WaterAid launches list of top young activists fighting to save our planet   

Posted by
Ekene Oboko
22 January 2021

Future 15 list presents young activists who are fighting for a better future for all by championing action on climate change  

WaterAid has today launched the Future 15 - an inspiring selection of trailblazing young people who are taking action on environmental issues and fighting to save our planet.  

Future 15 includes remarkable documentary makers, actors, authors, and bloggers with connections to different parts of the world, including Uganda, the US, and the UK. The list of campaigners includes climate justice activist Vanessa Nakate, medical student and podcaster Mikaela Loach, filmmaker Jack Harries, and photographer Conor McDonnell.      

The influential environmentalists have harnessed the power of digital platforms and political action to bring significant attention to the climate crisis and elevate the voices of marginalised people.    

International development organisation WaterAid is using the list to raise awareness around the devastating impact climate change has had on the water crisis.  Globally, 785 million – that’s 1 in 10 people – lack clean water close to home, and climate change is making the situation worse. Extreme weather such as prolonged droughts dries up water sources, while rising sea levels and flooding contaminates ill-protected water supplies, with catastrophic consequences for people’s health and livelihoods.      

A reliable source of clean water helps reduce the spread of disease, enabling people to go to school or earn a living. It also helps communities grow food, whatever the weather, and endure natural disasters. Through the Future on Tap appeal, WaterAid aims to raise £3 million to help transform lives with clean water in Ethiopia and around the world. The UK Government will match donations made by 4 February 2021, up to £2 million, making double the difference in climate-vulnerable communities.    

WaterAid can’t tackle the crisis alone, and the climate movement has seen the emergence of young leaders such as Greta Thunberg and other visionaries. That’s why the international charity has launched the Future 15; to shine a light on some of the young activists from around the world who are pushing the climate conversation forward. 

In 2019 inspired by the global climate strike movement Fridays for Future, Vanessa Nakate, 24, began protesting outside the Uganda parliament building to demand action on rising global temperatures and set up Rise Up Movement, a group that amplifies the voices of African climate activists. She said:  

“In my home country of Uganda, more than 21 million people don’t have clean water – that’s over half the population.  The climate crisis is interrelated with the water crisis, and the world needs to recognise the chaos the climate crisis is causing right now. On the African continent, there have been severe floods and droughts, all impacting communities’ access to clean water. Despite countries in the Global South contributing least to climate change, people there are suffering the most from it. We need urgent action to slow the rate of climate change and help people adapt and remain resilient to whatever the future holds.  

“Solving these interrelated crises of climate and water, and therefore saving lives, will take a radical change in all our societies. We can all demand accountability from our leaders. Our voices are all powerful if we use them.” 

London-based activist Jack Harries, 27, joined forces with fellow Future 15 activist Alice Aedy to launch Earthrise, an online space dedicated to climate justice. He said:   

“I’m honoured to be on WaterAid’s Future 15 list along with amazing climate activists.  Climate change is one of the major issues facing our generation, and it’s those in the world’s poorest places who’ve done the least to cause it yet are suffering the most from its devastating impact.  

“Right now, one in ten people can’t get clean water, it’s a shameful stat, and rising temperatures, greater droughts, and intense storms brought on by our changing climate is making it harder and harder for people to access this basic human right. Making sure people have a reliable source of clean water helps them withstand the impact of extreme weather, so supporting WaterAid’s Future on Tap is a great way to help vulnerable communities living on the frontlines of climate change.” 

Mikaela Loach, a 22-year-old medical student at Edinburgh University, co-hosts the YIKES podcast, which holds discussions on intersectional environmentalism and human rights. She said: 

“Through a lens of climate justice, we can tackle systems of oppression, displacement and the climate crisis all in one; these issues are interconnected. While structural political changes are needed to fight the climate crisis, we can all take part in the climate movement, and those severely impacted by it need to be heard.  Change in history has always come from many people - some extraordinary, but many just ordinary - individuals coming together to choose to resist oppression and exploitation. We all have the power to be catalysts for change.”  

Liverpool photographer Conor McDonnell’s shot from Kim Kardashian and Kayne West’s 2014 wedding became the ‘most liked’ Instagram image that year.  More recently, the 27-year-old's images have highlighted plastic trapped in the Arctic Ocean; he has also worked closely with David Attenborough for Netflix’s “A Life on Our Planet”. He said:      

“Climate change is the greatest threat to our future, yet it still feels abstract and overwhelming to many. I try to use my photography to highlight the issue.  Extreme weather conditions are making it harder for the poorest people in the world, who are already struggling to access basics like clean water, and the great injustice is that they have done the least to cause the crisis.      

“The good thing is that people are definitely waking up. The climate crisis is no longer a niche subject. It’s cool to care about the planet and our future. The younger generations who are actually doing something about the climate emergency give me hope for a better future.”     


Aditi Mayer (21): LA-based sustainable fashion blogger and photojournalist who champions labour rights in the fashion industry. Aditi’s work explores fashion through the lens of intersectionality and decolonization. She is on the Intersectional Environmentalist Council a body that brings together activists from diverse backgrounds to dismantle systems of oppression in the environmental movement. 

