We honour the people working to shape our lives for the better. Allow us to introduce you to the Marie Claire 2021 Future Shapers...
The past two years have been extraordinary to say the least. Having been confined to our homes for so long, it’s been hard to muster up the energy to do anything much at all. But despite this, we have still seen some incredible things happening; powerful campaigns started, strong communities formed, empowering messages shared, vital change made.
Every year, Marie Claire honours the trailblazers at the heart of these movements with our Future Shaper Awards. This year, with the backdrop of everything we’ve collectively been through, it feels even more pertinent to celebrate these people and their achievements. So that’s exactly what we’re doing…
Along with four inspiring judges – Radio 1 DJ, broadcaster, and Future Shapers 2020 winner Clara Amfo, fitness influencer and entrepreneur Grace Beverley, Marie Claire Editor-in-Chief Andrea Thompson, and co-founder of women’s member’s club AllBright, Anna Jones – we scoured the country to find 10 incredible people who we believe are at the forefront of positive change, shaping the way we want to live and work today.
We’ve got grass-roots campaigners, activists, innovators and creators – all of whom are working to improve the world in whatever way they can. So… are you ready to meet them? Welcome, Marie Claire Future Shapers class of 2021…
The Groundbreaking Athlete: Ramla Ali
Ramla Ali is a professional boxer, having competed in over 75 fights and won numerous championships, but her work doesn’t end there – she’s also a model, author and a racial equality activist. Having been deemed clinically obese at 12yrs old weighing 82kg, her journey to sport was inspired by a motivation for better health. Ramla’s family fled their home nation Somalia for Kenya when she was a baby, and later moved to London where she grew up. “I was fortunate enough to grow up in London and obtain an education, including a degree in Law, so I had the ability to see what was possible but I didn’t believe it was necessarily possible for me, because nobody that looked like me or came from my religious or ethnic background was in magazines, television or in the boxing ring,” says Ramla. “Regardless, I wanted to dream high. I knew my journey to success would be harder than most, but the rewards would be so much greater. I used my pain and struggle as a blazing fire that never went out. Fear and anger of inequality is a powerful tool,” she tells Marie Claire.
Ramla founded ‘The Sisters Club’, a charity offering free classes to women who wish to learn the sport of boxing and self defence, and is an ambassador with UNICEF. “When I enter a refugee camp in Africa or the Middle East, I’m not just looking at poverty and inequality in front of me. I’m looking at people who resemble my mother and father. I’m looking at young men and women that bare the same scars as my brothers and sisters,” she says.
Ramla’s advice: “Begin your journey now because tomorrow is never promised. I spent too many years worrying about what others would think and how that would affect me and not enough time on what I needed for my own peace and solace.”
The Mental Health Educator: Dr Julie Smith
A clinical psychologist for over a decade, author Dr Julie Smith really landed on the radar last year at the height of the pandemic, as she shared viral mental health videos helping people to cope during lockdown. Her aim is to make top quality mental health education accessible online, without having to sift through “endless amounts of misguided advice” – and with 481,000 followers on Instagram and counting, she’s reaching people who might otherwise have not have benefitted from her teachings. “Understanding how your own mind works and how you can influence your own mental health is empowering but I didn’t see why people had to go to a therapist to get access to that education,” Julie tells Marie Claire.
Dr Julie’s advice: “When you believe that failure says something shameful about who you are as a person, then every opportunity feels like a risk too big to bear. But when we acknowledge failure as a necessary part of progress and separate it from our sense of self-worth then it becomes much easier to learn from experience and pick yourself back up again.”
The Political Powerhouse: Zarah Sultana MP
28-year-old Zarah Sultana is a Labour party politician and MP for Coventry South constituency, becoming the youngest ever Muslim MP and the fourth youngest MP in Parliament when she was elected in 2019. She got into politics because she was “angry at injustice” and felt unable “to just stand by and watch. I had to get active and try to change things. That’s what I’m in Parliament to do.”
Since becoming an MP, Zarah has been vocal about trans rights, migrant rights, free school meals and the climate crisis. Most recently, she gave an emotive speech in parliament about the Islamophobia she’s experienced since being elected. “I have discovered that to be a Muslim woman, to be outspoken and to be left wing is to be subjected to this barrage of hate. It is to be treated by some as if I were an enemy of the country I was born in. As if I don’t belong,” she told fellow members of the house.
Zarah’s advice: “Be true to yourself. You don’t have to change who you are to fit the mold of what someone in politics is like. The only qualification you need is a determination to fight for a better world.”
The Media Trailblazer: Mae Martin
Comedian, actor and writer Mae Martin is the creator of Netflix series Feel Good. A semi-biographical show, it poignantly depicts the pressures of navigating the modern-day fluid landscape of gender and sexuality. Recalling how they have “always been a huge comedy fan,” and having been “addicted” since they first set foot in a comedy club aged 11, Mae told Marie Claire: “You can change people’s hearts and minds when you lower their defences, and comedy can be a really positive force in the world if the intentions are good.”
Mae’s advice: “I think sometimes the effort you expend trying to overcome a ‘bad day’ or self doubt is wasted energy. Everybody has bad days. Let yourself feel everything without beating yourself up for feeling bad, have a bath, get a pizza. The world is overwhelming and we would be certifiably insane if we didn’t occasionally get overwhelmed by it.”
