Warren Buffet said, “I made my first investment at age 11. I was wasting my life up until then.” This is the kind of mindset I see in today’s youth. They are bubbling with ideas and energy. They are impatient with the slowness of solving the world’s biggest problems. So, they are taking charge themselves and driving the change they want to see in the world. This involves not just social but also scientific and technological discoveries needed to bring the change.
The world knows about Greta Thunberg and Gitanjali Rao, but there are scores of other unsung heroes who have made an impact with their little acts. Some may have journeys that have already resulted in a big impact, while others are getting started. Having interacted with several young minds who are driving meaningful projects for social impact, I decided to write an article to showcase some of them. This is not a top 13 list by any means. These are simply some of the inspiring youth I have come across. Instead of waiting for others to create solutions, they decided to take the initiative. Some of them may not have shaken the world yet, but they took action instead of just talking about problems around them.
My spirit in writing this article is also to inspire more youth to step forward and break age-based shackles. Youngsters of today have the capability to overcome all barriers – technical and social – and create groundbreaking solutions. Journeys that begin in high school or college days last for years, as evidenced by some of the people showcased in this article. I encourage students and the community at large to believe in themselves, examine the problems surrounding us, and be self-driven and action-oriented in seeking a solution.
Here is a complication of people who are bringing change to their community in their own little way. The list is not ranked.
Emma González, 23, Parkland, Florida
Emma González (now known as X Gonzalez) is a survivor of the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. Since then, González has become a champion of preventing gun violence. After surviving the tragic school shooting incident, González co-founded the gun control advocacy group, Never Again MSD. González delivered an impactful speech at a rally against gun violence, proclaiming, “We call B.S.” on the inaction of politicians funded by the National Rifle Association. The speech was for a total of six minutes, the same as the timespan of the Parkland shooting. During the speech, González also named every victim and gave examples of things they could have achieved in life. González is also known for helping organize the 2018 “March for Our Lives” protest against gun violence. In March 2018, the Florida Legislature passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. The then Florida Governor Rick Scott credited González and her fellow students, “To the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, you made your voices heard. You didn’t let up, and you fought until there was change.”
Jordan Reeves, 16, Columbia, Missouri
Jordan was born with only one arm. But she didn’t let that deter her spirits. She designed a “Swiss Army” arm with various tools attached to enable disabled people to do tasks like just others. Subsequently, she designed a prototype guitar for disabled people to play. Jordan is currently creating a body enhancement (a 3D-printed prosthetic) that allows her to shoot biodegradable sparkles for her alter ego, Glitter Girl. Jordan has demonstrated her work on The Rachael Ray Show, MakerFaire, TEDx, etc. In addition, Jordan has strived to change how the public views people with disabilities. Through public speaking, Jordan works to change attitudes around physical differences. In that respect, she co-founded a non-profit organization called Design With Us. Together with her mother, she co-authored a book called “Born Just Right.” Jordan truly epitomizes “Disability is Strength” and is pushing to change the public perception of disability.
Orion Jean, 12, Fort Worth, Texas
Orion has been a problem-solver since an early age. He was featured as TIME’s Kid of the Year for 2021 for his life-changing humanitarian work and his approach to kindness. Orion founded the Race to Kindness foundation and provided over 100,000 free meals for families. He wrote his first book, A Kids Book About Leadership, to inspire children to lead with kindness. He has held Race to 500K Books, which hosts book donation drives and free children’s book fairs where families can find and take home books. Praised by actor and humanitarian Angelina Jolie, Orion explained his “kindness” approach to her over a Zoom conversation, “If you see a problem, fix it.”
Pria Sawhney, 17, Boston, Massachusetts
During the pandemic, through discussions with physicians, Pria became aware that hospitals had shockingly low levels of hand hygiene compliance, contributing to hospital-acquired infections and costing over $28 billion annually. With COVID-19, the necessity for proper sanitation was magnified, but there was no easy way to verify complete hand coverage.
