Heinz Awards honor 5 for innovative work

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The winners of this year's Heinz Awards range from a best-selling fiction author who also teaches medicine at Stanford University, to a 31-year-old entrepreneur who uses technology to train workers in remote and impoverished locations.

All five winners being honored for their innovative work on global and social issues will share $1.25 million in prize money from the Heinz Family Foundation, which is based Downtown.

The awards, announced Tuesday, were established in 1993 by Teresa Heinz Kerry and the foundation as a way to honor the memory and spirit of her late husband, U.S. Sen. John Heinz III, who died in a plane crash in 1991.

This year's recipients, Mrs. Kerry said in a news release, "are willing to challenge the status quo, to be passionate in the pursuit of bettering the world we live in and to apply whatever strengths we have to the hard work of transformation." They are, according to award category:

Arts and humanities -- Abraham Verghese, a doctor and author based at Stanford University whose fiction and nonfiction writing, including the best-selling novel "Cutting for Stone," focus on his belief that healing must go beyond medical diagnosis and scientific treatments to address patients' emotions and vulnerabilities.

Environment -- Jonathan Foley, professor and director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota where he has conducted research on the global environment and how to improve the efficiency of food production.

Human condition -- Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy in Mountain View, Calif., an educational nonprofit that produces videos and software to allow students to learn skills at their own pace.

Public policy -- Sanjeev Arora, a doctor based in Albuquerque who specializes in liver disease at the University of New Mexico, and who created a model to expand primary care clinicians' ability to manage complex medical conditions including hepatitis C and the HIV virus.

Technology, the economy and employment -- Leila Janah, an entrepreneur based in San Francisco who founded Samasource, a nonprofit that provides Internet-based training for workers in poor and developing nations; and SamaUSA which trains low-income workers at community colleges in the U.S.

Each winner will receive $250,000 and a medallion at a ceremony to be held April 3 at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District.

The foundation that administers the awards program is chaired by Mrs. Heinz Kerry but is a separate entity from the Pittsburgh-based Heinz Endowments, which she also chairs and which is among the top 50 largest foundations in the U.S. with assets of about $1.5 billion. The family foundation's assets had a market value of $117 million, according to its 2012 federal tax filing.

Joyce Gannon: jgannon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1580.

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