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Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges: Meet the 2017 Laureate Global Fellows

Lisa Jones | July 25, 2017

In an uncertain world, the 2017 Laureate Global Fellows have made one thing clear: we don't need to wait to make a difference.

Boldly pursuing creative solutions and mobilizing peers to join them, these 20 young leaders represent the resilient spirit of youth worldwide who are answering the call of global challenges by starting with change at the grassroots.

From using 3D printing to increase access to assistive technology for individuals living with disabilities in Australia to leveraging the power of story to connect citizens in Venezuela, these founders of youth-led organizations in 17 countries have already achieved measurable impact.

Through the Laureate Global Fellowship, made possible by Laureate International Universities, the 2017 class will spend the next year and beyond developing their leadership abilities, growing the impact of their ventures, and connecting with our network of 1,500 like-minded changemakers in 90+ countries.

Civic Engagement

Innocentia Mthembu, 29, South Africa
Innocentia launched the Show Time Film Club to help disadvantaged children and youth discover their potential through gaining video production, storytelling, and citizenship skills. In 2016, 120 students developed skills they can use to pursue productive futures while connecting to their communities.

Sylwia Wodzinska, 27, Poland
Sylwia co-founded MamyGlos (Polish for “we have a voice”) to equip teenage girls in Poland to advocate for their rights and end gender discrimination in their schools and communities. Through workshops on activism and women’s empowerment, as well as creative media campaigns, MamyGlos empowers Poland’s next generation to take a stand for gender equality.

Economic Empowerment

Rosario Ahumada, 29, Argentina
With low-income mothers often unable to leave their homes and children to earn a living, Rosario founded JUNO. Through the social enterprise, 120 women now generate extra income through producing hand-crafted items from home.

Paul Matovu, 27, Uganda
Through Vertical Micro-gardening (VMG), Paul manufactures and sells vertical farms to low-income urban residents, particularly housewives and youth, enabling them to grow fresh, organic produce in a limited space while generating much-needed income.

David Hernandez Sandoval, 29, Costa Rica
Through 2da Mano-Ropa Solidaria, David empowers female heads of households with the skills and materials needed to repurpose and sell second-hand clothing. Since 2014, 43 women entrepreneurs in 18 communities have benefited from an 80 percent increase, on average, of income.

Mikayla Sullivan, 22, United States
To help reduce post-harvest food loss in developing countries while creating entrepreneurial opportunities for subsistence farmers, Mikayla co-founded KinoSol. With KinoSol’s solar-powered dehydration technology, over 100 mostly women farmers in 39 countries are now able to preserve—and sell—fruits, vegetables, grains, and even insects.


Binayak Acharya, 29, India
Binayak founded ThinkZone to enable women in low-income communities to deliver quality early childhood and primary education programs through a technology-enabled school-in-a-box solution. To date, over 1,500 children have received quality education, with 45 women benefiting from livelihood opportunities.

Innocent Eliuseli, 26, Tanzania
Innocent co-founded My Little Travelling Library to inspire a passion for reading and independent learning among rural primary school students in Mwanza, Tanzania. In 2016, over 2,400 youth in 15 schools benefited from the organization’s network of mobile handcart libraries delivering books and interactive reading lessons led by university student volunteers.

Natalie Kyriacou, 29, Australia
Through My Green World, Natalie empowers educational institutions, children, and families with fun, creative ways of learning about and acting on global environmental issues. To date, My Green World has directly impacted 12,000 young Australians and indirectly reached over 900,000 people through its website and social media platforms.

Cristina Balbás Martinez, 29, Spain
Recognizing that students’ attitudes toward science are shaped by age 14, Cristina co-founded EscueLab, which equips children, ages 6 to 14, with STEM skills through educational materials, teacher training, science clubs, and camps. In 2016, EscueLab reached 1,900 students, with a special focus on vulnerable children.

Luiz Hamilton Ribas, 28, Brazil
Luiz co-founded Social Action for Equality of Differences (ASID) to bring together companies, volunteers, people with disabilities, and care-giving institutions to create a more inclusive Brazil. In 2016, the organization provided 35 care institutions with management consulting to increase revenues, improve services, and expand their reach.


Ivonne Bocanegra, 27, Peru
Through Grupo Ambiental Tierra Amazónica-Gatia, Ivonne trains children, youth, and women as eco-entrepreneurs, and promotes environmentally-friendly behaviors and attitudes through awareness campaigns and events that have reached over 12,000 people.

Dysmus Kisilu, 28, Kenya
Through Solar Freeze, a company that produces solar-powered walk-in cold rooms, Dysmus increases the incomes of smallholder farmers through preventing post-harvest food losses. To date, the initiative has benefited 1,000 youth and women.

Social Inclusion

Ankit Agarwal, 28, India
With floral waste from religious institutions imposing a heavy pesticide burden on the Ganges River, Ankit founded Helpusgreen. The initiative now employs 128 women, who previously worked as scavengers, to upcycle the floral waste into organic fertilizer and incense, while generating much-needed income for themselves and their families.

Dissa Ahdanisa, 27, Indonesia
Dissa founded Fingertalk Enterprise to end the stigma against the Deaf in Indonesia and reduce unemployment rates among Deaf youth. Fingertalk’s social enterprise model employs 30 Deaf individuals at various small businesses, including a Deaf café where all people can connect regardless of hearing ability.

Junto Ohki, 29, Japan
As co-founder of the ShuR Group, Junto uses technology to transform the lives of the Deaf. Among its achievements, ShuR launched an online sign language dictionary with the world’s first sign language keyboard, making it easier for Deaf individuals to look up a word or sign.

Ignacio Rodriguez, 28, Venezuela
With Venezuela experiencing the worst social, economic, and political crisis in its recent history, Ignacio founded Epix, a social venture dedicated to restoring empathy and connecting the nation’s citizens through the sharing of stories. Through its online platform, events, and social media outreach, Epix reached an audience of 43,000 in 2016.

Nushelle de Silva, 29, Sri Lanka
In the wake of the Sri Lankan civil war, Nushelle founded Building Bridges to provide ethnically diverse youth with the opportunity to express themselves and connect with others. In 2016, Building Bridges guided 200 students from rural communities across Sri Lanka in building empathy and collaborating through the creative arts.

Melanie Tran, 21, Australia
Melanie co-founded AbilityMate to increase global access to assistive technology devices that help individuals with disabilities achieve greater independence. Combining 3D printing and open source technology with human-centered design, AbilityMate develops low cost, highly customized devices that support users’ mobility, communication, and ability to carry out everyday activities.

Katia Zahwi, 24, Lebanon
Believing that architects are capable of not only designing buildings but strengthening communities, Katia co-founded Architects for Change. Comprised of 83 design students and recent university graduates, the collaborative implements participatory design solutions for cultural and public spaces.

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