Swatil Mahmud

Swatil Mahmud

Co-Founder, Swayong

“Women’s stories are universal,” says Swatil Mahmud, co-founder of Swayong, a youth and women-led platform that aims to tackle social injustice through storytelling. Along with her sister, Kazi Mitul Mahmud, Swatil created Swayong to be a safe, inclusive, and constructive space for conversation and growth and where people are able to interact meaningfully with sensitive topics, breaking down inhibitions about women’s issues that are often burdened with shame. 

Swatil grew up in and is based in Bangladesh, where women’s roles are traditionally defined by their responsibilities as wives and mothers. Her mother, a nurse, teacher and director of a masters’ level nursing program, was a powerful role model for Swatil and her sister, who both travelled the world to study. Swatil has returned to Bangladesh to work as a communications and development professional and, through Swayong, to share the stories of real women and girls in order to dismantle social injustices, one story at a time. 

Swayong, which translates as ‘self’ from the Bangla language, was founded in 2020 as a pandemic project with 11 volunteers. The platform now boasts a team of 65, referred to as Swayong Warriors, who fight gender-based social injustice.  

The first stories shared by Swayong were those of frontline healthcare workers, hospital staff, aid workers and journalists during COVID-19. The platform provided, and continues to provide, a safe and inclusive space for women of all ages and from all walks of life, including people with disabilities, transwomen, indigenous women, gender-diverse folks and other marginalized communities. Swayong has reached over 850,000 people in almost all the major cities in Bangladesh and also communicates through their website www.swayong.org and via Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Since its inception, Swayong has run 23 campaigns on issues such as body positivity, curtailed bodily autonomy, sexual harassment in public places, child abuse, transgender awareness and parental leave.  Campaign topics, which are not limited to women’s issues, all feature factual information and data illustrated by personal stories. Swayong also produces Angur Fol Tok (Grapes are sour), a live talk livestreamed on Facebook, where eminent activists and experts come together to talk about issues related to social injustice and taboo and “shameful” topics.  

Under Swatil’s leadership, Swayong organized a feminist storytelling festival to promote sensitization to feminist, sexuality, and marginalization issues through panel discussions, storytelling and cultural performances.  As part of the festival, members of feminist groups, LGBTQIA communities and transgender rights activists were invited to be “human books” to create a feminist human library. Swatil also produced Swayong’s feminist documentary Jongla phul (Wild Flower) to showcase diverse women who, like wildflowers, survive despite adversity. 

All of Swatil’s work aims to create public awareness and a sense of community and to influence national policy formulation and reform. She serves as a mentor and guide, collaborating with other young feminists to expand the impact of her work and to ensure a larger reach of her advocacy initiatives. She is one of the founding members of Feminists Across Generations, an intergenerational feminist alliance that brings together activists and other individuals to stand up against gender-based violence and abuse against women. As part of her feminist advocacy and activism, Swatil mobilizes and leads activities like protests and flash mobs to raise awareness about gender inequality and violence against women.

Collaboration is essential to the success of Swatil’s work and Swayong frequently collaborates with organizations working on social justice issues to launch joint campaigns and projects. Swayong has conducted events and campaigns featuring storytelling as a tool for change that have been funded by the United Nations Development Programme, the Manusher Jonno Foundation, UK Aid, and Global Affairs Canada

Swatil believes youth must be included in the solution to achieve gender equality and wants young people to be a testament to the power of the collective.  Her advice to young women who wish to make meaningful change is “Be fearless and never underestimate the power of a storyteller!”

You can learn more about Swatil’s work and Swayong in the visualizations below.

Do you have an Impact Story to share? Reach out to us at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to have your story featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Adrija Jana

Adrija Jana

At only 18 years of age, Adrija Jana has been recognized, both internationally and in her home country of India, as an award-winning poet, spoken word artist, filmmaker and creative researcher. Despite these honours, Adrija doesn’t just think of herself as a creative artist but also as an activist whose art effectively protests against social injustices including domestic abuse, period poverty and education inequity. Adrija has channeled her creativity and energy to raise awareness about these issues and to empower others to speak out.

As a high school student at Mahadevi World Academy in Kolkata, India, Adrija served as a peer mentor for junior students while winning awards for her academic standing. She also taught creative and performing arts to disadvantaged children and mentored refugee children through her work with various NGOs.

Adrija has been involved in period poverty activism through her work at the Period Society, a youth-led non-profit which aims to improve menstrual and reproductive health. As a fellow at Civics Innovator fellowship at Civics Unplugged, she developed a case brief on the problem of menstrual stigma and period poverty in India. In addition to defining and analyzing the issues, Adrija recommended a two-pronged approach to be taken by the government for subsidy of period products and access to products in schools.

