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Nadia Shah Naidoo, 31

Senior manager
C40 Cities

Cape Town-based inclusive climate action manager Nadia Shah Naidoo believes that an effective transition towards a greener future in South Africa needs to centre on social and climate justice.
Working with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, Shah Naidoo’s work focuses on minimising climate risks for marginalised groups and others who are most vulnerable to extreme environmental conditions.
She has provided technical and strategic guidance on climate change to national, provincial and local governments in South Africa. Her career in climate change began at the eThekwini municipality, where she served as a consultant on the project team for Durban’s Climate Change Strategy and 100 Resilient Cities Programme.
“I entered the world of work eager to tackle environmental challenges, naive about how changes in society are actually brought about and just how interconnected environmental, social and economic challenges are. Climate change is truly a developmental issue with justice at its core,” Shah Naidoo explains.

It’s really important to know yourself: to spend time exploring your personal attributes and values.

Author - Jabulile Dlamini-Qwesha
Sibusiso Calvin Zulu, 29

Sibusiso Calvin Zulu, 29

Co-founder and chief executive
Swyft Lab

Sibusiso Calvin Zulu is an active ambassador for youth upliftment in the South African creative industry. “Most young people in my community did not get a chance to further their studies like myself, but have natural talent when it comes to the creative sector,” he says.

In 2015 Zulu founded the charity organisation Sneakers 4 Change, and in 2017 co-founded the Makers Valley Youth Expo.

With his new social enterprise, Swyft Lab, the entrepreneur aims to educate the youth about fashion waste, sustainability, and the value of a cyclical economy. “Swyft Lab is an upcycle fashion brand that redirects preloved fashion items from landfills into the wardrobes of the youth, through the intervention of design and craft,” he explains.

Through his pioneering work with Swyft Lab, Zulu was chosen to represent South Africa at the Social World Enterprise Forum in Ethiopia in 2019.

“Find your passion and use it to have a positive impact in your community.”

Luca Hart |
Sarah Robyn Farrell, 30

Sarah Robyn Farrell, 30

Managing director, cofounder and coordinator
African Climate Alliance

Sarah Robyn Farrell is fighting for the future of our planet. In 2019, after co-leading climate protests in Cape Town, Farrell co-founded the African Climate Alliance (ACA). ACA advocates climate justice, with a focus on Afrocentric climate literacy and social inclusion. In the same year, ACA was awarded the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award as part of Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement. As managing director, Farrell oversees ACA’s operations, as well as its action and advocacy programmes. Most notably, she’s created and coordinated digital climate literacy resources and campaigns in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa, opening the door for a more inclusive environmental narrative. Farrell also uses music to raise awareness of socioenvironmental issues, performing at protests, workshops and festivals. One of her proudest achievements is ACA emerging as a springboard for young activists to access important spaces in the fight for environmental justice.

Doing work around environmental justice is a relay marathon, not a sprint.

Laura du Toit |
Pinky Jedidiah Mokwena, 28

Pinky Jedidiah Mokwena, 28

Founder and chief executive
Metsi a Teng (Pty) Ltd

In addition to being an environmental scientist and radio broadcaster, Pinky Jedidiah Mokwena is the founder and chief executive of Metsi a Teng, an advanced water purification enterprise. Located in Tshwane, Metsi a Teng has won four different awards for its innovative nature, including the Inter-Varsity Innovation Challenge and the Blue Ocean Award.
Mokwena explains that she never imagined starting her own company in relation to her studies. As a first-generation graduate, business owner and visionary, she is propelling youth to dream beyond the limitations that may inhibit them. She is driven to excel by the women in her family, and humbled by the privilege to take up opportunities they never had available to them.
Mokwena was selected as the only South African delegate to join the COP26 Youth4Climate campaign in 2021. Today, she encourages everyone to recognise the authentic power that they possess to be leaders in whatever spaces they hold.

If you are consistent enough to allow yourself to become who you want to be, nothing else can stop you.

Georgia Satchwell |
Samantha Nicholson, 32

Samantha Nicholson, 32

Project manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust

Samantha Nicholson heads up the African Lion Database, a conservation project that collects and analyses key data on the species to inform conservation-related decision-making.
By creating a repository of reliable information, the database aims to bolster the capacity of governments and organisations to assess the impacts of their interventions. Through her team’s efforts, she hopes to see South Africa acknowledged as a leader in lion conservation.
Nicholson has published various academic papers on carnivore conservation, and is currently busy with a PhD in zoology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. When her enrollment coincided with the birth of her child, many people around her encouraged her to delay her registration. Nicholson decided to march on, determined to balance the commitments of motherhood with keeping her career aspirations on track.
“Never say no to something that you can learn from and that could provide opportunities to grow in your career,” she says.

“Never stop learning!”

Zia Haffejee |
Paseka Mabina, 31

Paseka Mabina, 31

Council for Scientific and Industrial Research

Paseka Mabina aims to draw up the blueprint for the use of artificial intelligence to help build a sustainable South Africa. “The sector accounts for more than 40% of global energy use and accounts for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions,” says Mabina, who is also a PhD candidate in electrical engineering at Stellenbosch University.
Mabina works at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research as a research engineer, working to implement renewable energy projects for the tourism, mining, banking and education sectors. Mabina also helps business owners to lower their energy costs and carbon footprint through energy-efficient upgrades.
The advice Mabina gives to those starting in the same field is to find a mentor to guide you in building on the foundation set by others, rather than facing adversity alone. Mabina has also had his work presented on an international level, putting South Africa on the map in the fight against climate change.

