No matter how many times our world has faced crisis, throughout history there have always been those brave few among us with the vision, insight, imagination and tenacity to stand up and change the course of history for the better. In a time in which we are facing seemingly endless global challenges, we are also witnessing even more real-life superheroes emerge, determined to set things right.
Born into a world that has never been more connected, a whole generation of ethical leaders is emerging, fired up and ready to say “enough” to injustice and inequality. These ambitious and passionate activists have the humility needed to learn from the giants who came before and the boldness to pick up the pieces where previous generations and world leaders have failed. One Young World is dedicated to developing a community of these bright, impactful young leaders, celebrating those who are spearheading change and building a fairer and more sustainable future for us all.
From ending world hunger and taking climate action, to fighting for better healthcare and education, One Young World is leaving no stone unturned in the movement for world peace and prosperity. That’s why we’re excited to introduce you to some of the brightest names in global development from the One Young World Community. Working towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, these are the incredible activists to keep on your radar in 2024.
Poverty has devastating effects on people and communities, and SDG 1 aims to tackle this. This admirable goal aims to eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, and reduce at least half of the population of those living in poverty worldwide by 2030. This year, the fight is represented by Angela F. Williams, president and CEO of United Way Worldwide. Angela has more than 30 years of leadership experience in the nonprofit, legal and corporate sectors, and is the first Black woman to lead America’s premier charitable network. An expert in building resilient, equitable communities, she ensures that those experiencing problems are also the ones at the heart of solving them. Serving 1,100 communities in 37 countries and territories around the world, her efforts are making life better for 48 million people a year.
SDG 2 is focused on creating a world free from hunger—and though that goal may sound daunting, it is possible. The SDG 2 representative is actress and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) Kat Graham, who started working with the organisation in 2013. Since then, she has visited refugee camps in Jordan, Ethiopia and Central America to raise awareness and advocate for the millions displaced in these regions. In their attempt to flee war, violence and persecution, these people now face further issues such as food insecurity and hunger, which in turn is hugely detrimental to their health, ability to focus on education or work and the quest to achieve economic stability.
Our world is still shaken by a pandemic and we remain braced for the possibility of another global health emergency. It is more important, and more urgent, than ever that we turn our attention to achieving SDG 3: the fight to ensure good health and well-being for everyone, wherever they happen to be born. This starts with providing safe, affordable healthcare, including vaccination programs, to people worldwide. But it is also imperative that healthcare systems take mental health as seriously as physical illness. For this, we take inspiration from voices like actor Lucy Hale, who demonstrates that mental health struggles can affect us all. Speaking at the One Young World Summit in Belfast in 2023, she said: “If you hear one thing from me today—your feelings matter and you matter.” These words may sound deceptively simple, but they can mean the world to those contending with their own health issues, whether mental, physical or both.
As the digital era rapidly enters a new phase, the divide between under-connected countries and those which are highly digitalized continues to widen due to the lack of high-quality, accessible education. Though we know that education is a vital tool in eliminating gender and wealth disparities, we still live in a world where almost 60 million children do not go to school and around 20 per cent of the global population cannot read or write. These figures climb devastatingly higher for women and girls. SDG 4—education for all—is championed by One Young World leader and literary phenomenon Rupi Kaur. Rupi’s unique and fearless self-expression as a feminist, poet, performer and artist exemplifies the power of literacy to transform not only our lives, but also the lives of those around us. The question we must ask ourselves is this: just how many budding Rupi Kaurs are among the 496 million illiterate women and girls who are being robbed of their right to an education?
The fight for gender equality (SDG 5) has had many wins in recent years, but with these come some alarming backslides. Hasina Safi, former acting minister for women’s affairs in Afghanistan, is the leader every feminist needs to get behind. Her impressive career spans 20 years in the national and international development sector, championing women’s rights worldwide and striving for peace. A crucial voice to listen to, Hasina’s call to action for allies everywhere is loud and clear: “I urge each of you to talk and remember the women of Afghanistan. Don’t think you are powerless. You can do a lot because you are a human being.”
