As 2016 draws to a close, I wanted to highlight a few heroes among us. Normal, everyday people who have righted wrongs, enacted change, upset the apple cart, and generally made the world a better place. They remind us that despite the gloomy news cycle, there are many who are taking awesomeness to a new level and leading by example.
May we all make the world a better place in the coming year, whether by tiny acts of kindness or with big noisy triumphs. Our future, after all, is up to us. Here’s to a 2017 full of love, laughter, friendship, fun - and lighting the candle of change, one person at a time.
Heroes of 2016
Jose Miguel Sokoloff. Innovator.
An advertising executive in Colombia who used the medium as a force for good, this was perhaps the feel good story of the year. In the wake of a brutal 50 year civil war, the president (and recent recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize) decided to reach out to guerrillas and offer amnesty. The problem: how to reach them in the densely forested and mountainous jungle where they lived. Enter Sokoloff, whose brilliant strategies included hanging giant posters of the guerrillas' mothers in the jungle, with personal messages imploring them to come home; dropping ‘soccer balls of peace’ signed by Colombia's biggest football stars from helicopters; and the decoration of rebel strongholds with Christmas lights and messages saying “If Christmas can come to the jungle, anything is possible”. Eighteen thousand rebels eventually returned to Colombian society. They were welcomed with open arms.
Andy Grammer. Singer.
The sole famous person on this list, Andy Grammar’s “Fresh Eyes” video features makeovers of residents of an L.A. homeless shelter, and their extraordinary reactions to the transformations that take place. A reminder that dignity is a universal human right.
Komal Ahmad. Visionary.
While Ahmad was at UC Berkeley, she noticed that hundreds of pounds of edible food were being trashed every day in the dining hall. At the same time, people in the city, sometimes right outside the gates of the university, were going hungry. She approached Berkeley about donating the excess food, and when they agreed, the seeds of her food recovery app were sown. Copia recovered 830,000 pounds of food last year by matching organizations who have excess, like restaurants and caterers, with those in need, like homeless shelters and churches. Volunteer drivers make the pick ups. It’s a model that has fed a whopping 700,000 hungry people to date, and Ahmad isn’t finished: she hopes to implement it in cities across the U.S. in 2017.
Canadians Privately Sponsoring Syrian Refugees. Lifesavers.
Unique to Canada, the private sponsorship of refugees has seen an explosion in applicants over the past year in response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Under this program, private citizens can bring immigrant families to Canada as long as they agree to provide financial support for one year. More critically, they also follow a protocol to integrate families fully into the community. It’s a system that countries around the world are seeking to emulate as official routes of immigration become hopelessly mired in red tape. It’s also a program that reminds us just how nice this country can be.
Lelania Chapman. Real Life Superhero.
This B.C. mom ran to the aid of four kids stranded on a cliff by tying a rope around a tree stump, lowering it, and hauling each one to safety - hours after receiving radiation therapy for breast cancer. Wounds from a previous surgery didn’t stop her either; after reopening her stitches from the pulling, she simply patched it up with a sweatshirt and took the kids for Slurpees to celebrate.
Boyan Slat. Clean Oceans Crusader.
This 21 year old inventor has impressed scientists worldwide with his ingenious but simple technology to clean up the world’s oceans. While on a family vacation in high school, he noticed there was more trash than fish, and so began his personal crusade to make things right. Rather than tackle how the trash gets there in the first place - some would say an insurmountable task - Slat devised a filtration system using the ocean’s own currents. The first prototype was deployed last year, and his organization, The Ocean Cleanup, is launching the first working system in late 2017.
Vishen Lakhiani. Founder, Awesomeness Fest.
Need I say more?! These twice-annual festivals gather a community of change-makers and visionaries who are driven by epic ideas for global change. Innovators from all walks of life gather in awesome locations the world over to brainstorm the ultimate conundrum - how to give back to humanity.
Norah Wood. Little Girl.
While grocery shopping with her mother, 4 year old Norah saw an elderly man in the aisle, and as children often do, struck up a conversation. What blossomed from this simple encounter is pure magic. As it turns out, “Mr. Dan” is a widower whose lonely existence had made him into something of a recluse. Despite the gruff exterior, Norah’s mother says the little girl was ‘magnetically drawn’ to him and wouldn’t stop talking about him, leading her to seek him out again in the store and ask if they could take a picture. Norah threw her arms around him, and the rest is history. The two visit on a weekly basis, and recently celebrated his 82nd birthday with balloons and cupcakes. Mr. Dan told Norah that his birthday wish had already come true.