5 Girls That Are Changing the World – and What We Can Learn From Them

Once young people know the problems and are empowered to act, they have great power to impact the world. ~Jane Goodall

It takes a long time to become young. ~Pablo Picasso

Sometimes a problem needs fresh eyes, you know? And who better to give fresh eyes to a problem … than a teenager.

Our world is chock-full of amazing people doing amazing things. But it’s all the more inspiring when young people (already marginalized because of a perceived lack of power) and women (who have been marginalized since … well … forever) take the wheel.

So let’s meet some young women – teenagers, all of them – who are inspiring real change (and then talk about what we can learn from these amazing whippersnappers).

Greta Thunberg: The Girl That Started a Global Movement

Greta Thunberg started protesting each Friday, alone, on the steps of the Swedish parliament. Now her efforts are recognized worldwide.

If you took part in a #climatemarch or the #climatestrike, you have Greta Thunberg to thank for it. A Swedish teen with Asperger’s Syndrome, Thunberg has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work fearlessly advocating for our planet. What started out as an individual protest on the steps of Swedish parliament has become a worldwide effort of #fridaysforfuture. You may already have seen a video of her chastising adults at an economic retreat in Davos for only doing whatever is politically expedient rather than what’s necessary. But she’s called out adults across the globe in a variety of ways – giving the generation that is going to feel the business end of climate change a face and a voice.

The DIY Girls Team: Making Homes For Their Community

DIY Girls Team San Fernando Homeless Tent
The DIY Girls Team from San Fernando designed a collapsable, solar-powered tent. Image credit: GoFundMe

An all-girl team of California high school students in a low-income community designed a solar-powered collapsable tent to combat homelessness. Their tent includes a phone charger and a light-based sanitizer (I didn’t even know that existed!), and can roll up into a backpack for easy transport.

And did I mention that they had no engineering experience before they started the project? Or sewing experience, or manufacturing experience or 3D printing experience – basically, they had no experience doing any of the things they needed to be able to do to create this tent. They just saw a need … and went for it. When pressed as to why this particular mission hit home for them, one of the girls noted just how close they themselves are to homelessness. If one of their families missed a few house payments, they know that they could be on the street, too.

Malala Yousafzai: One Girl and a Book Can Change the World

Malala Yousafzai Malala Fund
Malala Yousafzai, founder of the Malala Fund and the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.


As a young girl in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai loved school. That is, she loved it until the Taliban took over her community and forbade girls from getting an education. At 11 years old, she began blogging for the BBC about what it was like to live as a girl under Taliban rule.

Because she was an outspoken advocate for girls and education, she was targeted by the Taliban and shot twice while boarding a school bus. She survived the attack, and went on to become one of the most well-known advocates for women and girls education – creating the Malala Fund to help girls across the world get the education they deserve. She was 17 years old when she became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the work she’s done at Malala’s Fund.

Indrani Das: Saving Brain Cells, Saving Lives


Indrani Das
Indrani Das, the 17-year-old scientist who pioneered a new way to treat brain injuries.

Last year, at 17-years-old, Indrani Das made a huge breakthrough in brain injury treatment. Her work focuses on “repairing the behavior of supporting cells to prevent neuron injury and death.” With Das’s treatment, the supporting cells are encouraged to do their normal cellular work, which protects neurons from the damage and death they’d otherwise suffer. That means more neurons -and patients’ brains – are saved. It’s a simple concept, but prior to her work, it hadn’t been studied or tested. Because of her ability to look at brain injuries from a completely different perspective, brain injury survivors, ALS patients and people with Alzheimers may now have treatments that will lead to a better – and longer – life.

What spurs her on? Her desire to improve the lives of brain injury patients. As she says, someday there will be a person at the other end of her research.

Gitanjali Rao: Accurate Water Testing for the Masses

Rao Water Testing
Rao designed a new accurate and affordable water testing device. Photo Credit: Discovery Education/Andy King

In seventh grade, Gitanjali Rao developed a simple and effective lead-detection system. After hearing about the Flint water crisis, she observed that the test strips available to most people aren’t terribly accurate, and don’t quantify the amount of lead in the water. Plus, her own family’s experience with test strips showed that multiple tests were required to have a semi-accurate reading. Meanwhile, more accurate lab testing isn’t feasible for most people. Confronted with that problem, she decided to take it upon herself to create a solution. So she created a much more accurate and affordable test.

To be honest, her design is too technical for me to explain well – it involves carbon nanotubes and atoms and such. But she created the prototype out of cardboard (I love seventh graders!). Now her design is being tested, and it just might make your water safer in the future.

(And it looks like Rao is just getting started fixing the problems she observes. Check out this youtube video of her speaking out against wage gaps!)

What Can We Learn From These Ladies?

Beyond being intelligent, determined and thoughtful people, each of these girls, or groups of girls, saw a problem that needed solving – and raised their hand to help. Whether their projects focused on helping one community (like Flint, or the unhoused living in the DIY Girls’ neighborhood) or on tackling problems so vast – like climate change and education – that adults have a hard time conceptualizing them, these girls stepped forward to be the leaders that the rest of us didn’t even know we needed.

Because we didn’t see the problem with their new, fresh eyes.

