In a world beset by constant crisis, it’s never easy to stand up and demand change, let alone make it happen. But these 22 innovators have done just that; inspired by injustice or a need for balance, they have refused to accept the ways of the world and set out to do better. From canned water to equality for transgender people, here are 22 agents of change to watch in 2022.
JASON MOMOA Mananalu
On the silver screen, Jason Momoa is Aquaman, the superhero of the sea. Off-screen, Momoa is just as much a defender of the ocean, which is plagued by floating discarded plastic. “We need a change from single use plastic water bottles,” he explains. Momoa took action by establishing Mananalu, which sells pure still water in 100 per cent recyclable aluminium bottles and cans. The company has been certified plastic negative, which means that through its work, it removes twice as much plastic from the world as it uses. Momoa has even brought his innovation to Hollywood via a partnership with sustainable production service provider Earth Angel, which has supplied big-budget movie sets with Mananalu water.
ESTER BAIGET Novozymes
Fresh from Dow’s Industrial Solutions business unit, Ester Baiget arrived at biotech firm Novozymes in early 2020, just months after the company had committed to net-zero by 2050. Once she stepped into the role, Baiget took Novozymes’ commitment even further, harnessing the firm’s great assets of people and innovation to improve global climate action. “We have sustainability in our DNA,” she told the We Mean Business Coalition in 2020. “But we can’t do this alone. That’s why it’s so important for all leaders … to raise ambition levels, encourage and support research and investments into environmentally friendly solutions, and to use policy as a driver to enhance ambition.”
ZOE CONDLIFFE She’s A Crowd
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, almost two million Australian adults have experienced sexual assault; the overwhelming majority of survivors were women. On top of that, more than 87 per cent of sexual assault goes unreported. Zoe Condliffe, herself a survivor of sexual violence, founded She’s A Crowd to give a voice to the voiceless and fill the gaps in data. The site collects anonymous testimonies of assault from around the world and turns them into datasets that can be analysed and used as a tool for change. “We exist to allow you to share your story with the knowledge that it’s going to make things better for the next person,” Condliffe told frankie.com.au in 2020. The innovative startup has twice ranked on the #Smart30 list and took out the NSW Telstra Best of Business Awards Accelerating Women category in 2022.
SCOTT HARRISON charity: water
Making safe and clean drinking water available in developing countries is an age-old mission, but in recent years, it’s grown into a full-blown water crisis. Enter charity: water which, through an innovative and transparent approach to traditional fundraising, has backed more than 91,000 water projects around the world since it was founded in 2006 by Scott Harrison. Haunted by his experiences on a hospital ship off the Liberian coast, Harrison’s commitment to providing clean water has garnered more than a million supporters and raised over US$640 million to date.
HAMDI ULUKAYA Chobani
Hamdi Ulukaya grew his love of homemade Turkish-style yoghurt into a billion-dollar business. Founded in 2005, Chobani is now the top yoghurt brand in the US with sales of more than US$1.5 billion annually. Ulukaya places a strong emphasis on natural ingredients, non-dairy options and philanthropic efforts. He’s also a tireless advocate for what he calls the “anti-CEO playbook”, which prioritises people over profits. Ulukaya’s belief that shareholder returns must come second to looking after employees and being accountable to consumers has resonated: his 2019 TED talk detailing his approach has been viewed more than four million times.
BOYAN SLAT The Ocean Cleanup
Floating mounds of discarded plastic have become an all-too-common occurrence in our oceans. While on-land efforts to mitigate this environmental catastrophe are ongoing, at sea it’s a different story. The Ocean Cleanup, a not-for-profit foundation founded by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat, has dedicated itself to clearing the world’s waterways of plastic. Slat was inspired to take action when on a scuba-diving expedition, he encountered more plastic than sea life. His once-lofty goal of cleaning up 90 per cent of the world’s floating plastic pollution now seems achievable with the successful 2021 debut of Ocean Cleanup’s System 002 vessel, expressly designed to harvest ocean plastic.
SHANI DHANDA Disability Specialist and Speaker
Born with brittle bone disease, Shani Dhanda was determined not to let herself be defined by the condition. Resilience was the greatest takeaway from her childhood, thanks largely to the strength of her mother. Today Dhanda uses that resilience as an advocate for inclusion, which she believes is the biggest barrier for people with disabilities. As she told Vogue in 2020, “I’m only disabled when I experience barriers or bias.” In addition to her work as a public speaker and event manager, Dhanda established the Diversability Card, a discount card for disabled people in the UK, and founded the Asian Disability Network to support and educate the community on matters of disability.