Adrija’s activism isn’t limited to issues in her home country. She has participated as a UN Model Delegate in more than 20 conferences and has led research projects about the effect of Covid-19 on education and on the opioid crisis in Arizona in her role as a research fellow in the 2020 and 2021 cohorts of Harvard Innovation Labs International Socioeconomics Laboratory.  

A prolific writer, Adrija is inspired by her favourite contemporary poet of color, Nayyirah Waheed, and novelist Margaret Mitchell.  She was inspired to write her first poem while in Grade 3 and reading about India’s nationalist movement for independence. The theme of gender equality runs through Adrija’s work – she recently published a paper on the Representation of Women in Literature to explore the role that literature plays in the portrayal of women’s social standing during the time they are written.

In addition to her research and poetry, Adrija creates documentaries that tell the inspiring stories of people who wouldn’t otherwise have a platform. Her films, including poetry documentaries, have been screened internationally to wide acclaim.

Adrija credits her mother as her biggest inspiration. “Her entire journey inspires me. She got married at a very young age, had me and my siblings, and was compelled to devote herself entirely to family life. She had to make great sacrifices, but never for once did she break down or give up. After we grew up, she started her own business to become self-reliant. After the national movement, it was her struggles that I expressed through my poetry. She is a living example of the heights one can scale if they persist.”

As Adrija is honoured for her work as an activist, poet and researcher, both in India and internationally, she is currently in her first year at University of Delhi, where she is studying English literature. Her goal is to pursue a PhD, in either the UK or the US, and to work as a researcher and professor while continuing her role as an activist. “This has become a very core part of me. I definitely see myself advocating for the issues I care about and to help communicate the voices of people who are normally ignored,” she said.

An exceptional young woman, Adrija has made great impact as a poet, researcher, social activist, artist and active citizen. When asked what advice she would give a young person who would like to get involved in issues as she does, Adrija says: “This is not something that is very easy to do. It may be easy to start something, but continuing with it will come with obstacles. If you are doing something that is considered revolutionary by traditional conventions, there will be backlashes. For example, in response to my poetry against marital rape and period poverty, I have received rape and death threats and other forms of cyber harassment. But you cannot let that deter you. All that matters is how determined you are. If you really believe something with all your heart, you should never let go of it.”

You can see more about Adrija’s impact in the visualizations below.

Do you have an Impact Story to share? Reach out to us at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to have your story featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Claudette McGowan

Claudette McGowan

Founder and CEO, Protexxa and Chair, CILAR

Claudette McGowan’s first mentor was her mother, a nurse who believed strongly in the importance of caring for and helping people. “There was always someone staying with our family, whether from the church or a family member,” she recalls. As a global information technology leader, entrepreneur, and mentor, Claudette puts into practice what was modelled by her mother by providing opportunities for participation, prosperity, and leadership.  

A graduate of Lakehead University and Athabasca University, with certifications from Ontario Tech University, York University, Harvard, and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, and an honorary doctorate from Carleton University, Claudette broke barriers as she advanced in her career. In 2020, Toronto Life recognized her as one of the city’s Top 50 Most Influential Torontonians. Digital Finance Institute honoured her as one of the Top 50 Canadian Women in FinTech, and the Women’s Executive Network recognized her as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada. In 2022, Claudette received the DMZ Woman of the Year Award and NACO, the National Angel Capital Organization, named her as a Nation Builder of the Year in Canada.  

In 2022, Claudette followed a calling to become an entrepreneur and founded Protexxa, a cybersecurity platform that leverages Artificial Intelligence to rapidly identify, evaluate, predict, and resolve cyber issues.  “Cybercrime has quadrupled since the pandemic” notes Claudette. “Through Protexxa, I can work with people around the world to help them assess cyber threats, train them to reduce cyber vulnerabilities and strengthen cyber capabilities.”

Fundamental to all of Claudette’s work is ensuring that support systems are in place for everyone, regardless of race, gender or age, in order to thrive and progress.  “There are 3.5 million open cybersecurity jobs in the world, 25,000 of them in Canada.  My goal is to create more cyber leaders,” she said.

To this end, Claudette helped found and is currently the chair of the Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism (CILAR), a group of senior Canadian business leaders committed to fighting systemic racism within the innovation economy.  CILAR was founded in 2020 to engage all people to participate in the growing innovation economy, which will soon represent half of the global GDP and workforce.  At CILAR, Claudette is one of the leaders overseeing the effort to focus on increasing access and opportunity for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour.  (BIPOC) men and women through five integrated pillars: 

Youth Development

Carve pathways for BIPOC Youth in the innovation economy through mentorships and access to programs that lead to meaningful employment.

Job Opportunities

Provide transformational employment opportunities.

Venture and Capital Support

Offer access to capital and programs to entrepreneurs seeking opportunities to grow their ideas into viable, sustainable and global platforms through BIPOC Venture Capital Funds.

Community and Leadership

Strengthen all communities by connecting Canada’s established innovators with aspiring innovators.

