Shakers and movers: Individuals can make a difference


Amid doomsday stories about climate change and how urgently governments need to reduce carbon emissions, it’s easy for the average person to feel overwhelmed and helpless.  Over the years, individuals have been able to change the world. People like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee have initiated major innovations such as personal computers and the world wide web.  But there have been more recent extraordinary achievements, which have the potential to radically improve the world we live in, which have been initiated by individuals, not governments, that I want to highlight here.

Boyan Slat and The Ocean Cleanup

Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is one of the biggest environmental issues of our time, impacting nearly 700 marine species.

At 16, Boyan Slat saw more plastic bags than fish when scuba diving in Greece. This experience led him to found The Ocean Cleanup in 2013 when he was just 18 . Using sophisticated technology, this non-profit has identified the primary pollution spots in the world and developed methods and processes that can be replicated to ensure a major reduction in pollution.

The Ocean Cleanup’s idea is to ‘close the tap’ i.e. clean up the rivers, while simultaneously picking up  legacy trash in the ocean. They are initially concentrating on the most polluted rivers while, in the ocean, they plan to start with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

(Watch how they clean up the ocean  and how they clean up rivers

They started by cleaning rivers in Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Jamaica and Dominican Republic and have also initiated agreements with Thailand and Los Angeles county.  The video of the Dominican Republic cleanup is on YouTube. 

The Ocean Cleanup has determined that 80% of the pollution comes from 1000 rivers, and their goal is to tackle these rivers within 5 years. The Ocean Cleanup also hopes to be able to remove 90% of floating ocean plastic by 2040.

What can we do to reduce plastic pollution? Check their website for FAQ’s which list a number of ways to prevent plastic polluting.

Keenan Wyrobek and Zipline

On a trip to Tanzania, Kennan saw stacks of crated pharmaceutical supplies out in the open outside a medical supply depot. They were past their sell-by dates and had been dumped. He started thinking about ways of getting medical supplies to rural areas more efficiently. And Zipline was born.

Zipline was founded to create the first logistics system that serves all humans equally. Leveraging expertise in robotics and autonomy, Zipline designs, manufactures and operates the world’s largest automated delivery system.

Zipline began drone deliveries in Rwanda in late 2016, and primarily delivers blood and medicines to remote medical clinics. Other countries that benefit include Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Cote de Ivoire.


David Katz and Plastic Bank

Plastic Bank engages communities to collect, recycle and reprocess ocean-bound plastic waste, which then not only reduces the need for virgin plastic but also has a lasting environmental, social and economic impact.

Together, Plastic Bank’s collectors, branch owners, partners, contributors, and employees have stopped over 2 billion single-use plastic bottles from entering the world’s oceans – the equivalent of 40 million kilograms of plastic waste!

Their collectors exchange plastic waste at local Plastic Bank branches for bonuses that help provide basic family necessities, such as groceries, cooking fuel, school tuition, health insurance, digital connectivity, and clean drinking water.

The plastic is processed and lands up in supermarkets with the label ‘Socialplastic’. The ‘for-profit social enterprise’, started by David with Shaun Frankson in 2013, currently operates in Brazil, Indonesia, Philippines and Egypt.

Kate Rayworth and DEAL

Kate has done more than anyone else to change the direction of economics from growing to thriving. She invented the concept of ‘doughnut economics’, an economic model that balances between essential human needs and the earth’s planetary boundaries.

To promote the doughnut, Kate formed the Doughnut Economics Action Laboratory (DEAL) which spreads the doughnut idea at a grass roots level.

Cities that have piloted the concept include Amsterdam, Philadelphia and Portland. Roll-out of the application to companies is in progress.

Sal Kahn and the Kahn Academy

Sal initially started helping his niece who was struggling with maths and science. This eventually developed into the Khan Academy which is a totally free platform for learners and teachers with the goal of creating a set of online tools that help educate students. The organization produces short lessons in the form of videos, while its website includes supplementary practice exercises and materials for educators.

As of 2018, over 70 million people have used Khan Academy (including Bill Gates), out of which 2.3 million students have used it to prepare for SAT. As of February 2022, the Khan Academy channel on Youtube has 7.11 million subscribers and Khan Academy videos have been viewed more than 1.94 billion times!

Thomas Crowther and Restor

Nature is being lost on an unprecedented scale — 75% of natural land has been severely altered by human activity. Restoration offers hope in the face of this environmental crisis. 

Thomas founded Restor: a free on-line platform for anyone to undertake ecosystem restoration work anywhere in the world. Built on Google Earth Engine and described as a “Google Maps for restoration”, Restor allows anyone, anywhere, to see and engage with the global restoration movement, watch how landscapes change over time, and learn about the ecology of any terrestrial location.

Ecosystem restoration and conservation are crucial for protecting Earth’s biodiversity and achieving climate mitigation goals. Restoration has the potential to draw down about 30 percent of accumulated global carbon emissions and is a key component of many nations’ climate mitigation goals by 2030. However, the biggest impacts are often felt most acutely at the local scale and where people depend on biodiversity for their livelihoods. Protecting and rebuilding ecosystems are therefore local challenges. But the right scientific data and resources are often inaccessible, and where they are available, they are spread across a mix of outlets.

The Restor team sets out to create a unified platform to democratize ecological data to ensure that the best restoration data is created by, for, and with restoration practitioners.

Restor is accelerating the global restoration movement by connecting everyone, everywhere to local restoration. Restor connects people to scientific data, supply chains, funding, and each other to increase the impact, scale, and sustainability of restoration efforts.

Over 73,000 restoration sites are registered on Restor, with the number increasing daily. By the end of March 2022 there are 10,000 restoration and conservation projects published publicly on Restor. Anyone can view and explore these sites and learn more about restoration and conservation efforts worldwide.


The shakers and movers are out there. We just need to support them and promote their causes.

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