Social Innovation

Meet the 2017 Class of Young Global Leaders

They develop gene-editing technology, rebuild wartorn nations and much more Image: Scott Webb

John Dutton
Head, Uplink; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
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Each year the World Economic Forum undertakes an ambitious endeavour – to scour the world to select 100 young leaders, under the age of 40, who are tackling the world’s most complex challenges with innovative approaches.

As global industry, government and civil society strive to bridge divides and promote an inclusive future, we bring together a range of inspiring individuals who have distinguished themselves in their fields, whether it's gene-editing or building emotionally literate computers, leading multibillion-dollar companies in a sustainable manner or rebuilding wartorn nations.

Selected into a five-year programme, this year’s class of 100 Young Global Leaders is split evenly between business and not-for-profit sectors – building a global community of peers who can capitalize on diverse talents, experiences and networks to bridge divides that exist in society and achieve more together than they could separately.

Among current and former YGLs are heads of government and Fortune 500 companies, winners of Olympic medals and Academy Awards, and people who have overcome towering adversity to positively change the world we live in.

Together they achieve the impossible – none more vividly than recent YGL Lewis Pugh, an endurance swimmer and ocean advocate who was recently dubbed the Speedo diplomat for his work on the Antarctic Ross Sea marine preserve.

Not only are women in the majority in this year’s class, but half the intake come from emerging economies, reflecting a trend towards greater diversity in global leadership.

From pioneers in gene-editing to America's youngest mayor

The Class of 2017 features two of the world's top scientists on genome editing: Luhan Yang, chief scientist at eGenesis Biosciences, and Feng Zhang, a core member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. They co-invented the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 genome-editing tool, described by WIRED as "the gene-editing technique that could help eradicate health conditions and bring back the woolly mammoth". It was named Science Magazine's Breakthrough of the Year in 2015.

From the public sector, we are inspired to select a number of innovators and trailblazers in public policy. Aja Brown is the youngest mayor to be elected in Compton, California, and has recently received the National Action Network Martin Luther King Award. Naisula Lesuuda holds a similar distinction as the youngest woman in Kenya's parliament and a leading advocate for women's rights in the region. Yuefei Qin is a Yale graduate who shunned a big-city job to become a village chief in rural China. He and other Yale graduates founded Serve for China, a non-profit that helps villagers build roads and water conservatories, connect to the internet and improve local schools.

Among those representing the private sector is Katie Hill, an innovator who leads Apple's ambitious new clean energy programme, converting the company's manufacturing worldwide to renewable energy. Additionally, we have selected Alejandro Brenes, co-founder and CEO of Enertiva, an energy company that distributes solar and energy-efficient solutions in Costa Rica.

The class of 2017 also includes amazing leaders from the not-for-profit and social-enterprise space who are working tirelessly to make our societies more inclusive. Neema Kaseje is a pediatric surgeon with Médecins Sans Frontières, dedicated to providing universal access to healthcare and safe surgery for children in the world’s most vulnerable areas. Rebecca van Bergen is the founder of Nest, a platform connecting local artisans with global consumers; and Sercan Celebi is the founder of Turkey's first and only election-monitoring organization, which has mobilized 100,000 volunteers to ensure transparent and fair elections.

While these young leaders have already attained significant success, as part of the YGL Community they will be challenged to accomplish feats together that, individually, would be unthinkable. In a world that’s crying out for new models of leadership, I’m confident that this group will leave an indelible impact.

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