It may be recognized by the United Nations as a fundamental human right, but it is all too common for people worldwide to lack access to clean water. This is the subject of SDG 6, and the focus of Abdoul Ouahabo Kevin Dipama’s work. Kevin works at World Waternet, a Dutch non-profit that supports developing nations such as Burkina Faso in their journey to improve the management of their water resources. He was responsible for piloting the Faso II water project, alongside creating two companies (Natuco and African Packaging and Print) to empower women and young entrepreneurs. A member of USAID’s Young African Leader initiative and the National Parliament of Burkinabé Youth for Water, he is making significant changes on an institutional level.
Ralph Nicolai Nasara, our SDG 7 clean renewable energy representative, is the definition of an innovator. For his high school science fair, he prototyped an end-of-pipe emissions measurement device for gasoline-powered tricycles. Now, he’s co-founder and chief technical officer at OOYOO, a company developing low-cost, high-performance filters that can selectively capture CO2 from a mixture of gases arising from emission sources with a low CO2 concentration. OOYOO supports a carbon recycling economy, reducing dependency on key resources, adding value across the carbon recycling chain and reducing emissions to ultimately make cities greener.
A flourishing community needs decent work and economic growth opportunities, as outlined in SDG 8. Sagufta Janif, executive director of Outsource Fiji, is a pioneering youth leader of this industry-led organisation dedicated to nurturing Fiji’s flourishing outsourcing sector, generating numerous job opportunities. If that wasn’t enough, through her social enterprise, The Fusion Hub, and her tech start-up, Bula Lance, Sagufta actively provides more youth opportunities. She holds the esteemed position of Pacific regional representative for the Commonwealth Youth Council and was recognized as the Pacific region winner for the Commonwealth Youth Awards.
SDG 9 relates to how industry and infrastructure must see significant investment to achieve the other global goals. Ivana Feldfeber, a feminist activist from Argentina, is paving a new digital future in a typically male-dominated sector. She is the co-founder and executive director of DataGénero, the first Gender Data Observatory in Latin America, working in ethical AI and digital policy. Ivana and her team’s vital work includes researching AI tools for criminal courts in Latin America working with gender-based violence data, helping governments and companies to build inclusive data processes and assisting decision-makers in creating better data policies.
As we know, building an equal world—the aim of SDG 10—needs every part of society to play an active role. Our SDG 10 representative exemplifies what it means to spot a meaningful gap in society and do your bit to fill it. You might be used to seeing model Adwoa Aboah gracing the covers of glossy magazines, but if you follow her on social media, you’ll quickly come to know her as an exceptional mental health advocate and activist when it comes to issues facing young women today. She set up Gurls Talk to destigmatise mental health conversations and create a supportive community that gives all girls a voice. We cannot underestimate how initiatives like this level the playing field by empowering young people to feel confident and safe to participate in building an equal world. You can keep up with Gurls Talk, and Adwoa’s work, by following @gurlstalk on Instagram.
How do you build sustainable communities? That is the question posed by SDG 11, and one that Diwigdi Valiente, co-founder and creative director of Bodhi Hostels, aims to answer. Diwigdi is from Panama’s Guna Yala Indigenous region and has proved to be a trailblazer in environmental stewardship, social development and tourism. Shaping Panama’s tourism sector, Diwigdi is the first Indigenous person to have held the position of director of tourism planning and development and was also the first openly non-binary Panama governmental official. As well as founding and running Bodhi Hostels, a sustainable accommodation option for travellers visiting Panama, they are also a budding social entrepreneur and their venture Burwigan is dedicated to combating climate change.