My biggest mistake is that I underestimated the impact of having a mentor when I started my career.

Simon Dey |
Neoka Naidoo, 30

Neoka Naidoo, 30

Project lead

Neoka Naidoo is at the forefront of one of the most pressing issues facing society today: climate change. Holding qualifications in both environmental science and public leadership has given Naidoo the tools to excel in her current position as project lead for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

In her role, she strengthens the relationship between governments and NPOs that are interested in or affected by the elements of the climate change convention.

If we are to tackle the problems associated with climate change, it is essential that there is consistent engagement from all stakeholders — a goal that Naidoo works tirelessly to facilitate. She trusts that her work on the frontlines of the climate crisis will create an impact.

“My proudest moment was being the leader that I thought I would be — empathetic, genuine, strategic and supportive,” she says.

“Tough times are when you need support; ask for help when you need it. It is a strength, not a weakness.”

Tshiamo Seape |
Mfundo Mdletshe, 28

Mfundo Mdletshe, 28

Chief beekeeper
Urban Deep Bees Company

“I imagine a future where humans transcend their anthropocentric world view and adopt an ecocentric worldview. I hope through my work I can change my fellow citizens’ perceptions and attitudes towards nature and the resulting human-environment interactions,” says Mfundo Mdletshe, the chief beekeeper at Urban Deep Bees Company. This company exists to foster a sustainable human-bee coexistence.
Urban Deep Bees Company offers beekeeping services to commercial and residential areas. Its main services are raw urban honey production, live bee rescue and its Adopt-A-Hive programme. The programme starts with a trained beekeeper delivering a hive and installing a bee colony, then making routine house calls to check on the hive’s health – while the adopter gets a share of the honey harvest.
Mdletshe says his work allows him to fuse his love for the superorganism of bees with his passion for environmental education, amplifying the cause of pollinator awareness and protection.

It is my quest to be a better version of myself so I can be able to contribute positively to the sustainable development of my beloved country and continent. There is a mountain of work to be done and it begins with me.

Patrick Visser |
Lee-Ann Modley, 33

Lee-Ann Modley, 33

Senior lecturer
University of Johannesburg

Working as a senior lecturer at the University of Johannesburg in the department of geography, environmental management and energy studies, Lee-Ann Modley is an academic who focuses on the significant role humans play in the management of our water resources.
Modley has pursued a lengthy education, holding a bachelor of science degree in human physiology and zoology, with an honours degree in general zoology, as well as a master’s degree and PhD in environmental management with a focus on aquatic ecology.
The purpose of Modley’s research is to rehabilitate, restore and maintain the health of our rivers in consultation with local communities. Her work mostly focuses on townships and involves community members as important stakeholders in spreading awareness of the role of society in water resource management. She believes people are aware and empowered by their responsibility to make things better.

Self-belief and hard work will always earn you success.

Daniël De Jager |
Gerald Carlton, 29

Gerald Carlton, 29

Social scientist
Social Assistance Welfare

Gerald Carlton is a social scientist and a student at the African Advanced Level Telecommunications Institute studying towards his master’s in communications management. Currently based in Kenya, he is researching climate migration in the region.

His enthusiasm for social entrepreneurship inspired him to launch Social Assistance Welfare (SAW), his own NPO. SAW provides social interventions and influences public policy to improve the lives of young people in developing countries. It partners up with similar initiatives to provide social assistance with health and sanitation projects, such as acquiring deworming kits for more than 10 000 children globally.

Carlton has several qualifications in the domains of trade law, trade economics and entrepreneurship. He’s also a member of various philanthropic and conservation organisations, including the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust and the Chatham House Common Futures Conversations initiative.

“I want to see a change in youth policy that can ameliorate the lives of young people in South Africa.”

Robert Sam-Kputu |
Carina Pienaar, 30

Carina Pienaar, 30

Project manager
BirdLife South Africa

After completing her master’s degree in environmental science at North-West University, Carina Pienaar started working to conserve the high-altitude grasslands in the eastern Free State and their threatened bird species.

She works closely with landowners to implement biodiversity-friendly land management principles.

“Working with the landowners has led to the declaration of protected areas in the grasslands of approximately 50 000 hectares through biodiversity stewardship — including the Ingula Nature Reserve, Upper Wilge Protected Environment and Sneeuwberg Protected Environment,” says Pienaar.

Her proudest moment was being part of the team that secured Ramsar Wetland international importance status for the Ingula Nature Reserve, as well as declaring the 24 000 hectares of Upper Wilge as a protected environment this year.

“I want to ensure that the grasslands retain their splendour and rich biodiversity, and that agriculture and land use in the grasslands remain sustainable for future generations,” she says.

“I want to ensure that the agricultural meat basket in the Eastern Free State and Northern Drakensberg Strategic Water Source Area will continue to provide food and water security to South Africa.”

Alexander Brand |