Inclusive Innovation and Technology

Establish technology and data standards to develop innovation enablers for both consumer and business purposes.

To help women succeed in the technology industry, Claudette recently helped launch the women-focused archangel fund, Phoenix Fire.  These angel-stage investment funds apply a systematic, disciplined approach to investing in women entrepreneurs across Canada. Phoenix Fire offers active portfolio management with experienced angel investors as well as access to high-potential, talented, entrepreneurial women.

When asked about the most significant point of her more than 20 years as a global information technology leader, Claudette points to her decision to leave her role as l Global Executive Officer of Cybersecurity at TD Bank to found Protexxa. “I saw a problem and an opportunity to offer solutions. I decided to go for it by building a new cyber platform and a phenomenal team. It’s been the most rewarding experience of my lifetime.”

Claudette McGowan has made outstanding contributions as a technology leader, mentor and entrepreneur.  Her work to increase access to careers in technology across Canada for BIPOC youth and innovators and to women, to train people to create cyber capabilities, and to foster a new generation of cyber leaders truly makes a profound impact for millions of people around the globe.

You can see more of Claudette’s work with CILAR and her recognitions over the years in the visualizations below.

Do you have an Impact Story to share? Reach out to us at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to have your story featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Kehkashan Basu

Kehkashan Basu, MS.M.

Founder/President, Green Hope Foundation

A humanitarian with a passion for empowering vulnerable communities, Kehkashan Basu, M.S.M., founded her own charitable organization at the age of 12 in Toronto, Ontario. Now, 10 years later, Green Hope Foundation works across 26 countries, helping more than 300,000 vulnerable women and girls live in a world where all voices are valued. Basu believes that every child has the right to education regardless of their gender, to a clean environment, and the freedom to decide their own destiny.

“I started at a time when advocacy for sustainable development didn’t involve the people who should be included in the process,” Basu said. “I really wanted to change that. Green Hope Foundation came about to address this lack of inclusivity. Over the last decade, working with my team on the ground, as well as engaging with those at the highest levels of policymaking, we’ve really seen our impact grow.”

Basu said Green Hope Foundation is focused on three pillars: sustainability, society and environment. They follow an intersectional approach, recognizing all three pillars in their work. 

“The first actions we really took were with education for sustainable development, reaching out to schools and trying to get children involved,” Basu said. “We also got involved in ground level actions, like tree planting and conducting clean ups.”

Basu started her advocacy journey by planting a tree on her eighth birthday, which falls on June 5: World Environment Day. The United Nations noticed her work and invited Basu to speak at one of the largest sustainable development conferences at the time, Rio+20, in 2012. 

“I grew up seeing my parents giving back to people and the planet their whole lives,” Basu said. “I thought everyone was doing something good for the environment and for their community. But, slowly and steadily, I realized there were a lot of other inequities in our world. There was a tremendous lack of inclusivity of children and women in achieving a sustainable world.” 

Green Hope Foundation has seen a tremendous amount of growth since it began a decade ago. The group has planted 950,000 trees so far and hopes to hit 1 million by the end of the year. 

“We are learning and growing every single day,” Basu said. “We understand that our work can really never stop. Even if we do achieve a sustainable world, we have to do something to maintain that.”

In 2015, Green Hope Foundation installed solar panels to an area in western India with no access to electricity. The panels are still in use today, and have helped the area thrive.

“We have an energy system that enables farming, we have a full solar grid for their schools,” Basu said. “The children, and the girls specifically, are getting lessons in STEM in a solar-powered computer lab.”

The organization plans to continue expanding into the future, upscaling current projects and thinking of new ways to engage. “We want to continue to educate the younger generation about why it’s important to care for the community and the planet,” Basu said. 

Basu received her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, majoring in environmental studies and minoring in women and gender studies and physical and environmental geography. “Those subjects were a no-brainer for me,” she said. “I wanted to get a degree in something that I was passionate about.” Now, Basu is in her first year of her MBA at Cornell University. By specializing in business, she hopes to engage the private sector in the work of Green Hope Foundation in the future. 

Last month, Basu was named the winner of the 2022 Impactful Actions Award, an annual award presented by Profound Impact™ Corporation to recognize individuals who are inspiring collaborative solutions to difficult global problems.

“It’s a huge honour,” Basu said. “I really like that it’s focused on impact, because it’s a motivation for me to continue to do more, create more impact and inspire others.”

You can see highlights of Basu’s education and accomplishments in the visualizations below:

You can see highlights of the work of Green Hope Foundation in the visualizations below:

Do you have an impact story to share? Let us know at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to be featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Impactful Actions Award Finalists

Environmental activists, scientists, and government advocates – the finalists for the 2022 Impactful Actions Award are global leaders exemplifying collaboration while making a positive impact on the world around us. The Impactful Actions Award is presented annually and celebrates individuals who inspire collaborative solutions to difficult global problems.