A complex conundrum in our day and age is how, and why, do some people have so much while others have so little? Why does anything ever go to waste at all? As SDG 12 explains, responsible consumption and production is critical. Enter visionary Rana Hajirasouli from the UAE, founder of The Surpluss. Rana is an emerging expert in circular economy business models and organised the UAE’s first Industrial Symbiosis Symposium. Her climate-tech startup offers a digital platform that helps to reshape resource management across resource-intensive industries. Organisations with a surplus of resources can be matched up with businesses that don’t have enough, helping efficient sharing without compromising profitability. Her pioneering work has already helped thousands of companies, diverting millions of kilograms of waste from landfills.
The unavoidable topic in any conversation about our shared future is, of course, the looming climate emergency. Taking action before it is too late is the primary concern of SDG 13. Actor, musician and UN environment goodwill ambassador Aidan Gallagher truly embodies the determined steel of Gen Z, who are entering adulthood burdened with the task of fixing an apocalyptic emergency they had no part in creating. Finding power in what can feel like powerlessness, or hope in what can feel hopeless, is not easy. But as Aidan (the youngest ever goodwill ambassador designated to a UN system) demonstrates, giving up is not an option. In Aidan’s own words: “It’s going to be overwhelming from time to time, it’s only natural [but] we can take that shared anxiety and turn it into a force that can push the world in the right direction. One person can’t do everything, but we all have the ability to do something.” You can check out Aidan’s @TreesWithAidan initiative on Instagram for more information on how he, and others, are moving towards a better and greener future.
Thriving life below water is crucial for life to thrive above water, and SDG 14 outlines the importance of conserving and protecting our oceans. Nicholas Kee, co-founder and CEO of Kee Farms, knows this fight well. He observed the challenges faced by fishermen in Jamaica, including failing fish stocks, which force many to pursue alternative forms of income or even turn to crime. He became committed to ocean regeneration and restoration: his work involves cultivating seaweed and oysters (and, soon, sea cucumbers and seagrass), while also preserving mangroves, leading to carbon sequestration, reduced ocean acidification and increased biodiversity. He has collaborated with more than 30 people whose livelihoods depend on fishing, retiring nearly three tonnes of carbon and generating job opportunities for more than 50 community members. His influence extends to policy advocacy, contributing to the growth of the blue economy in Jamaica.
To honour SDG 15, protecting life on land, look to Manoly Sisavanh, deputy director of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Lao PDR Program. Manoly leads WCS policy engagement in Laos and supervises Counter-Wildlife Trafficking and One Health. She has worked for over a decade on projects including national green growth reform, forest and wildlife law enforcement, sustainable forest management, and emerging infectious disease control and prevention. Her notable achievements include strengthening her country’s forestry sector legal and institutional reforms, and her advocacy saw her named as one of the winners of the 2019 Mary Robinson Climate Justice Award.
Enjoying peace, justice and strong institutions should not be a luxury for the few, as posited by SDG 16 and embodied by young trailblazer Sara Wahedi. She is the CEO and founder of Ehtesab, Afghanistan’s first civic technology startup, which has provided near real-time security and city service alerts to Afghans since 2020. App users can send reports on local incidents, making it the first citizen engagement platform in Afghanistan. Ehtesab is forging covert platforms that allow women to discreetly access healthcare, education and employment, effectively circumvent-ing Taliban monitoring. Ehtesab is compiling instances of gender apartheid against women, contributing to efforts to recognise and codify this offense in international law, which will be integral for future accountability purposes. You can support her and her work on X (formerly Twitter) @SaraWahedi.
Vilas Dhar, president of the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, is our final leader, representing SDG 17—building global partnerships. Vilas is an expert on using AI responsibly to serve humanity and warns of the pitfalls of unethical use of emerging tech. All of the UN’s Global Goals can be helped immensely by better use of technology, leaps forward in AI and philanthropic partnerships between tech providers and organisations making a difference.
The One Young World community has impacted 41.56 million people worldwide since its inception in 2010. The next One Young World Summit will take place in Montreal, Canada in October 2024. This renowned event will bring together 2,000 young leaders, fostering connections and helping to create the solutions we need right now. To find out more, visit oneyoungworld.com, follow @oneyoungworld and subscribe to the YouTube channel for your weekly dose of inspiration.