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Neil Hetherington, 32 Chief executive officer, Habitat for Humanity, Toronto


Her name is unknown to him, but her sense of pride left an indelible mark on Neil Hetherington. While working as a volunteer in Uganda for Habitat for Humanity in the summer of 1995, Mr. Hetherington attended a dedication service in which a house was formally handed over to a widow with four children.

"That was a pivotal moment in her life," Mr. Hetherington recalls. "Her family moved out of a mud hut into a simple, decent home, one they could afford to be proud of. It was a great feeling."

From then on, Mr. Hetherington acquired "habititus" -- something he has yet to shake off. A political science graduate from the University of Western Ontario who wielded a hammer doing summertime home renovations, Mr. Hetherington returned from his African stint and worked for four years as a project manager for Tridel Corp., a major condo builder. But he felt a need to return to the cause of building homes for low-income families, and he worked for the organization as a volunteer in Toronto.

In 2000, to his own surprise, he was offered the job of heading the chapter, which at the time was little-known and completed one home every two years. "That moment in Africa was phenomenal, and considering the need in this country for affordable housing, I wanted to be part of the movement that would change that."

At 26, and with no experience in running an organization, Mr. Hetherington embarked on a path that would change it dramatically. Today, with a staff of 29 people and an army of construction volunteers, it is building 50 homes a year.

"We are helping more families than ever, and engaging more volunteers. How cool is that?"

Mr. Hetherington credits Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity in the United States, who coaxed him into raising the annual output. "He said, 'You should be doing 50.' From letters and personal calls, he really inspired me."

Finding volunteers is becoming less of a challenge, but Mr. Hetherington says it is still difficult to get land and lumber. Still, he manages to get parcels of land here and there, and companies willing to donate materials. "When you donate a door, you can see it. People want to see the tangible result of their donations. Habitat for Humanity is the best vehicle to do that."

With a target of 100 homes a year by 2010, he is looking more to corporations to supply volunteers. "We're saying, 'Why don't you get strategically philanthropic with Habitat for Humanity? You get to team-build, see the results and change the lives of families.' "

Steven J.M. Jones, 38 Head of bioinformatics and associate director, Genome Sciences Centre, British Columbia Cancer Agency, Vancouver


Growing up on a sheep farm in Wales was a nascent education in biology for Steven J.M. Jones, although he scarcely realized it at the time.

"We were very interested in agriculture, selective breeding, how you could improve your blood lines," he recounts. "Of course, the process that underlies all that was completely invisible to me."

Indeed, much of what is now known of genetics was everywhere invisible and nameless then. Today, it is the emergent science of genomics, the study of DNA sequencing and gene behaviour, and bioinformatics, also known as computational biology, that is bringing a vast interior world into view, where medicine labours to learn about things that go wrong.

The endeavour is one at which Dr. Jones has already earned international prominence, serving as the key participant in a genetics investigation at Cambridge's Sanger Institute, which resulted in the computational derivation of the first-ever complete genomic sequence of a multi-cellular organism.

That was in the late 1990s, and among the attentive onlookers across the ocean was Canada's Dr. Michael Smith, co-founder of the Genome Sciences Centre.

"Dr. Smith wanted to set up a genomics centre in Vancouver which would focus the power of genomics on cancer itself," says Dr. Jones, who had previously taken a graduate degree at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. "It didn't take a huge amount of convincing."

While genomics and bioinformatics have created a surge of new science efforts globally, GSC offered Dr. Jones a context in which basic research and computational analysis on gene expression would be geared to medical applications.

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