth individuals. Its 200 staff work with 200,000 people each year. Because War Child collaborates with and trains local partners, overheads are low. More than 90 cents of every dollar raised goes directly to field programs.

Dr. Nutt, a Toronto native who earned her medical degree at McMaster University and an MSc in public health at the University of London, explains that War Child focuses on three things. First, it provides education for children, many of whom have been exploited as soldiers or labourers in armed conflicts.

Second, it champions child rights by giving women and children access to legal aid. Having established successful legal training programs in Uganda, it's trying to do the same in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti and other places.

Third, War Child helps young people move from demilitarization to self-reliance and employment. In Darfur, Dr. Nutt says, it runs training centres in six camps for internally displaced people. "We've shown a tremendous amount of success there where they've been able to increase household income fourfold, and keep young people out of the militias."

A staff physician at Toronto's Women's College Hospital, Dr. Nutt was a global citizen from a young age. As a child, she lived in Brazil and South Africa, where her father worked as a shoe designer. Now that she has a five-year-old son, Dr. Nutt is spending less time abroad. Besides, she's busy writing a forthcoming book about the problem of war.

"The conflicts that we are seeing around the world - and this is rooted in my personal experience - they will not be solved militarily," says Dr. Nutt, who is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto's Department of Family and Community Medicine. "They will be solved by a consistent and sustained approach to development and to fostering the promotion of human rights on a global level."

Through War Child, Dr. Nutt has proven skilled at securing corporate funding and generating publicity. The outfit's many supporters from the Canadian business community include Aeroplan, John St. Advertising and Spring (Aldo Groupe). War Child has also enlisted musicians like Leslie Feist, Chantal Kreviazuk and Sum 41 to raise money through concerts, CDs and other efforts.

In all of its work, Dr. Nutt says, War Child strives to move beyond short-term emergency responses. "It's so much better for any international organization if they can rely on their donors and the public interest over the long term, and continue with programs that are sustainable."

If Dr. Nutt ever stops to question what she's doing, she only has to speak with War Child's overseas partners and the children whose lives they change. "When I hear from them and how excited they are and how passionate they are and how much progress they're making, then when I have those moments where I just think, 'Is this working?', that actually feels kind of indulgent," she says. "They need me to get up every day and do what I do. And that's why I do it."

Samantha Nutt on what makes a great leader

Leadership to me is about having the integrity and the drive and the ambition to have a vision for how to improve lives - whether that's through politics, whether it's through business, whether it's through humanitarian endeavours - and to be able to invest in that and to nurture others who support that goal and that vision as well. And to do that is really about being an effective mentor and communicator, and somebody who inspires people to be better and to really give back to their communities, whether that's on a local level or a global level.

On leading in life-threatening circumstances

I wear my heart on my sleeve. People know when I'm upset, people know when I'm frustrated, people know when I'm encouraged. And I think that when you are a leader, honesty is everything. So I would never pretend in a situation like that that I'm not awfully scared and concerned. At the same time, you really do have a responsibility to make sure that you are taking care of the health and safety of your team, and doing everything at your disposal to get them out.

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