Young Activists Changing the World

Authors: Ayesha Hussain, Camilla Göth, Jece Shunmugam, Matt Hyndman, Lewis Parker
  • Reading time: 6 min.
  • Posted on: August 12, 2020

Today is International Youth Day, a day in which we celebrate and highlight the different ways young people are fighting for their future. To commemorate the day, our team has chosen to highlight young activists who have captured our hearts through their incredible dedication to their work.

From the youngest at 12-years-old to the oldest at 25, from Uganda to Pakistan, these activists have remarkable stories to tell. Read on for their stories.


SDG: GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality

The issue of representation is as important in literature as it is throughout the media industry. Good storytelling can change the world, and representative storytelling has the power to inspire and give voice and power to those who are so often unheard.

Marley Dias was only 11 years old when she started #1000BlackGirlBooks out of frustration from only seeing black girls being represented in children’s literature in secondary roles.

Her campaign which launched in 2015 aimed to collect 1,000 books with black female protagonists and disseminate them across schools, libraries, and communities across the world. Since then, #1000BlackGirlBooks has now helped distribute over 11,000 books, giving young black girls the opportunity to see themselves in powerful, leading roles, often for the first time. She now campaigns for greater representation in the publishing industry and has published her own book “Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You!” to help inspire young people to push for their dreams. Follow Marley on Twitter here.


SDG 10: Reduced Inequality

Danny is a 23-year-old basketball player, based in Leeds, UK. He has been using his position and platform in sport to highlight the lack of racial diversity in sports like rugby, and more recently,  started the FindYours Project with his close friends from school days Abdul Aziz Adekola and Edney Lopes. The FindYours Project aims to inspire and engage young people, aged 12-15, to follow their passions, wherever those may be. Its focus is on ensuring young people can follow any passion, academic or not, as Danny was lucky enough to find his in basketball.

His activism also highlights racism in the North of England, and he has been instrumental in engaging with young people across the North. He is part of Black Lives Matter Leeds, founded by Marvina Newton, and with the organisation, launched a march across Leeds fighting against racial equality that safely and peacefully saw thousands come together in support. Today, with Marvina and Abdul he has worked to launch the UK’s first black youth engagement Summit, aiming to highlight young, black voices that typically go unheard and bring them together with decision makers across society to open channels of participation. You can follow Danny here.


SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Mari Copeny is a young activist who became engaged in activism during the Flint Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan. The town of Flint entered into a serious water crisis in 2014 after a new water supplier failed to apply corrosion inhibitors to the water, leaving the supply contaminated in lead and other corrosive substances. Even the smallest amount of lead can be damaging, causing birth defects in newborns, high blood pressure, learning difficulties, and much more. The failure of local government to act despite thousands of complaints from local residents was seen as a result of “systemic racism”.

At just 8 years old, Mari wrote a letter to President Obama that convinced him to come to Flint and take a closer look at the crisis. Since then, ‘Little Miss Flint’ has raised over $500,000 for children in her city, as well as $280,000 for convenient, environmentally friendly bottled water  to be distributed.

More recently, she founded #WednesdaysForWater, where each Wednesday, she highlights places in need of clean water and sanitation. Follow Mari on Twitter here.


 SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities, SDG 3: Good health and Wellbeing

Harry is a gay documentary filmmaker and photographer originally from Brighton. He is a wonderful example of an everyday activist; his drive to make the world fairer is present in everything he does. From travelling around schools with Stonewall speaking about LGBT acceptance and bullying, to speaking up about fatness, acceptance of bigger bodies, and pushing for more progressive regimes that steer people clear of crash dieting, calorie counting, weighing and other techniques which are proven to lead to under and over eating disorders. As well as making films covering topics such as mental health, and dementia, Harry continually speaks up and uses his large platform to progress equal rights.

More recently, in July, Harry co-founded the campaign, Ban Conversion Therapy, calling for a comprehensive ban across the UK. So called “conversion therapy” is any form of counselling or persuading someone to change their sexual orientation, gender identity, or behaviour, so as to conform with a heteronormative lifestyle. Conversion therapy has remained relatively underground and unknown, with many people completely unaware that it is still legal. The campaign hopes to see a ban by the end of the year. Find out more about the campaign here.


SDG 13: Climate Action

Leah Namugerwa is a 15-year-old climate change activist based in Uganda, a country already seeing the devastating impacts of climate change ravaging agricultural outputs and exacerbating poverty levels. Prolonged droughts, higher temperatures and more extreme weather patterns have disrupted the availability of food, leaving thousands of smallholder farmers in Uganda without food, which they rely on for both subsistence and income.

Inspired by Greta Thunberg, Leah, at just 15, started protesting for action on climate change every Friday, inspiring other teens in Uganda to join her cause. With a median age of 15, Uganda, like Africa as a whole, has a young population – something Leah is well aware of. She knows that by gaining the support of her peers, she can have a lasting impact on Uganda. Leah’s activism has already gained much attention: she has met foreign ambassadors, Uganda’s Speaker of Parliament, and attended climate conferences around the world. Follow Leah on Twitter here


SDG 4: Quality Education, SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Ahmad was just 14 when he was severely injured after being shot in a Taliban attack in the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan. The attack left 151 students and teachers dead, including Ahmad’s own brother. 

The experience shaped Ahmad, and he decided to dedicate his life to stopping these kinds of attacks from happening again. He believes that the way to do this is by making education accessible to all since a lack of education is also seen as a driving force behind radicalisation. Ahmad strongly believes that the youth of society is their strength, and must be protected from extremist ideologies. His mission is to help at-risk young people to realise their potential, and stop them from engaging with extremist ideologies. 

He is setting up a charity to do this. Its aim is to eradicate extremist ideologies from society by increasing access to education, and by engaging and empowering young people to take leading roles in solving global issues. Follow Ahmad on Twitter here.