We’d like to introduce this year’s finalists (in alphabetical order) and provide three short stories of impact. The winner will be announced on September 14th at the 3rd annual Profound Impact Day. 

L-R (In Alphabetic Order) Kekashan Basu, M.S.M., Dr. Mona Nemer, Dr. Neil Turok

Kehkashan Basu, M.S.M.

Kehkashan Basu, M.S.M., began her commitment to making the world a better place when she was a child. 

“When I was seven, I saw an image of a dead bird with its belly full of plastic. That was very disturbing to me,” Basu said. “I realized that I had to do something to stop that from happening again.” 

She planted her first tree at eight years old and founded her own humanitarian organization, the Green Hope Foundation, at the age of 12. The foundation is now celebrating its 10th anniversary.

“I wanted to be able to bridge that lack of inclusivity and really empower those who don’t have access to bringing about change in their own spheres of influence,” Basu said. 

The Green Hope Foundation is a global social enterprise working across 26 countries impacting more than 300,000 people. The group works closely with vulnerable communities, bringing them education for sustainable development, and turning that education into ground-level actions focused on water, sanitation, clean energy and food security. 

“Overall, we’re working to create an equal and peaceful society so that we are able to really leave no one behind and ensure a life of dignity for all,” Basu said. 

Mentorship and collaboration are at the heart of Green Hope Foundation’s work. “You can’t do this on your own,” Basu said. “You need to be able to work with others, share best practices, see where they’re succeeding, and learn from that as well. It’s really about joining hands to bring our effort together, because at the end of the day, it’s our common humanity, it’s our common planet.”

Basu hopes her work through Green Hope Foundation will continue to inspire people to give back to their community and protect the planet. “We want the Green Hope Foundation to be in every country, ensuring we’re able to change the mindsets of those all across society.”

The visualization below showcases Basu’s past accomplishments and awards:

Dr. Mona Nemer

A leader in providing scientific advice for policy development, Dr. Mona Nemer was named Chief Science Advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017. In her role, Dr. Nemer helps to ensure that science is taken into consideration in government decision-making.

“Increasing the visibility and understanding of science is an important aspect of the work of my office, as it helps provide people with the tools they need to make good decisions for their lives,” Dr. Nemer said. 

As Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Nemer is responsible for offering expert advice on key scientific issues. She also assesses how the federal government supports quality scientific research and recommends ways to improve that support. “Science is our best tool for understanding and being able to make predictions about the world,” she said. 

Prior to taking on the role of Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Nemer was Vice President of Research and Director of the Molecular Genetics and Cardiac Regeneration Laboratory at the University of Ottawa. A leader in molecular cardiology, Dr. Nemer has discovered several genes associated with development and function of the heart. Her research has contributed to further development of diagnostic testing for heart failure and genetic birth defects. 

Dr. Nemer has served on multiple national and international advisory committees and boards, including as an Executive Committee Member of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force. Dr. Nemer put together the COVID-19 expert panel, bringing together researchers and practitioners to provide multidisciplinary advice on aspects of the covid pandemic from infectious disease research and disease modelling to behavioural sciences. The panel helped to bring emerging scientific information about COVID-19 to the Prime Minister and Cabinet in a timely manner to ensure Canada was handling the pandemic in the most effective way possible.

“We saw scientists step up and not only provide advice to governments, but communicate and explain science to the public on a variety of issues,” Dr. Nemer said. “That is because there was really no aspect to the health crisis that shouldn’t be informed by science.”

Dr. Nemer’s work has expanded and diversified scientific advice provided to the federal government by establishing a multidisciplinary network of federal scientific advisors. She worked to help create the Interdepartmental Indigenous STEM Cluster to inform and advance Indigenous innovation in natural science stewardship. Dr. Nemer has a strong commitment to educating the next generation of scientists, supervising more than 100 graduate and postgraduate students around the world during her time in academics. Now, as Chief Science Advisor, she continues to help develop young scientific minds through her pan-Canadian youth council, which provides evidence-based input on scientific issues affecting young people.

The visualization below showcases Dr. Nemer’s past accomplishments and awards:

Dr. Neil Turok 

After spending years as a theoretical physicist, Dr. Neil Turok wanted to do something to give back to his home continent and to the global scientific community. Nearly two decades ago, he was prompted by his father to write up a concept note describing his idea for a new kind of centre for advanced scientific training, in Africa. The note was shared with a range of interested parties and the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) was born. Dr. Turok, now the Higgs Chair of Theoretical Physics at the University of Edinburgh, was a Professor at the University of Cambridge when AIMS’ first centre was launched in Cape Town, South Africa.

“As a theoretical physicist and a cosmologist, I don’t exactly work on useful things. I work on what happened at the Big Bang and where the universe is going,” Dr. Turok said. “Just about the only useful thing I could do was teach people math, computing and related skills.”

