The faces of change: young leaders making a global impact today

Oluwatosin Jegede

When we conjure images of changemakers and modern-day heroes, our minds often drift to seasoned individuals, those who’ve weathered the storms of life, collecting wisdom and experience along their journeys. However, in the contemporary world, these young leaders are not exclusively found within the circles of adulthood.

With their vigor, resilience, and untainted vision, youth have proven to be just as capable of driving significant change on a global scale. Despite their tender years, these young leaders are actively reshaping the leadership landscape with their impactful and indelible marks on the world.

Youth leaders who inspire us

The list of such young leaders is extensive and continually growing. Here are some of them:

1. Isra Hirsi, 20

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Isra Hirsi is a testament to what young people can achieve when they put their minds to it. At just 17, she co-founded the Youth Climate Strike in the U.S., a movement echoing the objectives of Fridays for Future in Europe.

As an environmental protection activist, Hirsi has shown tremendous initiative, mobilizing her fellow students and orchestrating various environmental strikes.

She has even taken her advocacy to the TEDx stage, shedding light on the urgency of climate change. Hirsi’s tenacity and dogged pursuit of her environmental objectives serve as an inspiring testament to the power and influence of young voices.

2. Greta Thunberg, 20

Greta Thunberg, a 20-year-old from Stockholm, Sweden, has become a household name in environmental activism. Her unyielding crusade against climate change began during her school years, drawing attention from around the globe despite initial attempts by the Swedish government to limit her protests.

Thunberg’s commitment to fighting climate change culminated in her being named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2019.

In an interview, she issued a powerful wake-up call, urging people to stop living as if there was no tomorrow. She echoed this sentiment during her impassioned speech at the 2019 U.N. Climate Change Summit, which has since been viewed millions of times on YouTube.

She reminded everyone, young and old, of our collective power to combat climate change and safeguard our planet.

Read also: Fridays for Future, what Greta Thunberg’s movement achieved

3. Zuriel Oduwole, 21

Hailing from Los Angeles, California, Zuriel Oduwole has achieved more at 21 than many adults twice her age. Born to a Mauritian mother and a Nigerian father, she made history at just 12.

She became the world’s youngest filmmaker, all while advocating for girls’ education in Africa. Her films predominantly highlight women and youth empowerment issues, focusing on ensuring girls’ access to primary education.

Oduwole has brought her advocacy to multiple influential platforms. She has graced the TEDx stage with her empowering speeches. In addition, she has spoken at various U.N. and university events. Her boldness and determination are always on display. These qualities have empowered her to achieve things that many might deem impossible for someone her age.

4. Nadia Whittome, 26

Nadia Whittome, the youngest Member of Parliament in the U.K., stands as a beacon for youth empowerment and community development. As the first BAME representative of her Nottingham East constituency, she doesn’t shy away from the responsibilities of her role.

She continually proves that age is not a barrier to effective leadership. Whittome made a promise from the beginning. She pledged to donate over 44% of her salary to her community. This commitment shows her drive to effect radical change. In February 2020, she led an initiative that made a huge impact.

It saw more than 150 MPs sign a letter to halt the deportation of individuals to Jamaica. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Whittome once again demonstrated her dedication. She donated most of her salary to a local support fund, further solidifying her commitment to the community she represents.

5. Jackie Jackson, 16

Jackie Jackson, a 16-year-old social entrepreneur from Chicago, is living proof that age is no impediment to making a difference. At the tender age of 8, he founded a donation project known as ‘Am I,’ inspired by helping his aunt distribute food to the homeless.

Now, he delivers what he calls “Blessings Bags,” filled with essential items like deodorant, hand sanitizer, water bottles, and toothbrushes, to homeless people.

His project has already made a significant impact, benefiting over 40,000 people worldwide and drawing the attention of numerous donors. Jackson’s work serves as a powerful reminder that with a strong passion and dedicated action, there are truly no limits to how we can positively influence others’ lives.

6. Gitanjali Rao, 17

At only 15, Gitanjali Rao has an impressive list of titles. This American prodigy boasts numerous titles: accomplished author, innovative inventor, proficient engineer, and astute scientist.

She made history by being the first individual to clinch the title of Kid of the Year by Time magazine. One of her groundbreaking inventions is a device designed to measure lead levels in water.

This invention has made a critical contribution to ensuring water safety. She has several TEDx talks to her name. These talks and her ever-growing list of innovations have allowed her to continue sparking technological passion worldwide.

7. Jazz Jennings, 23

Jazz Jennings is a trailblazer in every sense of the word. This American spokesmodel, YouTube personality, LGBTQ rights activist, and television personality was one of the youngest people to publicly identify as transgender, helping to increase global awareness about the transgender community.

She is the founder of the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation, which supports youth going through similar experiences. Through her advocacy, Jennings highlights the power of raising one’s voice, particularly for those who may not have the means to do so, demonstrating that each of us can create significant impacts when we speak up for what we believe in.

The dawn of young leaders

These youthful trailblazers are demonstrating to the world that age is but a number when it comes to making significant impacts. Their stories of resilience, activism, and innovative problem-solving reveal that the spirit of leadership resides in the heart, not in the number of years lived.

They’ve mobilized millions to their causes, proving that youth can be a catalyst for profound transformation.

As we navigate an uncertain future, it is in these young leaders we find a beacon of hope. They are reshaping what leadership looks like, ushering us into a new dawn where age is no longer seen as a determinant of influence or capability.

Their inspiring journeys are a testament to the fact that every one of us, regardless of age, has the potential to effect change. The dawn of young leaders is upon us, and the future looks promising.

Read also: The youngest political leaders ever: when age is just a number

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