Grass-roots campaigners, innovators, activists who are working to change the world and our working lives for the better. Allow us to introduce you to the Marie Claire Future Shapers – eleven amazing women set to take 2021 by storm.
As we leave a year that saw an indelible global pandemic, the incredible rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and a seismic Presidential election behind, it’s clear that as we ease into 2021, change makers are needed now more than ever.
Enter the Marie Claire Future Shapers: eleven incredible women working to make our lives better, and laying foundations for change that will have a positive impact – not just for 2021, but for many years to come.
Back in December, we challenged an equally trailblazing panel of judges with the not so simple task of selecting and honouring these extraordinary women whose tireless activism, campaigning and conviction continues to make the world a better place. Just who did they choose?
The roll call starts here.
Meet the Marie Claire Future Shapers: eleven brilliant women set to make waves in 2021.
As a new year begins, they tell us how to stay resilient through difficult times, navigate the choppy waters of pandemic employment, and make a lasting impact on an ever-changing world.
How to be a trailblazer in 2021, according to the Marie Claire Future Shapers
The Fashion Pioneer
Co-founded by friends Jemma Finch and Ella Grace Denton, Stories Behind Things started life as an Instagram page celebrating the history behind their pair’s own second-hand clothing. Since then, it has evolved into a storytelling platform and online boutique dedicated to promoting sustainability, with a community of 26k followers that actively promotes conscious consumerism.
Stocking innovative lifestyle products, brands and experiences, all with green living at their heart, each item sold on the site has a unique story that’s told and celebrated as you shop. Stocking pioneering eco-friendly fashion brands such as Finisterre and Mud Jeans, the site’s mission is to encourage consumers to be both bold and thoughtful in their future fashion choices. With fashion playing a crucial role in the sustainable future of our planet, Jemma is a passionate eco-warrior doing her bit to cleave a path towards a more ethical fashion future.
The Political Powerhouse
Nadia Whittome MP
The days when young people didn’t think what happened in politics affected their lives, and felt excluded from being heard in political discussions, are long gone. At 23, Nadia Whittome MP is the face of a new generation of politically active women who refuse to be left behind.
In 2019, when she was one of the few new Labour candidates to secure a seat in the general election, Nadia became the UK Parliament’s youngest Member of Parliament.
Throwing her weight behind LGBT+ equality, she won praise from the LGBTQ community in July after writing a powerful opinion piece for The Independent arguing that the toxic ‘debate’ around trans rights must be grounded in the real, lived experiences of trans lives.
The Labour MP for Nottingham East has also highlighted the work of care workers and lack of PPE during the pandemic, hosted youth climate-strikers in Parliament, and boosted the calls of activists to halt a deportation flight of 50 people to Jamaica. In recent weeks, Nadia has also taken to Twitter to criticise the Conservative’s decision to vote against the extension of free school meals, and to talk about the impact it had on children within her constituency.
One of the key voices in a new generation of politics, she is poised to make a real difference through her passion for representing groups that are often otherwise unheard.
The Human Rights Defender
During the time of seeking asylum, Pinar Aksu and her family were held for two months at the infamous Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre. After being back into her community with the support and campaigning, she began her journey towards her current roles as a human rights activist, social justice warrior, and ambassador for The Campaign to End Child Detention. Pinar’s aim is for the 13 detention centres in Britain to be shut down, and she campaigns vigorously to raise awareness of issues facing people seeking asylum and refuge in the UK. As part of her ambassador role, she has shared her powerful personal experience of detention with the Council of Europe and the UN. She is also on the board of Right to Remain, and was named in the Amnesty Brave Awards 2020 for Scotland.
Now a development officer at Maryhill Integration Network, which brings communities together through social groups, Pinar is only just getting started. At 28 years old, she is poised to change the lives of thousands more people suffering oppression and detention in the future.
The Anti-Racism Campaigner
The Black Lives Matter movement gained significant traction in 2020, but it was back in January 2019 that CEO Lavinya Stennett, 23, founded The Black Curriculum. Driven by the lack of Black British history in the school curriculum, her social enterprise group is working on effecting social change and overturning the erasure of black people from school history books.
Before the coronavirus crisis hit, Stennett and her rapidly growing team visited schools to conduct educational workshops, and to help provide Black children with a sense of identity. Teachers were also given the resources and training to introduce more Black history into lessons. The group’s ultimate aim is to introduce permanent change to the national curriculum, and “build a sense of identity in every young person in the UK.”
Having continued their vital work online, The Black Curriculum has recently announced Louis Vuitton’s men’s artistic director, Virgil Abloh, as its first patron, while Lavinya has been named Winner of Education in the Global Youth Awards, and nominated as a Trailblazer in the Duke and Duchess List of 2020. There is no doubt that her tireless work will see the campaign growing in strength in 2021 and beyond.
The Mental Health Activists
Holly Avis and Abbi Leibert
Even as pubs and restaurants reopened in the wake of lockdown, one major restriction remained firmly in place: birth partners were banned from hospital bedsides. Enter Holly Avis, 35, and Abbi Leibert, 39 – the activists who joined forces to campaign for an NHS policy change on pregnant people’s rights in birth.
Birth and post-natal doula Abbi was campaigning with the BirthBliss Academy to protect the right to a birth partner when she spotted artist Holly’s Change.org petition on the same issue. She got in touch so the pair could bring their two campaigns together, and the result was #ButNotMaternity. Aiming to shine a spotlight on the inequality being experienced by new mothers due to the Covid-19 restrictions imposed on maternity wards, the campaign also hopes to prevent the trauma of giving birth alone.