JACQUELINE NOVOGRATZ Acumen
Struck by the inequality in lending she encountered during her time at Chase Bank, Jacqueline Novogratz traded Wall Street for Rwanda. Her first venture, a micro-finance bank called Duterimbere, specialised in lending money to women for entrepreneurial efforts. Soon after, she established Acumen, which invests in social enterprises across Africa, Latin America, South Asia and the US. The not-for-profit financial organisation is a unique, innovative blend of philanthropy and venture capital, and has changed the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world. It’s no wonder Novogratz, who has delivered four TED talks on the power of change, was included in Forbes’s 100 Greatest Living Business Minds.
ETHAN BROWN Beyond Meat
When Ethan Brown left his role as a clean energy executive in 2009 to launch Beyond Meat, his friends thought it was a joke. As he worked hard to help his company – and his vision for a cleaner future – find its feet, critics constantly told him it couldn’t be done. But as Brown told CNBC in 2021, “The greater stress … was not doing it.” Today, having inked major deals with McDonald’s, PepsiCo and Yum! Brands, the plant-based meat company is worth upwards of US$526.3 million. Although Beyond Meat’s products are available in over 80 countries around the world, Brown says marketing innovation is the hardest hurdle to clear. “We innovate very quickly,” he told Time in 2021. “We commercialise at a rate that I need to match that innovation, and that’s what I’m working on.”
DAVID COOKE Konica Minolta
The first non-Japanese Managing Director of the Tokyo-based tech giant, though he is no longer with the company, David Cooke used his 15 years in the role to expand Konica Minolta’s business model beyond office printing to include robotics and 3D printing. He also placed greater emphasis on ethical leadership and care for employers and customers alike, as well as promoting and supporting human rights and addressing modern slavery within corporate supply chains. As a result of Cooke’s efforts, Konica Minolta received the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Human Rights Award for Business in 2018. It’s a cause close to his heart; Cooke’s doctorate focused on the role of for-profit corporations in supporting NGOs.
HEATHER HASSON FIGS
A true innovator doesn’t blink in the face of an opportunity to do what has never been done – they just jump in and do it. Shocked by the poor quality and comfort level of her nursing friend’s scrubs, Heather Hasson resolved to make a difference. Together with Trina Spear, she founded FIGS, a fashion company that provides innovative, functional and technically advanced apparel for healthcare professionals. It was a concept the world didn’t know it needed; since then, FIGS has grown from being sold out of Hasson’s car into an industry phenomenon that’s “branded an unbranded industry”.
DYLAN ALCOTT AOTY
Whatever Dylan Alcott sets out to do, he does. From winning gold at the Paralympics to a successful media career to being named Australian Paralympian of the Year in 2016, Alcott has reached the top in any arena he’s chosen to enter. Off-field, his tireless charity work has helped improve opportunities for other Australians with a disability. The Dylan Alcott Foundation provides fundraising for grants, mentoring and scholarships for marginalised Australians. In 2022, he took on perhaps his toughest challenge: following Grace Tame as Australian of the Year.
SHIZA SHAHID Malala Fund
Women’s activist Malala Yousafzai is an inspiration to people all over the world to improve female education, but a major source of Malala’s own inspiration is Shiza Shahid. Born in Islamabad, Shahid has devoted her life to humanitarian efforts and the improvement of quality of life of women under the Taliban. Today she heads up the Malala Fund, which supports and invests in advocates and activists fighting for better education for girls around the world. Her work has earned her a spot on both Time and Forbes’s 30 Under 30 list of global changemakers.
ISATOU CEESAY Njau Recycling and Income Generation Group
West Africa has a plastic problem. Rivers are choked, the air is often thick with the smell of burning plastic and residents and livestock alike are paying the price. With disease and environmental ruin knocking at the door, the Gambia villager Isatou Cessay took action. Despite her lack of education and finances, over two decades ago she established Njau Recycling and Income Generation Group, a community recycling project that repurposes plastic rubbish. Local women are employed to turn empty bottles and plastic bags into mats, purses and other items that are then sold at local markets or online. The project has grown beyond its initial remit to tackle deforestation, and has earned Ceesay the nickname Queen of Recycling.