Students travel from across Africa to take part in the program, where they learn from the best lecturers from around the world. Now, more than 19 years since its inception, AIMS graduates over 350 students at Master’s level each year, at centres in Cameroon, Ghana, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa.

“As soon as we started, we were overwhelmed with the enthusiasm of the students,” Dr. Turok said. “They said, ‘this is a totally life-changing experience.’ And then all of the international lecturers who came to teach them said, ‘this is the best teaching experience I’ve ever had, because suddenly I’m with these super enthusiastic students from many different cultures and backgrounds.’”

Spots at AIMS are fully funded, including travel, medical insurance, accommodation and tuition. Students make meaningful connections with like-minded scientists around the world. Most go on to lecturing positions at African universities or into industry.

“These students come, in general, from very disadvantaged backgrounds. They come to us because they can’t afford to pay for a scholarship to go overseas to Europe or the U.S. for further study,” Dr. Turok said. “AIMS provides an environment where they can really thrive.”

Dr. Turok said AIMS plans to create five more centres in the next 10 years, scaling up its postgraduate training and research as well as teacher training and STEM high school programs. Dr. Turok predicts a wave of highly motivated young African scientists entering and positively impacting global science. 

The visualization below showcases Dr. Turok’s past accomplishments and awards:

Do you have an impact story to share? Let us know at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to be featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Jay Krishnan

Jay Krishnan

CEO, Accelerator Centre

An innovative thinker with a global mindset, Jay Krishnan believes that the time to invest in Waterloo Region’s ambitious tech entrepreneurs is now. Krishnan, who has more than 20 years of global experience working with businesses in the startup space, took over the role of CEO at the Accelerator Centre in March of 2021 and he’s determined to uncover entrepreneurs who have what it takes to be successful on the world’s stage. Before coming to Waterloo, Krishnan was a General Partner at Mantra Capital and the first CEO at T-Hub, India’s largest startup incubator. He was drawn to Waterloo Region because of the high potential tech talent that is relatively undiscovered on a global scale. 

“Any ecosystem needs to have momentum, density, and diversity, and I think Waterloo has all these three,” Krishnan said. “It still remains untapped, as seen through the lens of the global perspective.”

Krishnan is at the centre of many moving pieces in Waterloo’s tech ecosystem. He believes the region has high-pedigree institutions, producing talented individuals who may not have the tools they need to commercialize their ideas. That’s where the Accelerator Centre comes in to help. “The Accelerator Centre, as an organization, is truly positioned to be in the centre of the track for these companies,” Krishnan said. The organization works closely with founders who may not have the business experience or support to find success on their own, offering support through various programs. 

“Our goal is to take the region and the Accelerator Centre global to generate demand and discoverability of tech developed in Waterloo to the world,” Krishnan said. “We don’t need to confine ourselves to Canada. If anything, I think COVID demonstrated that we can go global by hanging out on the internet.”

Businesses coming to the Accelerator Centre can access a variety of programs, including incubation, story acceleration, and the recently announced AC:Studio program, which focuses on the entrepreneur first before the tech to build-up strong founders and teams. The Accelerator Centre offers in-person and virtual events, funding opportunities, product launch support and mentorship. Companies looking to enter Canada can also do so with support from the team of experts at the Accelerator Centre and by accessing Canada’s Start-Up Visa program. “It really depends on where you are as a company in your lifecycle,” Krishnan said. “We have structured programming that helps you along your journey,” Krishnan said. This structured programming includes high-touch mentorship to help companies with their business ideas and commercialization. The Accelerator Centre also helps generate demand and discoverability for science and tech clients in Waterloo Region.

The Accelerator Centre is working on a key initiative that will make it the most inclusive startup ecosystem in the world. The centre’s EDI plan, a two-year initiative, is fully available to the public and includes internal teams, board members, mentorship models, and entrepreneur programs. “You have to make yourself accountable and transparent,” Krishnan said. 

Heading into the future, Krishnan believes Waterloo Region’s tech talent is poised to lead in the new post-pandemic reality. “If we have the capability, and we do, there should be no reason why we are not appealing to the world.” Jay’s unique entrepreneur-first approach and the raw talent within Waterloo Region make a perfect pairing for global impact.

The visualizations below show Krishnan’s career highlights, along with some of the businesses he’s worked with since joining the Accelerator Centre in 2021.

Do you have an impact story to share? Let us know at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to be featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Charmaine Dean

Dr. Charmaine Dean

Vice President, Research & International, University of Waterloo

A leading researcher in disease mapping innovation, Dr. Charmaine Dean uses spatial analysis to solve large, capacity-related problems. 

