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6 Influential Young Leaders Changing the World

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Malala Yousafzai giving her acceptance speech for the 2014 Noble Peace Prize.
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Even as violence and injustice rise in the world, as they never fail to, several young leaders emerge from the chaos as beacons who guide us through those troubling times. These days, it seems like we are always in need of strong leaders, though the face of these leaders has changed.

Not too long ago, the image of a powerful leader was that of a wealthy white man, likely Christian and heterosexual.

Now, that image has changed into one more representative of the world and the capabilities of those who inhabit it.

Young leaders have emerged as some of the more prominent voices in the world today. From climate activists to young inventors, modern youth have taken advantage of their elevated platforms on social media to inspire people all over the globe, both young and old. We have kids changing the world.

With their raised voices, these teen activist leaders have become a source of education and influence on modern social issues, a source that will hopefully bring about change to help better society. Here are six young leaders of the world who are making waves in the fight against global injustice.

1. Malala Yousafzai

By now, Malala Yousafzai has become a household name. As one of the youngest recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala has been a near-lifelong advocate for gender equality. She garnered attention particularly following an assassination attempt on her life in 2012.

Since then, she has recovered and carried on her mission to gain equality for women, not only in her home country, Pakistan, but worldwide. Now at the age of 23, Malala has been an inspiration to young women and other young leaders everywhere.

Malala Yousafzai wearing a purple headscarf in front of a microphone.
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Her continuous activism has made her an example for people of all ages, but for international youth, seeing someone have such an impact from such a young age is nothing short of empowering, and, fortunately, Malala is only one of many kids changing the world.

2. Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg made a splash in global headlines over the last two years, earning the attention of not just social media users, but world leaders as well. Since then, she has emerged as one of the most active voices in support of combating climate change.

Though her stony demeanor was at first criticized by journalists and Twitter users, Thunberg takes her role as an “environmental influencer” very seriously, having put her education and personal life on hold to travel globally as a young leader in the world.

Greta Thunberg sitting at a table.
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Thunberg has crossed oceans (by the more environmentally friendly boat, rather than by plane) to lead climate strikes in numerous countries. At just 17 years old, Thunberg has left an impression on the leaders of the United Nations, and she has become a familiar face for social media users.

Looking to the future, Thunberg will certainly continue to leave an impact, proving there are kids changing the world and creating a model of what leaders everywhere should aspire to be.

3. Emma González

In the United States, mass shootings have become a tragedy that occurs all too often.

Emma González, a survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the deadliest school shooting in the history of the United States, recognized the horror of that fact and sought to change the future with the help of other survivors.

González has become an outspoken gun-reform young leader in the world since the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas, having directly spoken to U.S. politicians about reform. She even spoke at the March for Our Lives rally in 2018 to mass audiences on the subject of school shootings.

González has taken the trauma of her experiences and used it to shed new light on issues related to gun violence in the United States.

A black and white photo of Emma González wearing a black tank top.
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With a recent outcry for gun reform in the United States, especially in response to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Emma González paves the way for other young leaders like herself.

She makes her efforts to better the world, using her own experiences as motivation and a lesson to the world in why history cannot be allowed to repeat itself.

4. Gitanjali Rao

Gitanjali Rao, a young scientist with the mind of an adult expert, is an example of kids changing the world in the STEM field, the areas of study that are known for technological and medicinal advancement to better mankind.

Rao has contributed greatly to this field, having created multiple inventions with quite practical uses. After learning about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Rao invented a device that could measure the amount of lead in water, with the hope of cleaning the contaminated water in Flint and other areas like it.

In addition to this, she has performed commendable work with Bluetooth devices, a technology that only increases in relevance as we find it in our phones, computers, and even our cars.

Gitanjali Rao wearing a black shirt smiling at the camera.
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Rao is a leading figure for youth in STEM, especially for young girls. It’s no secret that the STEM field has not been welcoming to women through the course of its ever-advancing history.

At such a young age, Rao has already made strides to open the field up to researchers and inventors of all ages and genders, breaking down the barriers that have kept so many marginalized people from studying the sciences.

With her inventions serving as an idea of what people are capable of, Rao is leading the STEM field into an era that is inclusive of all people.

5. Sophie Cruz

Among other pressing issues in the United States is the status of undocumented immigrants, and the human rights violations committed by the U.S. government against immigrant families.

10-year-old Sophie Cruz is all too familiar with these experiences, which are shared by thousands of families, and decided to become one of the kids changing the world from them. To combat these injustices, she has taken up activism to fight against the system that oppresses families like her own.

After reaching out to Pope Francis in 2015, Cruz influenced him to speak up regarding the treatment of undocumented immigrants and their families in the United States. After reading young Cruz’s concerns for her parents, especially as they faced deportation from the U.S., Pope Francis discussed the topic with Congress.

Since then, Cruz has been an advocate for undocumented immigrants, having spoken with former president Barack Obama, as well as protesting against the inauguration of Donald Trump, who has become well known for his negative attitudes regarding the entry of immigrants like Sophie and her family into the United States.

Sophie Cruz wearing a purple dress, smiling and holding a microphone.
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While Sophie Cruz’s struggle is deeply personal, it is one shared by hundreds of thousands of people, both in the United States and worldwide.

By speaking up and reaching out, Cruz has caught the ear of powerful leaders, educating them on the mistreatment and dangers of immigration in places where immigrants are not often welcome.

By recognizing that her story is not a singular occurrence, Cruz’s teen activist efforts will hopefully guide global governments into a more peaceful, welcoming mindset regarding the acceptance of immigrants within their borders.

6. Desmond Napoles

Desmond Napoles, better known by their stage name Desmond is Amazing, is a youth drag performer based in New York City. An LGBTQ+ activist, Desmond’s approach to youth leadership is slightly different than one would imagine.

Rather than confronting world leaders or marching on the front lines of protests, Desmond’s practice is a little more atypical, though somewhat traditional. Simply put, Desmond leads by being themself.

At only 13 years old, Desmond has made a name for themself in the NYC child drag community. Most would not usually think of drag as child-friendly, but Desmond has opened the doors for LGBTQ+ children to be involved in the fierce, fabulous world of drag.

As a result, Desmond has only cultivated an environment that is more accepting of queer youth, a part of the LGBTQ+ community that has particularly struggled to gain acceptance both within and outside itself.

Desmond Napoles posing with their hands in the air, wearing a green and yellow dress.
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By flaunting their personality so publicly, Desmond is much like other young leaders. They do not compromise on their beliefs, and they speak out on the issues that they know are important and have a passion for.

With years ahead of them to grow and continue their work, Desmond and other young leaders in the world show only the brightest path for the Earth’s future.

Countries and communities are moving forward, and these mere kids changing the world provide a leading backdrop of innovation, advocacy, and acceptance for years to come.

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