For decades, Ashoka has provided social entrepreneurs with a platform and the support to amplify their thought leadership and bring about true change. For Tanha, it was the ideal way to take action on behalf of the transgender community. Born in Bangladesh, from a young age Tanha became aware of the large transgender community there – a community that was beset by inequality and stained by social stigma. But that was just the beginning: transgender people in Bangladesh repeatedly found themselves barred from achieving true social and financial freedom. Her establishment of TransEnd, which encourages a discourse to end stereotypes and encourage acceptance of those who identify as transgender, works to change the situation in Banglasesh. For her efforts, Tanha was elected an Ashoka Young Changemaker in 2020.
DAVID CHEN Golden Sunland
Rice farming is one of the pillars of Asia’s agriculture industry. As the market has grown, there’s been greater emphasis on responsible farming. One of the leaders in this field is Golden Sunland, a Singapore company that works with farmers in Myanmar to grow and distribute top quality rice using hybrid technology. Along the way, Golden Sunland COO and Co-Founder David Chen has made sure the environmental impact of rice growing is not forgotten. His approach has ensured the latest innovations in environmentally responsible rice growing has been made available to Myanmar’s farmers, all while paying them above market rate.
BLAKE MYCOSKIE TOMS
A trip to Argentina in 2006 became a seminal moment in the career of Blake Mycoskie. Shocked by the number of children he saw without shoes, he returned to the US and established TOMS, a footwear company. At the heart of TOMS is Mycoskie’s innovative One for One model, which provides a new pair of shoes to those in need for every pair sold. The philanthropic nature of TOMS saw the company team up with UNICEF, Save the Children, the Red Cross and other charitable organisations to realise Mycoskie’s ground-up vision of a better tomorrow.
JAMES THORNTON Intrepid Travel
The experience-based Intrepid enticed James Thornton away from a promising career in asset management, largely through the power of travel. A year travelling the world shifted Thorntons mind about his future, and Intrepid’s values, demonstrated by its B Corp status, made the transition easy. In the 17 years since he joined the company, Thornton has doubled down on those values, increasing Intrepid’s commitment to climate action. “Climate change is probably the biggest challenge for the travel industry,” he told The CEO Magazine in 2019. “It will impact the destinations our passengers will want to visit.” With that in mind, Thornton has turned Intrepid into a corporate leader in the industry; the company has emphasised alternative destinations and carbon neutrality, all while making a tidy profit.
ANSHU GUPTA Goonj
“Clothing is the first visible sign of poverty.” Such was the observation of Anshu Gupta during his time as a journalist in India. Moved by the hardships he witnessed, Gupta and his wife founded Goonj to create clothing for those in need. Today, Goonj has gone beyond distributing clothing and material to India’s disadvantages. Gupta’s team of more than 1,000 takes old material of all kinds to re-use as building material for a variety of projects around the country, including schools, roads, drainage and irrigation. In doing so, Gupta – known to many as the Clothing Man of India – has become one of the nation’s most powerful rural entrepreneurs.
ADE HASSAN Nubian Skin
Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. Unable to find nude undergarments to suit darker skin tones, Ade Hassan created her own. Despite a background in finance, Hassan was quickly able to make Nubian Skin a hit and a trendsetter. The brand had a clear purpose: to illustrate that ‘nude’ was more than just the colour beige. Hassan’s creation instantly resonated with those long neglected by the fashion industry. For her groundbreaking work, she has received a cavalcade of accolades including an MBE for services to fashion.
MUHAMMAD YUNUS Grameen Bank
Professor Muhammad Yunus already had a reputation as the ‘banker to the poor’ when he established the Grameen Bank in 1983. The bank makes collateral-free loans accessible to the poor so that they might gain a foothold in society; this approach mirrors Yunus’s philosophy that poverty can be eradicated if education and credit are made fundamental human rights. To date, Grameen Bank has issued over US$6.8 billion in loans to the impoverished, with a repayment rate consistently above 98 per cent. Yunus’s work and thought leadership have inspired a global microcredit movement that has seen similar initiatives spring up all over the world.
PAUL KLEIN Impakt
You can be content to make an impact, or you can be Paul Klein. The social change guru established Impakt in 2001 with a goal of providing guidance to corporations wishing to help solve social problems such as poverty and the destruction of the environment. By leading the way through thought leadership, scholarship and consultancy, Impakt has helped more than 80 companies develop social improvement programs. On top of this, Klein has written Change for Good, which demonstrates how businesses can benefit from taking their social responsibility seriously.