“My research has all been in big files, big questions – firefighting, fire science, forest ecology,” Dr. Dean said. “I led a national network related to understanding fire on the landscape and how we should deal with it, given that it was such an important question for Canada and it still is.” Prior to researching fire science, Dean worked with the Ministry of Health in British Columbia to analyze a flareup in suicides in one region. “I wondered, ‘how bad is it compared to the rest of the province? Can you do some analysis to understand where we should pull resources from in order to put more resources into child suicide?’” she said. Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed, Dean is using analytics to predict hospital capacity concerns and monitor COVID-19 case counts and wastewater signals.

Dean, who is Vice President, Research and International at the University of Waterloo,  is no stranger to the Waterloo Region. After completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Saskatchewan in 1980, she moved to the University of Waterloo for her graduate work, earning a masters degree in 1984 and a doctorate degree in 1988. “It was sort of a circle coming back here,” Dean said. She was drawn to the role at the University of Waterloo because the institution is working to develop an innovation ecosystem. “The whole region has grown tremendously in terms of entrepreneurship and innovation, especially the student ventures coming forward,” Dean said. “There’s a pulse of excitement related to that.”

Dean began her academic career at the University of Calgary before moving further west to join Simon Fraser University. In her time at Simon Fraser University, Dean had an integral role in establishing the Faculty of Health Sciences. “A lot of intentional and deliberate work was shaping this faculty,” she said. “We created three new programs that were completely oversubscribed.” Dean said the school expected to have 10 or 15 students in that first year, but ended up receiving 300 applications. “You can’t turn them away, because if you turn them away, you’re now telling them, don’t bother coming here.” Dean also helped dismantle a faculty at the school, which brought with it a different set of challenges. Dean said she focused on listening to peoples’ concerns throughout the dismantling process.

Dean returned to Ontario in 2011, serving as Dean of Science at Western University from 2011 to 2017. “That was such a privilege,” she said. “I was so honoured to be chosen for that role.” 

Now, at the University of Waterloo, Dean meets with faculty and interest groups, along with focusing on strategic alliances and partnerships with other academic institutions and collaborating with government, business and industry. Dean will also add a new portfolio in the fall – commercialization and entrepreneurship. “That’s one of the exciting things about being a leader, being able to see what an organization like the University of Waterloo needs and, through processes of discussion and consultation, making it happen.”

A female leader in an often male-dominated field, Dean said it’s important for organizations to have diversity at their leadership tables. “Diverse leadership brings diverse perspectives,” she said. “It’s really important to have women in leadership positions so that others can see that they have somebody to turn to for advice or for career support.” She encouraged people at the beginning of their careers to speak up and express themselves whenever possible. “Have the confidence to be bold and take small steps and recognize yourself as a leader,” she said. However, she also acknowledged that work spaces are not always inclusive and women often face barriers and biases that may prevent them from being authentic, voicing their opinions, and fully expressing themselves. “It is crucial that we continue to identify and eliminate these barriers for women and members of other historically excluded groups, ” she said.

Dean said she wants to impact the lives of her colleagues on an individual level, whether that’s helping them win an award, setting up a centre, or attracting new students to a school. She also wants to leave a legacy of improving things at an institutional level, making sure students feel safe and supported. Dean led an anti-racism taskforce at the University of Waterloo, working to create an anti-racism framework for the institution. She will continue to focus on sustainability, encouraging people to come together to solve big problems.

The visualizations below depict Dean’s accomplishments both in her career and in building research communities.

Do you have an impact story to share? Let us know at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to be featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Deborah MacLatchy

Dr. Deborah MacLatchy

President and Vice-Chancellor, Wilfrid Laurier University 

An academic leader committed to inspiring women in STEM and promoting diversity and inclusion, Dr. Deborah MacLatchy has been at the helm of Wilfrid Laurier University (Laurier) since 2017.

MacLatchy made the journey to Waterloo Region in 2007 after spending the early years of her academic career at the University of Winnipeg and University of New Brunswick. MacLatchy, who grew up in Nova Scotia, is no stranger to Southwestern Ontario. Her father is from Preston, now part of Cambridge, and she did her postdoctoral research at the University of Guelph. “It’s motivating to have returned to my dad’s roots,” MacLatchy said. 

She was first hired at Laurier as Dean of the Faculty of Science. In 2009, MacLatchy was appointed to the role of Vice President, Academic and Provost. She also served as Acting Vice President of Research from December 2014 to November 2015. “I’ve just fallen in love with Laurier and being a part of what happens in Southwestern Ontario,” MacLatchy said. “We’ve seen changes in cities rethinking themselves, going from an industrial age to being leaders in a new tech economy.”

MacLatchy has a research lab at Laurier, where she studies the effects of industrial contaminants on fish health. “I look at how fish reproduce and how they grow,” she said. Her research examines how fish are affected by operations like sewage treatment plants or pulp and paper mills, along with working with industries and municipalities on water quality to find solutions for any concerns at the source.

