7 changemakers to watch in 2021

Madlen Popignatova 17
Article by: Sophie Poulsen
7 changemakers to watch in 2021

As we say goodbye to 2020 – an unprecedented, tumultuous year in human history – we are also looking ahead with optimism for the upcoming year. The challenges of 2020 have not slowed down the work of THNK’s many incredible leaders and changemakers. 

From climate action to sustainable fashion to impact finance, here are a few members of the THNK Community who are moving people and planet towards better futures:



1. Ayana Johnson

Ayana Johnson (AMS Class 5) is a marine biologist, policy expert, and conservation strategist. She is the Founder of Ocean Collectiv, a consulting firm that creates and amplifies solutions for a healthy ocean while centering on social justice. She is also the Founder of the Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank for the future of coastal cities.

Ayana’s emphasis on the intersection between climate change and social and racial justice has only become more important in light of momentous 2020 events such as Black Lives Matter. Read her TIME article on why we can’t solve the climate crisis unless black lives matter.

This year, Ayana also co-edited a book called All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, a collection of essays from women at the forefront of the climate movement. She is also the co-host of a new podcast called How to Save a Planet, where she explores “the big questions” together with journalist Alex Blumberg to figure out how to build the future we want.

changemakers to watch

Ayana co-leading the March for Science in 2017. Photo credit: Kisha Bari

2. Donald Pols

Donald Pols (AMS Class 16) is the Director of Milieudefensie, a Dutch environmental organization and the Dutch branch of Friends of the Earth.

A few weeks ago, hearings began in a case against energy company Shell. Milieudefensie is leading the historic case against Shell for its failure to act on climate change.

Donald tells THNK, “As a global community, we can successfully tackle the climate crisis, but only if everybody takes responsibility – especially big polluters like Shell. While Shell is responsible for twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as the Dutch economy, it continues standing on the sidelines. To change that, Milieudefensie is taking legal action in order to get Shell to commit to reducing its greenhouse emissions in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement.”

changemakers to watch
'As a global community, we can successfully tackle the #climatecrisis, but only if everybody takes responsibility' – #THNKer @DonaldPols, Director of @milieudefensie Click To Tweet

3. Eva Teekens & Felipe Villela

At reNature, Eva Teekens (AMS Class 16) and Felipe Villela (Emerging Leaders Program Class 1) are on a mission to make regenerative agriculture mainstream.

“We’ve seen how much conventional agriculture has damaged our ecosystems,” says Founder & Chief Commercial Officer Felipe. “Now it’s up to us to support farmers and corporates in this transition.”

On the TedxAmsterdam stage in 2018, Felipe excitedly introduced new models of regenerative agroforestry: “Regenerative agroforestry is an agricultural system that mimics nature, increases soil fertility without using any agrochemicals, sequesters more carbon from the atmosphere, brings more water resilience to avoid floods and drought, as well as increases biodiversity to create a natural pest control environment. We’re developing model farms and schools on all scales around the globe.”

For Eva, reNature’s Chief Investment Officer, transitioning to regenerative agriculture is not only necessary but vital if we want to feed a growing population in 50-100 years’ time. “We can continue doing what we do or we can challenge ourselves to keep on improving the way we do things,” Eva says. “At reNature, we focus on the possibilities and that’s what makes reNature so cool.”

reNature recently launched #HumansofNature, a spin-off of the popular Humans of New York, sharing the faces and stories of farmers around the world to help us build a stronger connection with the food we buy.

changemakers to watch
'It’s up to us to support farmers and corporates in this transition to #regenerative agroforestry' – THNK participant Felipe Villela, Founder & CCO of @renaturedotorg Click To Tweet

4. Kerry Murphy & Adriana Hoppenbrouwer

At The Fabricant, Kerry Murphy (AMS Class 8) and Adriana Hoppenbrouwer (AMS Class 8) are revolutionizing fashion with a digital-only fashion house – designing clothes that are never made.

In a recent blog post, Founder Kerry and Partner & Commercial Director Adriana share, “One of our founding ideas was that we could make fashion sustainable by harnessing technology to reduce the environmental impact of garment creation, and in time, fully transition to an industry that makes only digital clothing. We were told it was a very grand ambition, but if you’re going to dream you might as well dream big.”