To solve this problem, Pria designed a decolorizing verifiable hand sanitizer called Vizuell. Vizuell is colored when the first component is applied; then, a second component rapidly decolorizes the sanitizer. Addressing a challenge such as hand hygiene requires research and careful consideration. A critical requirement was the use of safe ingredients in Vizuell. Harsh agents such as bleach were out of the question. In investigating safe mechanisms, Pria found oxidation reduction chemistries that could decolorize and have synergistic antiseptic properties. Additionally, Vizuell retained the concentration of alcohol currently used in effective sanitizers, thus meeting the threshold for sanitation.
Pria was awarded the 2022 Edison Student Innovation Gold medal for her work. Pria presented her work to physicians, nurses, and industry leaders, spoke on industry panel discussions, and attended product fairs around the country. She has had investors interested in funding the product and medical professionals looking to buy the product for their workspaces. But Pria outlines, “the experience was the most gratifying part of the journey.”
Armaan Thakker, 17, San Jose, CA
After suffering a multi-ligament knee injury that made Armaan question whether he would be able to walk again, he had to use opioids prescribed by the doctor to suppress the pain. As he recovered, he wondered about the criticality of the timing of opioid treatment.
Subsequently, he worked for two years under the guidance of the University of Washington Tacoma Professor Ankur Teredesai in order to develop a solution for ICU sepsis prediction amongst trauma patients. By using Graph Neural Networks(GNN), Armaan and the team were able to cluster unstructured hospital data to predict sepsis within a matter of 48 hours rather than the standard 1-week time. “For sepsis patients, time is of the essence for treatment to work. You have to remember they are suffering from a recent catastrophic event,” said Katherine Stern, a member of the University’s medical team. The model drastically reduced the need for sepsis treatments and pain medications, including opioids, for over 25% of ICU patients. He published this research as a paper that was nominated for IEEE’s big data conference.
Armaan hopes to get the model out for institutional use. He is reproducing the model across tens of hospitals in Washington this year and hopes to scale its use to hospitals around the nation in the future.
Simone May, 27, Houston, Texas
Simone is inspired by the use of technology to help people. She has a passion for democratizing access to information and leveraging technology to make the world equitable. Hence, she came up with the idea to found Clutch, the digital marketplace elevating emerging brands’ online marketing by connecting them to next-gen creators. Clutch enabled her to pursue her dream of building a technology-driven product that helps people in their lives. Clutch provides individual creators with work opportunities on their own terms. Creators choose the projects they work on and define their schedules and pricing.
Simone ensures that Clutch is thoughtful and intentional in ensuring they hire and design from a place of diversity, equity and inclusion so that the impact they have on the world is equitable. As a result, 60% of Clutch’s business customers’ CEOs are people of color, and 75% of Clutch’s creators are people of color.
Madison Long, 27, Houston, Texas
Madison has a lifelong passion for entrepreneurship. She spent her high school summers creating a math mania programmatic instruction class for middle school students in need and subsequently worked with youth advocacy programs in college. Madison joined her co-founder, Simone May, to create a platform called Clutch that helps the next generation thrive. Madison’s goal is to bring sustainable, equitable, and enjoyable work and lifestyles to all. As an avid entrepreneur and creator, Madison feels honored to lead a company that helps everyone be a creator and entrepreneur by tapping into the power of the creator economy.
Clutch’s product is designed with inclusivity at its core by honoring, celebrating, and providing opportunities for everyone who embraces their authenticity.
Isha Puri, 18, Madison, WI
After seeing that most students struggle with defining a career path, Isha created a non-profit organization called Evolve. In addition, her school district had many underprivileged students who lacked exposure to the career pathways available to them. Isha and her team exposed students to a variety of career tracks and job possibilities. They hosted webinars featuring experienced professionals from various fields like marketing, medicine, and engineering. They also helped lay out the steps to achieve their respective career goal. Seeing the initial reception, they scaled the program by recruiting more students.
A key learning for Isha was to ensure that students get to learn about their career options in a casual and low-profile manner. This approach was key to scaling the career guidance program.