As a female leader of a major post-secondary institution, MacLatchy says it’s important for women to have role models. “They can see themselves being able to see those opportunities are real and if they have an interest or a passion for particular areas, that there will be opportunities for them,” she said. MacLatchy said there were very few female role models when she started university back in the 1980s. “There weren’t many women university professors in the sciences, maybe one per department,” she said. “For women of that era, we made our own role models.”

MacLatchy says women, and white women in particular, have greatly benefited over the past few decades. Now, she says she wants to see more diversity across all disciplines. That’s one goal of Laurier’s strategic plan for the future, focusing on thriving communities and future readiness. “What do the scientists of the future need to have, or the business people or the social workers of the future, the educators of the future?” MacLatchy said. “There’s an understanding that it’s not just what you’re doing, but how you’re doing it.”

As women break into STEM, MacLatchy encourages them to find their passions and connect with others in their chosen field. “I hope that you find the support that you need,” she said. “But, if you aren’t finding the support, know that you’re probably just in the wrong place at the wrong time and that there are other supports out there, there are other people who are able to support you. Maybe reach out a little bit wider than the circle that you’re in.”

MacLatchy hopes to inspire the next generation of women in STEM, leaving behind a legacy of increased diversity and inclusion across all academics.

You can view some of MacLatchy’s accomplishments in the images below.

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William T. Tutte

Professor William “Bill” Tutte

English Canadian codebreaker and mathematician 

Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Waterloo

May 14, 1917 – May 2, 2002

A world-renowned codebreaker and mathematician, William “Bill” Tutte left an indelible mark on Waterloo’s mathematical community. Twenty years after his death, he still has a profound impact on students studying combinatorics at the University of Waterloo.

Born in 1917 in Newmarket, England, Tutte came from a modest background but would go on to study at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was an active member of the Trinity Mathematical Society. “For him to make that rise is the stuff of storybooks,” said Dan Younger, Retired Professor Emeritus, Department of Combinatorics and Optimization, University of Waterloo, who was a Faculty colleague of Tutte.

Before Tutte made his way to Canada and helped shape the University of Waterloo into the institution it is today, he accepted an invitation to join a team of codebreakers working to decipher German codes in the Second World War. At Bletchley Park in 1941, Tutte was tasked with using samples of messages to uncover the structure of the machine generating German ciphers named “Fish”. Tutte successfully determined that structure without ever seeing the machine. Tutte then focused on developing an algorithm to decipher Fish codes, an algorithm that necessitated the creation of COLOSSUS, the world’s first programmable, electronic, digital computer, which was built in 1943. COLOSSUS played an essential role in the cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher. Tutte’s codebreaking work was used to decipher Fish codes until the end of the war. It is believed that breaking those codes meant the war ended two years earlier, saving countless lives.

Tutte moved to Canada in 1948 and spent 14 years at the University of Toronto. He joined the University of Waterloo in 1962, just five years after the institution first opened its doors. He was part of a group who went on to found the Faculty of Mathematics in 1967 and was a founding member of the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization. 

Tutte played an integral role in building the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics. He helped establish the reputation of the school and attracted combinatorialists from around the world.

“He came when it wasn’t a fully developed university and it became a primary place for scholars in mathematics to come,” Younger said.

Throughout his time at the University of Waterloo, Tutte stayed quiet on his role as a codebreaker during World War II, as he was bound under the Official Secrets Act of Britain. Younger, who first met Tutte at a conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1963, said Tutte didn’t share much of his experience at Bletchley Park.

“He never did talk about what he did in the war,” Younger said. 

Younger joined the Faculty of Mathematics in its inaugural year and was promoted to Professor in 1975. He became good friends with Tutte outside of work, often on weekends hiking on trails in and around Waterloo Region. “It was just a nice relationship in which we really didn’t have to talk unless we had something to say,” Younger said. 

Tutte retired in 1985, but stayed on with the Faculty as Professor Emeritus. He acted as Editor in Chief of the Journal of Combinatorial Theory until he retired. Tutte died on May 2, 2002 at the age of 84. 

The University of Waterloo awards the William Tutte Centenary Undergraduate Scholarship every year, the highest scholarship given to a student interested in combinatorics. The scholarship, which is worth $1,500, is funded by donations from people inspired by Tutte’s work. The scholarship isn’t just a financial gift, though. It also comes with an homage to Tutte’s childhood in England.

“If one gets the scholarship, one gets a bicycle,” Younger said. The bicycle represents Tutte’s journey as a youngster to a high school in the town of Cambridge. He bicycled 18 miles to and from school every day starting at the age of 11.

William Tutte Way was named in Tutte’s honour at the University of Waterloo in 2017. The road connects the three Faculty of Mathematics buildings at the university.

Tutte was one of the foremost scholars in combinatorics. In addition to numerous awards throughout his career and into his retirement, Tutte was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2001. The Canadian government founded the Tutte Institute for Mathematics and Computing (TIMC) in 2009.