Hey, I get it. We hear no, or you can’t do that, or that’s just the way it is, or nobody has ever done it that way, or we don’t have time/space/money/resources to fix that a gazillion times by the time we turn 20. Creativity is beaten out of us in graduate school or is buried under mounds of obligations. Without a safety net, we become more cautious because sticking your neck out can be a liability and coloring outside the lines isn’t always appreciated. It’s human nature.

But exploring the world with fresh eyes – like the eyes of teenagers who have just encountered the problems of the world – can lead to the kind of earth-shattering change these girls have achieved.

Simply by opening your eyes to the problem, forgetting what you think you know about what can and can’t be done, and then thinking … what if?

We don’t have to age backwards or rely upon 15-year-olds to get our hands on a set of fresh eyes. Just think back to the early days of 2017, when the Trump administration was new and pop-up groups emerged throughout the country. Before those groups matured enough to have advisory boards to answer to, and budgets to manage, and executive directors to “professionalize” their operations, we were approaching activism and politics as children again.

We were pushing, pulling, turning things over – questioning everything and taking nothing for granted.

That adventurous teenage thinker is right there, behind your self-doubt and your misplaced notion that you’re not the right person to fix whatever problem is in front of you.

So let your inner teenager out. Look around with some fresh eyes. What do you feel passionately about changing – and what assumptions have you made that are holding you back?

Be courageous enough to be like a kid again, and ask … what if?

Okay, folks. Let’s get to work.

Actions for the Week of March 19, 2019

Tuesday: Help Christchurch

The world is still mourning the devastating loss of life in Christchurch, New Zealand as a result of gun violence and hate. Most of us are halfway around the world, and it can be hard to feel like you’re making a difference from this distance.

If you are able to provide financial relief for the people who were directly impacted by the violence, CLICK HERE to go to the online fundraiser for the victims’ families. The funds raised will help with their immediate needs.

Let’s chip in to make sure they can focus on grieving rather than how they’ll pay for funerals or other expenses.

Wednesday: Send Some Help to Our Nebraska Neighbors

I’m from Nebraska – a small town outside of Omaha that celebrated when we got a stoplight. And, you guys, my former state is suffering.

I know the towns that are underwater because our high school played them in football. Waterloo. Wahoo. Fremont. Valley. Small towns full of wonderful people that right now are hurting.

My childhood home used to overlook a cornfield by the Elkhorn river. Now it’s lakefront property, and that cornfield is gone.

The devastation that I’ve seen is breathtaking.

But honestly, you may not have heard about any of this. While the national news has been focused on how rich people played the system to get their kids into better colleges and Trump’s latest tweetstorm (which, to be honest, was pretty insane) it’s missed stories of ranchers digging their cattle out of snowdrifts, towns turned into islands, the Strategic Air Command at Offut Air Force Base being 1/3 underwater and interstates being wiped out.

It’s as if the middle part of the country, and the misery it experiences, just isn’t part of the conversation. (Hmmm. Does that sound familiar to anyone? It rhymes with something like “The 2016 Presidential Election,” doesn’t it?)

If you’ve been wondering how to pitch in, I have two suggestions.

First, the Omaha World Herald has listed a number of organizations that are helping Nebraskans through this crisis.  Please CLICK HERE to check out this resource and help if you can. Right now the focus is on rescue and immediate needs, but there will be need for more support in the weeks to come.

But second, if you’re part of a national action network, check in with your leaders to see what help you can give to your Nebraska/Kansas/Iowa leaders and members. Ask around, and offer to help them out in whatever way they need right now. This is the time to join together to help fellow activists and leaders – show them that you see what’s going on in the midwest, and that you care.

Thursday: Tell Our Legislators That We’ve Had Enough

It was inspiring to see the New Zealand government take decisive action after the Christchurch shootings. Let’s reinforce the need for background checks and assault rifle bans with our legislators.

At the end of February the House passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act. Bipartisan Background Checks Act (H.R.8) Mitch McConnell is not expected to take up the bill – but that doesn’t mean we can’t encourage our senators to co-sponsor and support the Act. It’s S. 42 in the Senate.

You may remember this action from March 4, but it’s worth repeating! March for Our Lives-DC is taking on a super interesting project – encouraging people like you and me to write letters to our Senators to support S. 42, the universal background checks bill that passed the House on 2/27.

If you send your handwritten letter to March for Our Lives-DC (March For Our Lives GW, 800 21st Street, NW, Suite 505, Washington, DC 20052) they will deliver them by hand on March 25 when they will go to Congress to lobby for change.

For you moms of young kiddos, this is a great handwriting practice exercise! For those of you with local MOMS chapters, this is an easy and fun project to undertake while folks are milling around before a meeting.

You can learn more about their project at their website HERE.

Friday: Excited About the 2020 Convention? Why Not Join Their Crew?

[From Rogan’s List] The 2020 Democratic National Convention will be held in Milwaukee between July 13 and 16, 2020. According to Mayor Tom Barrett, 12,000 volunteers will be needed to ensure the event’s success. If we are interested in volunteering, we can apply online here: https://www.milwaukee2020.com/volunteer. If we are interested in applying for jobs, we can look here: https://www.milwaukee2020.com/jobs.

P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

P.P.S: Yes! Some of you have asked if I write for a living, and the answer is “I sure do!” Visit www.mhornish.com to learn more.

P.P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

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