Thanks to the tireless campaigning of people like Holly and Abbi, on 8 September NHS England issued new guidance regarding the lessening of their maternity restrictions where possible. Although some clarity is still needed, when the new tiers system was announced on 23 November, birth partners were also exempted from gathering limits – showing that if we can work together and speak loud enough, real change can be achieved.
The Women’s Rights Champion
Employment law solicitor Deeba Syed’s website pulls no punches, stating in plain black and white, “Deeba Syed. Political activist, Women’s Rights advocate and campaigner, Sexual Harassment Lawyer.” An experienced equality and women’s rights campaigner, Deeba, 32, has used her forthright approach to support the call to end indefinite detention of asylum seekers in the UK, and to instigate changes for women suffering sexual harassment, particularly in the work space.
In 2019, Deeba joined the legal-rights charity Rights of Women as Senior Legal Officer to help set up the Sexual Harassment at Work Advice Line, a free legal helpline for women experiencing workplace sexual harassment in England and Wales. With the support of TIME’S UP Now and the Rosa women and girl’s fund – and launched by Emma Watson- the line was immediately inundated with calls from women desperate for support.
In October, the helpline was awarded Highly Commended in the Law Society Excellence Awards for its services to women. Deeba continues to be a fierce fighter against harassment at work, and is committed to giving women the tools they need to fight back alongside her.
The Media Trailblazer
Clara Amfo can’t think of a Jive pun for her name. At least, that’s according to her handle on Twitter, where she posts about her appearances on Strictly Come Dancing, her Radio 1 show and Spotify podcast, and a stream of memes featuring a cast of strong Black heroines (think Beyoncé, Tina Turner and Shondra Rhimes).
Since taking over the prestigious Live Lounge slot from Fearne Cotton in 2015, the presenter’s career has gone from strength to strength, making appearances on every music show that matters, from MTV’s Official Top 40 and Top Of The Pops to the BBC’s Glastonbury coverage and The Proms. This year, her emotional anti-racism speech on Radio 1, made after missing her show in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, was widely praised. “I didn’t have the mental strength to face you guys yesterday,” she admitted to her listeners. “I was sat on my sofa crying, angry, confused… stuck at the news of yet another brutalised black body.”
Such a high-profile figure adding to the voices talking about mental health was a powerful moment. Whip smart, funny, and unafraid of speaking the truth, Clara signals that the future of music media is very bright indeed.
The Tech Innovator
If you’re a woman managing to smash the glass ceiling, you’d better throw down a ladder to the women coming up behind you – at least, that’s the way diversity business coach and motivational speaker Sonya Barlow sees it. A first-generation British Asian, she grew up without role models “who looked and felt like me,” but at 28, she is now an award-winning entrepreneur, TEDx speaker, podcast host and diversity consultant.
In 2018, she founded the Like-Minded Females (LMF) Network, which aims to empower women and other underrepresented groups by helping them bridge the skills gap, find a foothold in the spheres of tech and entrepreneurship, and elevate their voices.
This year Sonya, whose mission is to“upskill and empower people to achieve their best self and sense of success,” was named winner of the Most Influential Women in Tech UK and Women in Software Changemaker, and has been listed as one of the Top 50 BAME Entrepreneurs.
With so much going on, you might expect Sonya to have enjoyed a well-deserved rest during lockdown – but instead, she’s added a couple more strings to her bow, launching a podcast, Strategically Winging It, and writing her debut book on becoming your own boss, due out in 2021.
The Equality Advocate
Sinead Burke wants you to know that fashion should be equal – a message the Irish writer, academic, and fashion and design activist began spreading at the age of just 16. As a person with achondroplasia, Sinead felt excluded from fashion conversations at her school, due to the limited choices of clothes available to her in stores and online. A few years after starting a blog on the topic of fashion equality, she co-founded the Inclusive Fashion and Design Collective with US disability advocate Liz Jackson.
The first-ever fashion trade association for people with disabilities, the collective aims to challenge designers who traditionally disregard making clothes for the disabled community – which also happens to be an emerging market the size of China.
With her latest project, a book called Break the Mould: How To Take your Place In The World, Sinead aims to spread her message even further. Described by actor and comedian Chris O’Dowd as, “A lovely lesson in humanity for eager young humans,” it draws on her own experiences and encourages young readers to use their voices to make the world a more inclusive place.
Award-winning ballerina Francesca Hayward is a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet and is one of the UK’s most celebrated creative talents. She was inspired to become a ballerina after watching The Nutcracker aged two and spent her life devoted to dancing starring alongside Taylor Swift in CATS. Half-Kenyan and half-British she has recently spoken out about the need for more diversity in the arts.
With her eagerly-anticipated debut as Odette in 2020’s Swan Lake put on hold due to the pandemic, Hayward threw her efforts into supporting the arts instead, particularly those whose work and livelihoods were most impacted by Covid-19. She appeared in short film Where We Are as a result – a project designed to capture thoughts and reflect the frustrations of those unable to perform or create during lockdown – as well as joining Misty Copeland’s fundraiser, Swans For Relief, as well as starring in the Royal Opera House’s first performance since lockdown which was streamed live on Youtube.
Want to know more about the Marie Claire Future Shapers of 2020? Here are some expert tips on shaping your own future from this year’s winners.