“He certainly was the man,” Younger said.

Tutte’s academic legacy includes many students, including prominent scholars Dr. Ron Mullin, Dr. Scott Vanstone and Dr. Alfred Menezes.

Four generations of Mathematicians/Cryptographers. From left to right: Ron Mullin, Bill Tutte, Scott Vanstone, Alfred Menezes.

You can view some of Tutte’s accomplishments in the images below:

Profound Impact academic ancestry graph for Bill Tutte.

William “Bill” Tutte had a long, impactful career as a professor, codebreaker and mathematician. A Profound Impact career trajectory visualization details some of his most significant accomplishments.

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Ronald Cleveland Mullin

Ronald Cleveland Mullin

Dr. Ron Mullin

Distinguished Emeritus Professor, University of Waterloo 

Co-founder, Certicom 

A humble, dedicated professor and mathematician who is modest about his successes, Dr. Ron Mullin has made invaluable contributions to combinatorics, academia and cryptography. His career has spanned over 50 years with notable successes in both commercial and academic ventures. Along with Scott Vanstone and Gord Agnew, Ron Mullin co-founded Certicom, a leading cryptography company whose technology was licensed by the US National Security Agency (NSA), among many others, and later sold to Research In Motion (RIM), now known as  BlackBerry. Mullin was also Professor and Chair of Combinatorics and Optimization at the University of Waterloo and boasts one of the largest lineages in the Mathematics Genealogy project, with 20 PhD students and 180 descendants. 

“Teaching as a whole and getting good students and working with them, it’s a wonderful thing,” said Mullin. 

Even as a student, Mullin’s impact was profound. He was the first ever University of Waterloo graduate to receive an MA in mathematics in 1960. A bright and promising young mathematician and cryptology student, Mullin was recruited by the University of Waterloo to lecture while he completed his graduate studies. His skills were so impressive that the University’s head of mathematics used Mullin as bait to lure world class mathematician, who later was acknowledged as the World War II codebreaker and cryptography expert, William Tutte to the university with the intention of building out the department and recruiting top-tier talent. 

“It was quite an honour,” Mullin reflected, when asked about his role in attracting Tutte to the university. 

After completing his PhD under Tutte, Mullin went on to pursue a career as a professor at the University of Waterloo until 1996, rising the ranks from lecturer to distinguished professor emeritus and adjunct professor. Described by two of his former students as brilliant, encouraging and easy going, Mullin always left a lasting impression on those he taught, as well as his colleagues. 

“Ron taught my first computer science class,” said Alfred Menezes, one of Mullin’s academic grandchildren and professor in the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization at the University of Waterloo. “To him, the little details didn’t matter. He thinks about the big stuff – the important stuff…he realized the value of ideas.” 

One of those ideas became the foundation for Mullin’s commercial venture – Certicom, a leading supplier of wireless security solutions. Mullin was heavily involved in the company’s patent program. Certicom’s signature product was Elliptic Curve Cryptography, which speeds up the encryption process, utilizing shorter encryption keys without loss of security. This technology played a crucial role in the advancement of smartphone and other mobile devices and accelerated the growth of a number of companies including RIM. 

“One good thing about it – it’s fast and secure for certain kinds of encryption processes. And these turned out to be the ones that are very helpful in smartphones,” said Hugh Williams, retired computer science professor and Mullin’s academic son. “So in a sense, Scott, Gord and Ron realized this was a coming thing and they were quite skillful in introducing this company.”

After retiring from the University of Waterloo as a Distinguished Professor Emeritus and stepping away from his commercial ventures, Mullin went on to enjoy a second career at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. He established a Cryptography Group at the university, a position he held until his “second retirement”, at the age of 75. Mullin also became the first recipient of the Stanton Medal, which is awarded by the Institute for Combinatorics and its Applications to honour significant lifetime contributions promoting the discipline of combinatorics through advocacy, outreach, service, teaching and/or mentoring. In addition, Mullin was awarded a doctor rerum naturalium honoris causa (Honorary Doctorate Degree) from the University of Rostock in Germany. 

While Mullin’s professional accomplishments are impressive, his legacy cannot be fully understood without including his mathematics genealogy. A number of graduate students that studied under Mullin became very prominent in cryptography and computer science including: Hugh Williams, who was instrumental in establishing one of Canada’s leading research centres in cryptography and information security; Scott Vanstone, world-renowned cryptography and co-founder of Certicom; Douglas Wiedemann, who designed an algorithm for linear systems of equations before joining the NSA; Bimal Roy, head of R C Bose Centre for Cryptology and Security in India; and Evi Nemeth, engineer, author and teacher who played a prominent role in the development of the Unix computer operating system.  

“He has had many students and ultimately, for an academic, that’s your impact – your students. What they end up doing and how they add to what it was that you did,” said Williams.

You can view some of Dr. Mullins’ accomplishments in the images below:

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