In honor of International Women’s Day 2020, this week’s Progressive Pioneers will be a quadfecta of amazing young women who are trying to change the world for the better.
All too often the news is dominated by negative stories, and one would think that the world is a sad place.
However, that is not the case!
For optimistic, creative, inventive, and resourceful entrepreneurs Greta Thunberg, Alaina Gassler, and Anna Stork & Andrea Sreshta the world couldn’t be more full of promise and hope.
Here are their stories:
Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg is a Swedish environmental activist on climate change whose campaigning has gained international recognition. Thunberg is known for her straightforward speaking manner, both in public and to political leaders and assemblies, in which she urges immediate action to address what she describes as the climate crisis.
Thunberg first became known for youth activism in August 2018 when, at age 15, she began spending her school days outside the Swedish parliament to call for stronger action on global warming by holding up a sign saying (in Swedish) “School strike for the climate”. Soon, other students engaged in similar protests in their own communities. Together, they organized a school climate strike movement under the name Fridays for Future. After Thunberg addressed the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, student strikes took place every week somewhere in the world. In 2019, there were at least two coordinated multi-city protests involving over 1,000,000 students each. At home, Thunberg convinced her parents to adopt several lifestyle choices to reduce their own carbon footprint, including giving up air travel and not eating meat.
Her sudden rise to world fame has made her a leader and a target. In May 2019, Thunberg was featured on the cover of Time magazine, which named her a “next generation leader” and noted that many see her as a role model. Thunberg and the school strike movement were also featured in a 30-minute Vice documentary titled Make the World Greta Again. Some media have described her impact on the world stage as the “Greta Thunberg effect”. Thunberg has received many honors and awards, including fellowship of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, and in 2019, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people and the youngest individual Time Person of the Year. In September 2019, she addressed the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. Thunberg was also nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
Sometimes we just simply have to find a way. The moment we decide to fulfill something, we can do anything. And I’m sure the moment we start behaving as if we were in an emergency, we can avoid climate and ecological catastrophe. Humans are very adaptable: we can still fix this. But the opportunity to do so will not last for long. We must start today. We have no more excuses.Greta Thunberg, Speaking at the UK Parliament, April 2019
Alaina Gassler, a 14-year-old from West Grove, Pennsylvania, won a $25,000 prize for creating a prototype designed to eliminate a car’s blind spots.
She first noticed the problem when she realized her mom didn’t like driving their family’s Jeep Grand Cherokee because its A-pillars caused blind spots.
The A-pillar design in a car supports the windshield and provides protection in case of a crash. However, their size and angle also create blind spots, the area of the road not visible to drivers from their usual sitting position or rear-view and side mirrors.
There are so many car accidents and injuries and deaths that could’ve been prevented from a pillar not being there, and since we can’t take it off cars, I decided to get rid of it without getting rid of it.Alaina Gassler, Society for Science, October 2019
Gassler’s project uses a webcam, projector, 3D printed adapter and retroreflective fabric to make a car’s A-pillars invisible by displaying the image of the blind spot behind them onto the pillar.
First, a webcam is attached to the car onto the A-pillar. Then, a projector mounted on the roof inside the car is used to display the images from the webcam.
Gassler also 3D printed a special piece to allow the projector to focus at close range. The teen used retroreflective fabric to cover the A-pillar to allow light from the projector to reflect back onto the light source, rather than bounce in different directions. [See video below.]
This, she says, allows the driver to see the image more clearly. The fabric also helps other passengers in the car avoid headaches and disruptions from the projector light.
The young prizewinner said she was motivated to work on the design after finding out how dangerous blind spots are to drivers. After her own brother started driving, she knew it was a “big issue” she had to look into.
“When I did research, I found out that there are more than 840,000 blind spot related car accidents per year just in the US, which made this project significantly more important to me” she says.
Gassler competed against 29 other middle school students at the Broadcom MASTERS. When she won, she said she was “genuinely” taken by surprise.
Gassler won the $25,000 Samueli Foundation Prize for her design. According to the Society for Science & the Public, the prize is “the top award in the Broadcom MASTERS, the nation’s premier science and engineering competition for middle school students.”
“I had confidence that I might win one of the STEM category prizes, because I felt like I did well in the engineering category, but once they reached the announcement for the top prize, I was out of hope,” Gassler said.
“When my name was called, I started shaking so much because I was so excited.”
Gassler, who is now a high school freshman at Avon Grove Charter School, submitted the project when she was in eighth grade. The student said she hopes to make her prototype more unique, patent the design, and submit the idea to automotive companies like Tesla.
Andrea Sreshta and Anna Stork were graduate students at Columbia University’s School of Architecture when the devastating earthquake hit Haiti in 2010; in one of their classes, they were assigned a project to find a way to help with disaster relief. After speaking to a relief worker, Stork and Sreshta realized that there was an often-forgotten need after disasters strike: light. The pair decided to create an inflatable, waterproof, and solar-powered light, the LuminAID Solar Light. Their design can be packed flat, charges in 6 hours to provide light for 16, and even features a handle to make it easy to carry.
They used a crowdfunding campaign to make their first 1,000 lights, and after LuminAID became a favorite with outdoor enthusiasts — and in home emergency kits — they started a Give Light Project: one light is donated for every light purchased. They have since provided lights to Nepal and to Syrian refugees.
Thanks to the work of these two creative innovators, more people will have access to the gift of light during the darkest of times.
At the end of 2015, Sreshta and Stork got to experience LuminAID’s positive effect firsthand. The cofounders – normally stuck behind computers in the Chicago office – flew to Malawi, where their product is an integral part of a famine-relief effort.
It was our first time seeing the light in use by people truly in need. It was very touching and motivating.Anna Stork, Malawi Disaster Relief Expedition, December 2015
It was a humbling experience. It’s nice when customers write in to say the lights were helpful, but to see it in person was very special.Andrea Sreshta, Malawi Disaster Relief Expedition, December 2015
It should go without saying that these four young women have amazing futures ahead of them as they embark on environmental, humanitarian, industrial, and digital technology revolutions on a global scale. They are an inspiration to young girls and women everywhere who want to make the world a better place. They inspire us all to be change-makers for the good of humanity. And that is what being a Progressive Pioneer is all about!
And a final word of thanks to all of the women of the world…you make this world a far, far better place because you’re a wonderful and amazing part of it!
HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY!