Our outlook on the future tends to be shaped by the biggest challenges facing humankind. Seven young pioneers are looking for solutions.
You launched the Bye Bye Plastic Bags campaign six years ago. Why?
Isabel: It has turned into a real movement. People are increasingly waking up to the sheer volume of plastic waste out there. The situation is especially dire on the islands of Indonesia, as witnessed by the tourists that visit Bali with the hopes of going snorkelling or diving but find themselves on dirty beaches and in water full of waste. Bali used to be like a paradise, and we want to do our bit to make sure it can go back to being that.
What exactly have your efforts achieved?
Melati: Thanks to the efforts of many people, through our six years of campaigning we managed to get the government to implement a ban on single-use plastic bags on Bali. Polluted seas are a global problem, and that’s why we are expanding. Our initiative has already spread to around 34 locations around the world, with most of the activities led by students. Our primary goal is, of course, to eradicate plastic waste entirely throughout the world.
When was the first time you felt you needed to do something about cleaning up the seas?
Melati: We grew up always hearing the saying: “Every second breath comes from the ocean.” This philosophy really left its mark on us.
Isabel: To the Balinese people, the oceans are not part of life, they ARE life; without them, there is nothing. We interpret the saying as meaning we are obligated to do as much for the seas as they do for us. So we got down to business!
What is your vision of ideal coexistence with nature?
Isabel: Growing up in Bali, we were raised according to the Tri Hita Karana philosophy, which teaches that you should live in harmony with three things: the people and the environment around you, and the spirit within.
NAMES: Melati Wijsen/Isabel Wijsen
PLACES OF BIRTH: Heerlen, Netherlands/Bali, Indonesia
JOB/STUDIES: on a gap year between finishing school and starting university/attending 11th grade FAVOURITE TOPIC: clean oceans
Tobias, what’s been on your mind lately?
Air quality. We should all be striving to develop sustainable systems that put as little strain on the environment as possible. Climate change is real; our planet’s resources are being depleted. We all need to wake up to this fact.
What specific steps are you taking in this respect?
I’m trying to find out for myself what the air contamination situation is, and have developed the first area-wide measuring station for gauging pollution. This invention not only earned me first place in the competitions Jugend forscht (Germany’s foremost science competition for school-age students) and BundesUmweltWettbewerb (Federal Environment Competition), it also enabled me to make some significant findings.
And what conclusions have you come to?
That our concerns about air quality in some cities are entirely justified. And that we need to do more in this regard.
You are currently studying industrial design. How can product developers and designers contribute to a better future?
They should use new technologies. Like 3D printing, for example. Producing components via 3D printing does away with many resource-wasting processes and long delivery routes.
NAMES: Tobias Gerbracht
PLACES OF BIRTH: Remscheid, Germany
JOB/STUDIES: currently pursuing a degree in industrial design at the University of Wuppertal and serving as a lecturer at the Junior Uni in Wuppertal
FAVOURITE TOPIC: clean air
Kavya, not only have you won multiple awards; you were also named Time magazine’s 25th Most Influential Teenager of 2018. What inspired you to find a cure for cancer?
I was amazed to find out that the prognosis for patients diagnosed with aggressive cancers has hardly improved over the past 30 years, despite all the great technological advances. And I am fascinated by the new possibilities that artificial intelligence opens up in this regard.
How do you live out this fascination?
I am currently working on GlioVision, a platform that collects genetic information about cancerous tumours. We strongly believe that this method will enable us to make more accurate predictions about how cancers will develop, and to do so in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost of traditional methods.
That sounds like a sustainable vision for the entire healthcare system...
It definitely is. I am convinced that technology can revolutionise healthcare. I'm not talking about replacing doctors, of course; rather, I dream of more effective techniques that are so easy for patients to understand that they can finally trust the healthcare system again.
What kinds of experts will this area require in the future?
I want to encourage girls to take up STEM subjects, meaning science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And there is real progress already being made there. I have seen this at work through my non-profit organization Girls Computing League. It is also important to encourage more people of colour into the field because it is an area that needs many different perspectives.
NAMES: Kavya Kopparapu
PLACES OF BIRTH: Herndon, Virginia, USA
DEGREE: computer science and biology at Harvard (freshman year)
FAVOURITE TOPIC: artificial intelligence
Shubham, Amanat, why is hygiene such an important topic for you both?
Shubham: We grew up in New Delhi and were fortunate enough to have access to hygienic facilities. Many children in our country and around the world are not so lucky.
Amanat: We found it surprising that, despite all the initiatives to educate people in this respect, the problem was still so prevalent. We understood that this called for a different, new approach.
What approach would that be? What did you do exactly?
Shubham: We introduced products that focused on fun! SoaPens are small pens filled with soap in different colours. Blue, pink and purple are currently the most popular. Children can paint their hands with the coloured liquid, then hold them under water until all the paint has washed off. It puts a new spin on annoying hand-washing.
How do you wish SoaPen to develop?
Shubham: We’d like to partner with international organisations that purchase SoaPen to use it as a teaching tool to increase the awareness of hygiene.
What other global topics concern you?
Shubham: Food waste is a big one. Around the world, people every year throw away enough food amounting to several billions of US dollars, yet at the same time we also have millions of people around the world suffering from undernourishment. Finding a way to permanently reverse the food waste trend could therefore save countless lives.
Do you believe that society’s attitudes towards waste are changing?
Shubham: Yes! We are witnessing the rise of conscious consumers, people who care about their impact on the environment. More and more people are thinking about how they consume. So it’s important that companies provide the necessary transparency here, for instance by being clear about product ingredients and packaging waste.
Amanat: We consumers have a great deal of power in this regard. For instance, we can use our buying behaviour to force companies to take more responsibility, rewarding them with loyalty when they do.
NAMES: Shubham Issar/Amanat Anand
PLACES OF BIRTH: New Delhi
JOB: founders of SoaPen, headquartered in New York
FAVOURITE TOPIC: hygiene
Leroy, which problem in our world do you perceive as the most urgent?
The looming energy crisis. Many African countries rely on supplies from abroad. This spells trouble. The principal goal of our start-up company Greenpact is to create a green future for East Africa.
And how do you propose achieving this aim?
We provide small farmers and institutions with innovative biogas systems. This enables them to use the decomposition process to derive biogas from biological and organic waste (e.g. food leftovers, fertiliser, mown grass). This gas can then be used in their cookers.
What are the advantages of this process?
It is beneficial to the environment because it uses natural resources. And it is a comparatively cost-effective process. It also makes us less reliant on energy from abroad.
What other topics are close to your heart?
We need better education opportunities for everyone. Our start-up CampBuni is a holiday camp for young people between the ages of 13 and 18. It was set up with the goal of promoting better educational opportunities and is financed through Greenpact profits.
NAMES: Leroy Mwasaru
PLACES OF BIRTH: Nairobi, Kenya
DEGREE/JOB: graduate of the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, founder of two start-ups
FAVOURITE TOPIC: regenerative energies, education for all