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Alice Aedy (27): Documentary photographer, filmmaker, who while reporting on the front lines of the refugee crisis across Europe and the Middle East, realised climate change would force people to leave their homes. She has reported on places where climate change is hitting the hardest, such as Somaliland where droughts are becoming increasingly harsh. Alice is co-founder of Earthrise Studio, a digital community communicating the climate crisis.  

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Bonnie Wright (29): The London actress, who is known for her role as Ginny Weasley in the “Harry Potter” films, uses her platform to amplify environmental issues, such as plastic use. She has travelled to Guatemala to meet communities engaged in sustainable rainforest management.  

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Cel Spellman (25): The actor (“Cold Feet”, “Waterloo Road”) from Manchester and BBC Radio 1 presenter speaks up about how the meat industry contributes to the climate crisis and encourages reduced consumption.  

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Conor McDonnell (27): Liverpool photographer whose images have documented the plastic trapped in the Arctic ocean and its sea ice retreat.        

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Jack Harries (27): The filmmaker and photographer has reported from places severely affected by climate change. He is the co-founder of Earthrise Studio, a digital community communicating the climate crisis.    

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Jamie Margolin (19): Author and founder of Zero Hour, an intersectional youth-focused platform based in Seattle, Washington.    

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Kulsum Rifa (20): The Bangladesh-born student, who now resides in the US, speaks up about the impact of climate change on Bangladesh, as large areas of the low-lying country will be submerged by 2050, mostly as a result of sea-level rises caused by the changing climate.  

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Leah Namugerwa (17): School pupil and prominent activist in Uganda with Fridays For Future - international climate strike movement started by Greta Thunberg - Leah became an activist in response to the mudslides and flooding that affected parts of Uganda. Her activism also includes ensuring a plastic bag ban in Uganda is enforced and tree-planting.  

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Lesein Mutunkei (16): School pupil, who combined his passions of football and nature to combat deforestation in Kenya. For every goal he scored Lesein committed to planting one tree, resulting in the Tree for Goals initiative. After deciding more action was needed to combat air pollution, he started planting eleven trees, for every goal he scored. Lesein has encouraged his football club and school football team to join the campaign.  

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Mikaela Loach (22): Edinburgh-based medical student and co-presenter of the intersectional environmentalism-focused YIKES podcast.   

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Mitzi Jonelle Tan (22): Prominent activist in the global climate strike movement, Fridays for Future. Mitzi is co-founder and international spokesperson for Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines (YACAP), which is a coalition of youth organisations advocating for climate action and the counterpart of Fridays for Future in the Philippines.

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Pattie Gonia (28): Environmentalist drag queen, who grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and is dismantling masculine and heteronormative associations of the outdoors.  

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Vanessa Nakate (24): When Vanessa began protesting outside the Ugandan parliament building to demand climate action, she became the first Fridays for Future activist in Uganda. She launched the Rise Up Movement to amplify the voices of African climate activists. Vanessa has delivered a speech as part of the Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture, highlighting the link between the climate crisis and disease, poverty, and conflict and violence against women and girls.    

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Venetia La Manna (31): Sustainability and slow fashion campaigner. She began the hashtag on Instagram #OOOTD (“old outfit of the day”) to encourage people to repeat their outfits. She co-founded Remember Who Made Them, a podcast series and digital platform that shines a spotlight on garment workers in the Global South.  

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For more information, please contact: 

Ekene Oboko, Senior Media Officer, [email protected]. Or call our after-hours press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552 or email [email protected] 



WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 26.4 million people with clean water and 26.3 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit www.wateraid.org/uk, follow @WaterAid or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid UK on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wateraid.

  • 785 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home.[1]
  • 2 billion people in the world – almost one in four – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2]
  • Around 310,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's almost 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3]
  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[4]
  • Just £15 can provide one person with clean water.[5]

[1] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[2] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[3] Prüss-Ustün et al. (2014) and The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2018)

[4] World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage

[5] www.wateraid.org

UK Aid Match 

UK Aid Match brings charities, the British public and the UK government together to collectively change the lives of some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. It is designed to provide opportunities for the UK public to engage with international development issues and to allow the British public to have a say in how UK aid is spent, whilst boosting the impact of the very best civil society projects to reach the poorest people in developing countries. 
For every £1 donated to a UK Aid Match charity appeal by an individual living in the UK, the UK government will also contribute £1 of UK aid, up to £2 million, to help these projects go further in changing and saving lives. 

Over the last six years, 111 organisations from across the UK have run UK Aid Match projects in 36 countries, helping around 25 million people*. 

Match funding from the UK government will be used to bring sustainable water, toilet and hygiene facilities to climate-vulnerable communities where a lack of these basics is putting lives and livelihoods at risk. The project will include constructing flood-resistant community water points and accessible water and sanitation facilities in schools and health centres, as well as training communities to manage the facilities. This includes: 

  • Form and train community WASH committees 
  • Renovate the existing spring development with flood protection 
  • Construct flood resistant community water points 
  • Install a new solar pumping system  
  • Construct gender and disability responsive WASH facilities in 3 Health Posts and 5 Schools 
  • Provision of portable water quality test kits and training 

*statistics accurate as of September 2020