Rishika Rastogi, 15, San Jose, CA
Inspired by Vice President Al Gore’s documentary called An Inconvenient Truth, Rishika has been passionate about making a difference in the fragile state of our planet and ecosystems due to the rapidly changing climate. Rishika has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about climate change in our community – she has run workshops at her local library, hosted meetings with multiple households in her neighborhood, and presented ways to improve our climate resilience. She is also volunteering for the City of San Jose’s GoGreen community program to support the Climate Smart Challenge. Rishika is creating a climate change podcast to amplify youth concerns Her voice is being noticed since San Jose City Councilmember Matt Mahan (the incoming Mayor of San Jose) is working with her to discuss ways in which high school students can become climate change advocates and community change agents.
Joelle Birge, 33, New York, NY
As a young adult working in finance, Joelle spent her free time mentoring high school students and was inspired to use her business skills to help those in need. After leading a pro bono consulting project in Mozambique, Joelle joined Missio Invest, an impact investor providing loans and technical assistance to agribusiness, healthcare, and education enterprises in Sub-Saharan Africa. Under Joelle’s leadership over the last five years, Missio Invest has issued $10MM in loans to 54 enterprises. The scale of impact has been humungous. These enterprises have created or maintained nearly twenty thousand jobs, planted over 90 thousand trees, educated over half a million children, and treated over three million patients. But what Joelle loves most about it is the transformational impact these farms, schools, and hospitals have on the surrounding communities. Many of the borrowing congregations were founded to provide education and healthcare in remote areas for the first time.
Looking back at her journey, Joelle reflected, “Every seed has the potential to become an oak tree; some need a little fertilizer, some need daily watering, and some may only need help to remove the weeds that hinder their growth.”
Simone Ispahani, 27, Santa Monica, California
In 2020, Simone founded Social Brew to reflect a connection between her love of coffee and her passion for social justice. Social Brew offers a range of high-quality beans that are ethically sourced from farmers and roasters in Hawaii and Brazil, but the company goes beyond just the cup – 50% of proceeds go to select nonprofits dedicated to helping global victims of human trafficking rebuild their lives. Coffee and merchandise are available for online orders and at the Kahala Hotel and Resort in Honolulu, Hawaii. Her passion for this issue was ignited in college when she co-led a service trip to India to work with survivors of human trafficking. Next, Simone is looking to open up more coffee shops in the future and employ survivors in order to create sustainable job opportunities. As she expands, she is targeting sending thousands of dollars as profit-sharing to more non-profit organizations.
Ranav Sethi, 17, Delhi, India
The deafening silence of Covid lockdowns and the muted cries for help from scores of vulnerable people were heard by some young teenagers like Ranav Sethi from New Delhi. Ranav teamed up with his classmates to lead an initiative called MasksforIndia. Ranav mobilized, recruited, and managed a team of hundreds of students as volunteers across the Indian capital region to meet the formidable challenges of distribution, the immediacy of need, and localized presence. MasksforIndia worked by crowd-funding and by reaching out to local tailors and suppliers for goods such as masks, sanitary pads, soaps, milk, and food cartons for distribution amongst the underprivileged. The team has managed to distribute a record one million items (including 300,000 masks and 500,000 sanitary pads) since its inception in March 2020. The hope of preserving the smiles on the faces of the impoverished through these difficult times fueled Ranav’s motivation for countless hours of dedicated work put into the organization’s operational efficiency. He believes that the right to lead a happy life should be a fundamental right that all of us – the world’s citizens – should endeavor to defend forever.
Dhruv Gupta, 17, Fremont, California
After mentoring a local robotics team, Dhruv was inspired to found NorCal Robotics, with the goal of helping create and mentor teams of young competitors. The initiative had a successful first year, steering 13 teams to success, one of which was even crowned champion of Northern California. After that, NorCal Robotics pivoted its work to online sessions due to the pandemic. Dhruv led his team in operating free online summer camps, which would blossom into a variety of STEM classes, creating curriculum, organizing volunteers, and teaching himself to ensure equal coverage for all students across society. Over the last 3 years, NorCal has taught over 2000 young learners, helped create over 40 robotics teams, and sponsored 500 students for STEM competitions. Looking ahead, Dhruv hopes to expand his team of over 100 volunteers to support students from all across Silicon Valley to compete in STEM competitions before scaling to the US. His goal is gigantic, but his determination is rock-solid.