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From climate justice to women's rights, these 'Goalkeepers' are moving humanity forward

Four extraordinary women have been honored with Goalkeepers Global Goals Awards.

goalkeepers awards gates foundation

Vanessa Nakate and Dr. Radhika Batra are two of the women honored with Goalkeepers awards.

We live in a world that is full of dedicated people doing incredible things, but unfortunately, we don't hear about most of them. Much of the work to solve global problems and move the human race forward isn't glamorous or exciting, and most of the people doing that work aren't in it for the limelight or fanfare.

So when changemakers are honored for their service to humanity, we have the opportunity to shift our focus away from headline and spotlight chasers and celebrate the people working diligently to make the world a better place.

The Goalkeepers Global Goals Awards has provided such an opportunity.


The awards, given by the Gates Foundation, honor global changemakers who are helping to move humanity closer to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. In 2015, 193 world leaders committed to 17 Sustainable Development Goals (aka Global Goals or SDGs), a series of ambitious objectives and targets to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and fix climate change by 2030.

“While the world is far from being on track to reach the Global Goals by 2030, there is still cause for optimism," said Blessing Omakwu, head of Goalkeepers. "We’ve seen how human ingenuity and innovation can lead to game-changing breakthroughs and progress toward our shared goals, and that’s exactly what we see in this year’s Goalkeepers Global Goals Award winners."

Omakwu tells Upworthy that having women sweep the awards was not planned, but it's telling that that's how it turned out. "These women represent some of the best of humanity," she says. "Women are central to the future of progress."

Attended by global leaders and influencers, the awards ceremony included award presentations by Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates, Angelina Jolie, Malala Yousafzai and Lilly Singh.

Meet the honorees:

climate change uganda

Vanessa Nakate helps mobilize other young people to take action on climate change.

Jjumba Martin/Gates Foundation

2022 Campaign Award: Vanessa Nakate (Uganda)

The Campaign Award celebrates a campaign that has raised awareness or built a community by inspiring action and creating change.

Vanessa Nakate's work highlights the disproportionate impacts of climate change and the inequalities it exacerbates, especially for women and girls in Africa. Nakate founded the Rise Up Climate Movement, which amplifies activist voices from Africa and around the globe. She also founded the Green Schools Project, which addresses energy poverty in rural schools in Uganda using economical and sustainable solutions. One of those solutions is equipping 24,000 schools with solar panels and eco stoves, which Nakate says will both drive a transition to renewable energy and reduce the consumption of firewood, as most schools in Uganda use firewood to prepare food.

Nakate tells Upworthy that the initial inspiration for her work was Greta Thunberg's school strikes for climate change action. "But right now, I’m really inspired by the resilience of the different young people across the world that continue to mobilize and organize and demand climate justice," she adds.

She says this award will help her message of climate justice reach new audiences. "For me, this is an opportunity to use these new platforms to talk about the impacts of the climate crisis and the solutions that are already working, especially in our communities at the grassroots level," she says. "I believe in our fight for climate justice we need everyone involved, and it’s an opportunity to meet new people and tell them, 'This is happening, but you can do something about it as well.'"

afghanistan women journalism

Journalist Zahra Joya created a media company to amplify the voices of women in Afghanistan.

Vivek Vadoliya/Gates Foundation

2022 Changemaker Award: Zahra Joya (Afghanistan)

The Changemaker Award celebrates an individual who has inspired change using personal experience or from a position of leadership.

Zahra Joya is an Afghan journalist who is dedicated to ensuring women’s stories are told and shared with the wider public. Joya founded and self-funded Rukhshana Media, an online news agency focused exclusively on covering issues that affect the women of Afghanistan—the first national news organization of its kind.

Joya tells Upworthy she named her media company after an Afghan woman named Rukhshana, who was arrested, stoned and killed by the Taliban after fleeing a forced marriage in 2015. The name is a reminder of all the women who have lost their lives to traditionalist and extremist governments and Joya's goal is to defend the humanity of all women.

"For me, [winning this award] is huge," Joya says. “It’s my goal that one day Ruskhana Media can work as international media, not only in Afghanistan…and we can hire female journalists from across the world, and we can publish the stories and issues that affect women’s lives.”

India health

Dr. Radhika Batra helps provide health services to children and families in India.

Saumya Khandelwal/Gates Foundation

2022 Progress Award: Dr. Radhika Batra (India)

The Progress Award celebrates an individual who supports progress via a science, technology, digital, or business initiative.

Dr. Radhika Batra tackles health inequalities by providing healthcare solutions to disadvantaged children. While working as a resident doctor in a hospital in the slums of New Delhi in 2017, Batra founded Every Infant Matters. The organization has saved 74,173 children from blindness and given prenatal vitamins to more than 40,000 disadvantaged women. Every Infant Matters has also provided education to prevent gender inequality and to battle the stigma of TB, HIV/AIDS and blindness for more than 65,000 families.

European Union Ursula von der Leyen

European Union president Ursula von der Leyen played an integral role in global COVID-19 pandemic efforts.

European Parliament

2022 Global Goalkeeper Award Winner: Ursula von der Leyen (president of the European Union)

The Global Goalkeeper Award recognizes a leader who has driven progress toward achieving the SDGs on a global scale.

As a champion of global health and equitable access, von der Leyen helped created a global collaboration to get COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines into the hands of people around the world. She led the EU efforts to support lower-income nations in responding to and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and announced a new European Commission’s contribution of €300 million to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

We can all take inspiration from these changemakers to make our own unique contribution to humanity's progress, however large or small. Omakwu reminds us that despite being recognized on a global stage, these women have done most of their work in isolation and against many odds.

"[These award winners] are not that different from us, but they've had passion and consistency and fearlessness,” Omakwu says. “Progress is possible if we do our part."

Learn more about the Goalkeepers Awards here.

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