Important global conversations, such as summits and convenings, have not always invited young people to the table. That’s a mistake. And one that many people are helping to correct.
Thankfully, we are living in an age where young people are more engaged in, and more empowered to be part of, these conversations. Armed with passion and technology, they will be a force for global good on scale never before seen.
Recognizing the enormous potential of today’s youth, the United Nations announced at this year’s Social Good Summit the inaugural class of the UN Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals. Spearheaded by the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, the initiative annually recognizes young leaders who are driving change to help realize the global sustainable development agenda.
Between 2016 and 2030, when the goals aim to be reached, a new “class” of 17 young leaders will be announced each year. This year’s class was selected from more than 18,000 nominations and will work with the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth on efforts to engage young people in realizing the world’s collective energy to end poverty, fight inequality, and tackle climate change.
Take a moment to meet the incredible class of 2016 by reading these shortened biographies from the UN.
Trisha Shetty, a 25-year-old from India, launched SheSays in 2015. It’s a platform to educate, rehabilitate and empower women to take direct action against sexual assault in India. Trisha shares, “I decided to do something when I realized that I could go online to find information about restaurants, but for victims of sexual abuse, there was nothing.”
Anthony Ford Shubrook is a 30 year-old from the United Kingdom and a lifelong advocate for disability rights and access. At age 17, Anthony made legal history when he successfully lobbied to attend college in London. Born with cerebral palsy, Anthony helps empower people living with disabilities from all walks of life. He states, “I never let my disability prevent me from achieving my goals.”
At 25 years old, Rita Kimani of Kenya is the co-founder of FarmDrive, a social enterprise that connects unbanked and underserved smallholder farmers to credit. Rita says growing up she witnessed the struggle of families to “support themselves through agriculture, in part because there was a lack of financial inclusion, which is critical if we are to see rural communities thrive.”
Rainier Mallol is a 25-year-old from the Dominican Republic. A computer engineer by training, he co-founded AIME (Artificial Intelligence in Medical Epidemics), which developed a tool to predict major disease outbreaks by using artificial intelligence, epidemiological expertise, and data analytics. “We are tackling diseases before they happen,” Rainier declares.
Edda Hamar, a 27-year-old from Iceland and Australia, co-founded Undress Runways, building a movement that pushes for sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry without compromising style. Edda states, “Our purpose is to educate consumers about sustainable fashion and to change the stigma around it. You don’t have to compromise your style to be ethical.”
23-year-old Vincent Loka of Indonesia is one of three founding partners of WateROAM, a social enterprise developing water filtration solutions that bring rapid access to clean drinking water in disaster-hit locations and helping promote social change in rural areas. Vincent says, “We are committed to bringing clean water to people everywhere.”
Samar Samir Mezghanni is a 28-year-old Tunisian-Iraqi writer with two records in the Guinness Book of World Records for early success as (at the time) the youngest writer in the world. She leverages her talent to advocate for youth empowerment around the world. Samar believes, “Our audacity as young people makes us unique actors in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Lutfi Fadil Lokman is a 28-year-old from Malaysia who founded and acts as the CEO of Hospitals Beyond Boundaries, a youth-led organization with a mission to build health care facilities serving underprivileged communities. Lutfi states, “We believe that empowerment of the community, rather than charity, is the key to sustainability.”
Carolina Medina is a 27-year-old from Colombia who co-founded and leads Agruppa, a startup that utilizes mobile phones to economically empower small businesses and lower prices for fresh produce. Carolina shares, “I want to contribute to making my country more equitable. The ultimate objective is to make healthy food available to everyone, no matter where they live.”
Jake Horowitz is a 28-year-old from the United States who co-founded and is editor-at-large of Mic, a media company targeted toward millennials. Jake says, “In 2011, we were inspired by young people who were taking to the streets and using technology in profound new ways. It was clear that the millennial generation holds a unique worldview that wasn’t being captured.”
Shougat Nazbin Khan, a 27-year-old from Bangladesh, established H. A. Digital School & College, now serving 600 students from 50 underprivileged communities in Bangladesh, with a focus on the socio-economic empowerment of women. “In a community vulnerable to violence, we are giving young people and children real hope for a better future,” declares Shougat.
Samuel Malinga is a 27-year-old from Uganda who grew up in the Naguru slum. He wanted to increase access to sanitation services in remote communities and founded Sanitation Africa, which developed a full-cycle sanitation system. He says, “It’s so painful to me that children die of preventable diseases brought about by simple sanitation issues that we know how to resolve.”
Safaath Ahmed Zahir is a 25-year-old from the Republic of Maldives. She is a leading activist dedicated to elevating the role of women in her country. Through her activism, she raised the profile of women’s economic empowerment. Her vision is, “More women in parliament, more women in policy-making, more women as Ministers, and more women Presidents.”
24 year-old Ankit Kawatra founded Feeding India in 2014 to address two issues at once: hunger and food waste. Today, Feeding India has a network of over 2,000 volunteers in 28 cities in India rescuing and redistributing excess food to help feed people in need. Ankit shares, “Our mission has always been to reach zero hunger.”
25-year-old Nikki Fraser is a tireless advocate for indigenous women and girls in Canada and worldwide. Nikki, who is a mother of two and from Tk’emlups Te Secwepemc, one of the 17 bands within the Secwepemc Nation, asserts, “I don’t want my children to think their lives are any less valued just because they’re indigenous.”
19-year-old Karan Jerath is from the United States. Following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill near his home in Texas, he was determined to find a solution. Karan invented a ground-breaking device that contains oil spills at the source, showing the power of youth as innovators. “I made it my mission to protect our oceans against future oil spills,” Karan declares.
Hailing from Mexico, 29-year-old Tere Gonzalez Garcia, whom I’ve had the privilege of working with, co-founded a nonprofit at the age of 16 and is now the president of Liter of Light Mexico, part of a global movement to repurpose plastic soda bottles to create sustainable light sources. Tere states, “We work directly with minorities and marginalized groups. I am committed to leaving no one behind.”
As you can see, young leaders are moving their local communities forward at an unprecedented pace. We will only reach the Sustainable Development Goals as a global community if we empower young people to show us the way.
[Photo: Stuart Ramson for UN Foundation]