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Two UW-Madison alumni honored as inspirational leaders by Heinz Awards

April 23, 2015

Photo: Jacob Wood speaking at 2011 commencement

Jacob Wood, president of Team Rubicon, speaks during a commencement ceremony at the Kohl Center in December 2011.


When a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti in January 2010, former Marine and 2005 UW–Madison graduate Jacob Wood, along with fellow veteran William McNulty, assembled a rapid-response team to provide aid. Their success gave rise to Team Rubicon, an organization of volunteer veterans armed with a new mission: providing swift and effective disaster relief.

Today, the Heinz Family Foundation named Wood the co-recipient of the 20th Heinz Award for the Human Condition. The accolade, one of only five made nationwide for extraordinary achievement in specific areas of endeavor, comes with an unrestricted cash award of $250,000. Wood will share the award with McNulty.

Since 2010, Team Rubicon has deployed emergency response teams in disaster zones spanning four continents and 11 countries, including Pakistan, the Philippines, South Sudan and across the United States. Now a 25,000-member global volunteer network in the United States, Team Rubicon is extending its model to other countries, including Norway, Australia and the United Kingdom, through a new organization called Team Rubicon Global. Trained to be nimble and adaptable, the volunteers are able to seize the critical window between disaster onset and the arrival of conventional relief agencies to save lives almost immediately.

After the suicide of a close friend and former Team Rubicon member who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, Wood and McNulty wanted to build a support network for veterans that complemented the sense of community created by their collaborative disaster relief work. They launched a mobile app called Position Report (POS-REP) that uses GPS technology to connect veterans to one another in their own communities as well as to support services and peer groups. POS-REP also enables veterans to reach out to peers or support organizations in times of need.

“By creating opportunities for veterans to continue serving others, (Wood and McNulty) are not only reconnecting many of our former military men and women with a deep sense of purpose, but they are also helping our society fundamentally change the way we talk and think about veterans,” says Teresa Heinz, chairwoman of the Heinz Family Foundation. “The men and women who have served in our military have so much to offer, and Team Rubicon demonstrates that by engaging them as pillars of community and caring.”

Photo: Aaron Wolf

Aaron Wolf has spearheaded a transformative approach to water disputes that emphasizes cooperation over conflict.

Additionally, the foundation recognized UW–Madison 1990 and 1992 graduate Aaron Wolf for his pioneering leadership in water diplomacy with the Heinz Award for Public Policy. Wolf, a geoscientist and professor at Oregon State University, has spearheaded a transformative approach to water disputes that emphasizes cooperation over conflict and combines 21st century insights with an appreciation for ancient wisdoms. Wolf will also receive a $250,000 unrestricted cash award.

From international water talks in southeast Asia and Africa, as well as work on the U.S.-Canada Columbia River Treaty and elsewhere in the western United States, Wolf has played a leading role in brokering critical agreements around what is increasingly the planet’s most precious resource. In both research and practice, he has carved out a new understanding of how water disputes can be resolved, embracing the notion that water need not be a barrier to peace, but can serve as a language for reconciliation.

“Water issues cross state and national boundaries, and his advocacy has driven treaties and agreements that recognize our competing demands on water resources and the vital importance of protecting those resources from a modern-day ‘tragedy of the commons,'” says Heinz. “Brave, innovative and diplomatically adept, Aaron Wolf has tackled what may very well become the defining issue of this century and given us a road map for how to navigate it.”

To prepare future generations of scholars and leaders in this field, Wolf recently joined other leading academics to found a consortium of 10 universities on five continents to build a global water governance culture focused on peace, sustainability and human security. In March 2015, he announced a partnership for a joint master’s degree program on water cooperation and peace.

Now in its 20th year, the Heinz Awards has recognized 123 individuals and awarded more than $21 million to the honorees. This year’s winners will receive their awards at a ceremony in Pittsburgh on May 13.