The Sustainable Fashion Pioneer: Eshita Kabra-Davies
After witnessing first-hand the effects of textile waste during her honeymoon to Rajasthan in India, former investment analyst Eshita came up with the idea for a sustainable social fashion sharing app. By Rotation is a peer-to-peer lending platform that enables users to rent out their investment wardrobe pieces, making money and preventing fast-fashion buying in the process. While, by Eshita’s admission, it started largely to solve the “first world problem” of wanting to borrow designer fashion for her holiday abroad, it’s evolved into something so much more than that. “I wish I’d known earlier just how problematic the fashion industry is when it comes to the climate crisis, because I’d have founded By Rotation much earlier” she tells Marie Claire.
Eshita’s advice: “Work for someone else before wanting to become an entrepreneur/founder – humility and tenacity are more important than pure passion, because everyone is passionate about something.”
The Sports Champion: Hannah Cockroft
29-year-old Hannah Cockroft is a wheelchair racer on the British Paralympic Athletics Team, who added two more gold medals to her collection in Tokyo this year, making it seven in total. She’s also a 12-time World Champion, as well as holding the World Records in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m wheelchair races – so it’s safe to say she’s at the top of her game. Having been the only disabled student at her school, Hannah didn’t engage with PE or sport because she thought it “just wasn’t open” to people with disabilities.
An introduction to wheelchair basketball at the age of 12 led on to Hannah’s discovery of wheelchair racing at 15, and she quickly “fell in love” with the sport. “I loved the feelings of freedom and independence – feelings that I had never really experienced before,” she tells Marie Claire. “I trained because I enjoyed it, and the inspiration just came from that love.”
Hannah’s advice: “I wish I’d known beforehand that sport is for everyone – regardless of ability, disability, race or gender. Everyone can be involved and no one should ever feel like they are not welcome when being active. There are so many sports available that there really is something for everyone. I’m proving all those wrong who ever said I couldn’t do sport, because now I’m one of the world’s best!”
The Musical Innovator: Arlo Parks
21-year-old singer/songwriter and poet Arlo Parks is making waves in the music world with her thoughtful lyrics, but she’s also using her voice for good. Winning Breakthrough Artist at this year’s Brit Awards, as well as a Mercury Prize, Arlo describes as some of her proudest achievements. “I was surrounded by loved ones when I received those awards and they were a reminder that being myself and trusting my tastes is enough,” she tells Marie Claire. But it’s not all about making music and poetry; Arlo partners with organisations such as CALM and UNICEF on important causes she cares about. This work has filled her with “a sense of higher purpose,” she says.
Arlo’s advice: “I wish I’d been more aware of how important preserving time for oneself is, that work should be balanced with space and days of doing absolutely nothing and that dreams can come true.”
The NHS Campaigner: Dr Julia Patterson
After qualifying as a doctor in 2010 and becoming increasingly disheartened about the sense of injustice during the junior doctor contract dispute, Dr Julia Patterson began elevating her voice as a campaigner. In 2019, she set up a non-profit, doctor-led organisation, EveryDoctor, of which she is CEO, providing a network for doctors who were frustrated about the underfunding and understaffing of the NHS, and the consequences this had for patients. “It’s difficult to speak up as a doctor, but I realised that if a community of doctors could be built with a central team co-ordinating media responses and campaign messages, individual doctors could speak up about their experiences anonymously. So this is what we built,” Julia explains.
Throughout the pandemic, she became a vocal campaigner for NHS workers’ rights, notably growing an enormous Twitter following in a very short space of time in order to raise awareness of the PPE issues and the realities of frontline working during COVID-19. “I care deeply about the NHS, its staff and patients, and at heart I’m a community builder,” says Julia. “Our network drives everything we achieve at EveryDoctor. EveryDoctor started with doctor members, and members of the public can now join as supporters too.”
Dr Julia’s advice: “In campaigning it’s important to listen to everybody, not just the loudest voices. Also, change does happen if a large group of people who feel strongly about something come together and make that change, so never feel disheartened. If you feel strongly about something, find others who feel strongly too. Together, you can achieve an awful lot.”
The Women’s Rights Champion: Erica Osakwe
Erica Osakwe is a 22-year-old survivor of domestic abuse. When she reported the crime to the police, a processing error which led to a long delay meant Erica was ‘timed out’ of accessing justice. This was due to the 6 month time limit to report common assault for survivors of abuse. Disturbed by this legislation, Erica set about trying to change the law. She founded the ‘Victims Too’ campaign, gathering over 65,000 signatures and partnering with Refuge on it. In July, the issue was tabled in Parliament as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill debate and it’s now expected to pass in the House of Lords and become enshrined in law. “The current law fails to recognise how much abuse can affect an individual; especially to process, heal and seek support,” says Erica. “I made it my mission to ensure no victim is told they were too late when using their voice, strength and courage to share their stories.” The fact she’s made such headway with a campaign she cares deeply about is a “huge win” for Erica and every survivor of abuse.
Erica’s advice: “I wish I knew beforehand how much our voices are worth. Especially coming together with so much passion and drive in our hearts. If you put your mind to it, anything is possible.”
The Climate Activist: Mikaela Loach
Mikaela Loach is a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, but on the side, she’s also a vocal climate justice and anti-racism activist on Instagram and beyond. Mikaela has her own podcast, The Yikes Podcast, about “the things that make us YIKES,” including fast fashion, the refugee crisis, and white saviourism, which aims to “break down the issues in an accessible, intersectional and nuanced way to guide us towards action together.” She’s also taking the Government to court to stop payments for major polluters.
Mikaela’s advice: “To fight for the long run, you need to find both what makes your heart break and what makes it swell out of your chest. We need to be angry, outraged and heartbroken about the harm and the violence that is being caused. But, we also need to find that thing that mends your heart. It’s when we have both of these parts that we get to a place where there is no choice but to act in a way which will form new worlds. We can’t help ourselves, the prospect of creating something better is what we can’t ignore.”