Operating at the intersection of fashion and technology, The Fabricant has been featured in Vogue Business, Esquire, and The Guardian. Since the lockdown, The Fabricant has experienced a spike in interest. One of The Fabricant’s clients, Tommy Hilfiger, is among brands already testing avatars, holograms, and augmented-reality formats internally.

The Fabricant recently collaborated with Imperial College London on a sustainability report that shows that digital fashion can positively impact the carbon footprint of the fashion industry. The research paper compares the life cycle of physical fashion versus digital fashion production, using the creation of a single t-shirt as its working example.

changemakers to watch
'One of our founding ideas was that we could make #fashion #sustainable by harnessing #technology to reduce the #environmentalimpact of garment creation' – #THNKers Kerry Murphy & Adriana Hoppenbrouwer from The Fabricant Click To Tweet

5. Elles Roeleveld

On the heels of finishing the Executive Leadership Program, Elles Roeleveld (AMS Class 13) decided to leave ING, where she had been working for 10 years, to start a new business. 

After speaking to hundreds of experts and developing a business concept for an innovative lingerie company, Elles was selected to join Climate-KIC’s accelerator, gaining access to a startup coach, peer coaching, expert sessions, and an EU grant. A few months later, her company was selected as one of the top five companies to move forward to the second round.

In 2020, Elles introduced her new lingerie company, Soft Revolt, receiving fast praise and attention. “The bra of tomorrow,” Soft Revolt develops sustainable lingerie that is “soft to the skin, soft to nature, and soft to us.” For Elles, serving women as well as the planet is a win-win: “The average cup size is D and higher. This is not the minority of women. This is the average woman,” she says. Using 3D knit technology, Soft Revolt is leading the “knitted bra revolution” – garments are created in one single piece, leading to minimized transportation and zero waste production.

Elles’ mission is only getting bigger and bolder. Stay tuned for the official launch of Soft Revolt in March 2021.

changemakers to watch
Using 3D knit #technology, #THNKer Elles Roeleveld's #lingerie company, Soft Revolt, is leading the 'knitted bra revolution.' Click To Tweet

6. Rudayna Abdo

Offline learning may not sound innovative during COVID, but for children living in refugee camps without access to internet, accessible offline options are game-changing. Rudayna Abdo (AMS Class 6) is the Founder of Thaki, a nonprofit organization that advances digital inclusion by providing laptops with preloaded educational content for girls in refugee camps and underserved communities.

“War, forced migration, economic implosion, COVID-19 – topped off by the devastating explosion in Beirut on August 4 – have rendered the refugee and vulnerable communities we support even more marginalized,” says Rudayna. “We have seen an increased demand for our content-rich laptops that enable offline learning in communities with poor or no internet.”

In 2020, Thaki was selected from a pool of over 2,600 applicants to join MIT Solve, an initiative of tech-based social entrepreneurs addressing global challenges.

changemakers to watch
'We have seen an increased demand for our content-rich laptops that enable offline learning in communities with poor or no internet' – #THNKer Rudayna Abdo, Founder of @Thaki_Unlocks Click To Tweet

7. Nuno Brito Jorge

Nuno Brito Jorge (AMS Class 15) is the Co-Founder of GoParity, a Lisbon-based impact investment platform that connects citizens and companies with sustainable projects.

Featured in Forbes Portugal, Nuno explains the importance of creating opportunities for sustainable impact. He tells THNK, “While the modern economy has brought huge benefits in areas such as health, education, and food, it has also caused a lot of challenges that need to be tackled urgently. Somewhere along the way, we forgot this system was created to serve our needs as people and citizens, and market principles took over. At GoParity, we tackle both issues by empowering people and companies to use their money for good while providing access to funding to sustainable project owners who couldn’t find it elsewhere.”

Today, GoParity has over 8,500 users and more than €3.5 million invested in 50+ projects that contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. “These projects avoid the emissions of more than 19,000 tonCOeq per year, generate over 4Wh of clean electricity per year, and have positively impacted more than 15,000 people,” Nuno says. “We call it everyday impact finance.”

changemakers to watch
'These projects have positively impacted more than 15,000 people. We call it everyday impact finance' – #THNKer Nuno Brito Jorge, Founder of GoParity Click To Tweet

Want to join this powerful, diverse group of global changemakers? Get the tools, skills, and mindsets to lead for change in the THNK THRIVE: Lead With the World in Mind program.