Two Indians and an Indian American are among 17 people selected for the inaugural class of UN Young Leaders for Sustainable Development Goals for their leadership and contribution to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030.
Trisha Shetty, 25, is the founder and CEO of ‘SheSays’, a platform she launched last year to educate, rehabilitate and empower women to take direct action against sexual assault in India.
Ankit Kawatra, 24 founded ‘Feeding India’ in 2014 to address the issues of hunger and food waste, particularly by distributing excess food from weddings and parties to the needy.
Indian-American Karan Jerath, 19, invented a ground- breaking, sub-sea wellhead capping device that contains oil spills at the source as a solution in the aftermath of the BP deepwater horizon oil spill – the largest marine oilspill in US history, near his home in Texas.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the 17 young change-makers are a “testament to the ingenuity of youth and I congratulate them for their exceptional leadership and demonstrated commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals”. ‘SheSays’ uniquely provides tools and resources for women, including access to legal, medical and psychological support.
“I decided to do something when I realised that I could go online to find information about restaurants, but for victims of sexual abuse, there was nothing,” Ms Shetty said.
Ms Shetty and her team work with established institutions across the education, entertainment and healthcare sectors to build a network of support that recognises all levels of sexual abuse and provides the necessary means to fight it, according to a statement on the young leaders by the office of the UN Secretary-General’s envoy on Youth.
So far, the organisation has successfully engaged more than 60,000 young people through educational workshops and Ms Shetty is now focussed on achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of gender equality.
Ms Kawatra’s organisation has a network of over 2,000 volunteers in 28 cities in India for rescuing and redistributing excess food to help feed people in need. The organisation has served over one million meals to date and aims to reach 100 million by 2020.
Mr Kawatra, who quit his corporate job at 22, said he decided to focus on tackling food waste and hunger in India when at an Indian wedding he was “appalled” by the amount of food going waste in a country where 194 million are undernourished.
The idea behind his organisation was to collect excess food from parties, events and weddings and re-distribute to people in need and it is now eyeing reaching zero hunger.
Speaking at a UN event, Mr Kawatra said he was “honoured” to be selected as a UN Young Leader, a role which will give “me an opportunity to further advocate global development goals that need to be achieved for a better planet and also raise India’s concerns and social challenges all over the world”.
Mr Jerath, a scientist and innovator, was born in India, raised in Malaysia and moved to the US at the age of 13. When the BP oil spill happened 30 minutes away from his home in Texas, Mr Jerath says he was determined to take action. “I realized that much smaller spills are happening on a daily basis and negatively affecting our oceans and environment. I had to find a solution,” he said.
While still in high school, he invented a device that contains oil spills at the source. The patent-pending device can collect oil, gas and water gushing from a broken well on the seafloor, providing an effective, temporary solution in the case of an unforeseen subsea oil spill.
For his invention, Mr Jerath won the ‘Young Scientist Award’ at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair’s 2015 competition, and was selected as the youngest honoree on this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 Energy list.
Other leaders are Anthony Ford-Shubrook from the UK, a lifelong advocate for disability rights and access, Kenya’s Rita Kimani, co-founder of a social enterprise that connects unbanked and underserved smallholder farmers to credit, women’s rights activist Safaath Ahmed Zahir from Maldives.
Shougat Nazbin Khan from Bangladesh who established a digital school for children from underprivileged communities in Bangladesh and Tunisian-Iraqi writer Samar Samir Mezghanni who has written over 100 short stories for children and published 14 books.
The inaugural class, selected from over 18,000 nominations from 186 different countries, will support efforts to engage young people in the realisation of the SDGs and will have opportunities to engage in UN and partner-led projects.
The initiative will also contribute to a brain trust of young leaders supporting initiatives related to the SDGs.
The young leaders have been recognised for their leadership and contribution to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes a set of 17 Goals to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030.
UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth Ahmad Alhendawi unveiled the inaugural class of UN Young Leaders for the SDGs at the Social Good Summit in New York yesterday. The flagship initiative of the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth comes against a backdrop of increasing efforts by the UN to engage young people in its efforts to achieve the SDGs.
“We are proud to announce this group of young global citizens who are already transforming their communities. At the same time, the selection process was an important reminder of the great potential and talent of so many young people around the world, who are making immense contributions to peace, development and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals,” Mr Alhendawi said.
The Young Leaders Initiative is powered by the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth and is part of the Global Youth Partnership for Sustainable Development Goals, launched in 2015 and housed in the Envoy’s Office.
From food to fashion to micro-finance, the UN Young Leaders for the SDGs, aged 19-30 years old, come from many different backgrounds, represent every region in the world and inspire all of us to achieve the goals.