Earth Company’s call for Impact Hero 2021 received applications from 65 changemakers from all across the Asia Pacific. The selection committee was surprised and inspired by the exceptional quality of the applications on the whole that demonstrates the evolution of the regional ecosystem.  

From the initial batch, the committee members had the opportunity to speak directly with more than a dozen of candidates. While this process is undoubtedly time- and energy-consuming, it is a deeply rewarding and energizing experience for the Earth Company team to realize that so many individuals literally dedicate their lives to tackle enormous, complex challenges facing humanity and the earth. 

We will be announcing the winner in December, but for now, you can read a little about them – each with riveting stories, innovative solutions, and tremendous impact potential – below!

(Listed in alphabetical order)

1. Somsak Boonkam

Focus geography: Thailand

Organization: Local Alike

Mission: Promoting sustainable community-based tourism business for rural villages in Thailand to support them become economically self-sufficient and improve their livelihood.

About Pai and his work:

Somsak “Pai” Boonkam is an Ashoka Fellow and the founder and CEO of Local Alike, a social enterprise building an online platform to connect travelers and locals through meaningful and authentic experiences. As a social enterprise, Local Alike uses community-based tourism as a form of development tool to solve local issues, preserve local culture, and generate additional income to local communities. Prior to founding Local Alike, Pai worked at the Mae Fah Luang Foundation Under Royal Patronage. He was tasked with business development at Northern Thai communities under the Doi Tung Development Project.

Pai was born and raised in rural Thailand where he developed a deep appreciation for the ingenuity of indigenous culture and the role of sustainable development. He graduated with an MBA in Sustainability Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, California. Pai has worked in a variety of cross-cultural settings. His goal is to bring the wisdom of indigenous people to the mass market in order to develop sustainable products that have a positive impact on the society.

2. Sagufta Salma Janif

Focus geography: Fiji

Organization: The Fusion Hub

Mission: Eradicating the global waste crisis through their zero-waste lifestyle brand and economically empowering women.

About Sagufta and her work:

Sagufta is an award winning social impact entrepreneur who is trying to solve the global waste crisis and at the same time economically empower women and youth living in disadvantaged economic situations. Sagufta is a zero-waste lifestyle enthusiast and advocate. She is also 2020’s Commonwealth Youth Award Winner for the Pacific Region.  She also won the aspiring entrepreneur of the year 2019 at the Women in Business Awards and has been named as one of the 30 faces of Fiji’s future – a mai life 30 under 30 honoree. 

She is also the Vice-Chairperson for the Young Entrepreneurs Council and has been an inspirational young leader as she motivates and encourages the youth of Fiji and the Pacific Islands to become change makers and solution providers. She empowers them to become job creators rather than job seekers. She not only motivates young entrepreneurs but other young people who are working towards achieving the sustainable development goals. She empowers women and young girls to go beyond the “stereotypical” jobs and provides training and capacity building opportunities so they can realize their true potential. Sagufta has become an icon for young people as an entrepreneur and a trailblazing change-maker.

3. Kristin Kagetsu

Focus geography: India

Organization: Saathi Eco Innovations India Pvt Ltd

MissionCreating and marketing hygiene products that are good for the body, community and environment. 

About Kristin and her work:

Kristin is one of the co-founders and CEO of Saathi, a social enterprise dedicated to providing a sustainable and accessible solution for feminine hygiene. Saathi has been recognized globally by Time Magazine, Fast Company, UN Environment Program, and others, for its social impact, innovation and sustainability. Kristin is passionate about sustainable manufacturing, alternative materials, and women in STEM. She believes in a circular future where companies are also socially responsible. As an undergrad, she worked on multiple projects with MIT Design Lab in Brazil, Nicaragua, and India. Her first product was a set of natural dye crayons from locally sourced materials for an NGO in Uttarakhand where she realized she wanted to continue to work in India to make a positive impact.

Prior to moving to India, she volunteered with the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers, to structure and expand the national collegiate team and develop SASE leadership in the Northeast. After winning the HBS NVC, she moved to India to start Saathi with her co-founder Tarun. She has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from MIT and is an MIT DLab ScaleUps Fellow, Asia Society Young Leader, Cartier Women’s Initiative Finalist, and recognized by the Indian Department of MSME. 

4. Randi Julian Miranda

Focus geography: Indonesia

Organization: Handep

Mission: Creating a sustainable village economy that aligns with local cultures and traditions.

About Randi and his work:

Randi is a prominent young Dayak figure in the field of sustainability, social entrepreneurship and indigenous rights advocacy. He is the Founder & CEO of Handep, a social enterprise that empowers Indigenous Dayak women and smallholder farmers through sustainable livelihoods and regaining their basic rights to lands and forests. Randi is also an avid environmentalist and community development practitioner, with extensive experience in project management, conservation, sustainable business, research and communication. He obtained his Master’s degree in Environmental Study (specialising in Sustainable Development) at the University of Melbourne, Australia, in 2018.
After years of equipping himself with the knowledge and skill sets he needed, Randi decided to dedicate his life to support his community in Borneo Island whose life spaces are under threat.

Through Handep, Randi strives to improve the local economy, especially for forest-dependent communities and preserve the rainforests, not only for the biodiversity and conservation value, but for the future of humanity. His current works focus on providing sustainable alternative livelihoods using local resources and regaining the rights of Indigenous Dayaks to their customary forests which are continuously converted for the overdevelopment of extractive industry.

5. Muhammad Noor

Focus geography: Malaysia, Bangladesh

Organization: Rohingya Project

Mission: Developing and implementing a grassroots initiative for financial inclusion of stateless people through a digital social and financial inclusion platform.

About Noor and his work:

A Rohingya himself, Noor is the Founder and Managing Director of the Rohingya Project, a Blockchain-based organization to bring financial and social inclusion to stateless people. Noor is also founder and director for several institutions and organizations such as the world first Rohingya TV broadcast station called Rohingya Vision watch by millions from all over the world. He is the Founder and Chairman of Rohingya Football Club a national team to play CONIFA World Cup. Noor digitized the Rohingya Alphabet and developed the first Computer Typeface and one of the main contributors on Rohingya Unicode which was accepted and released in 2018. Noor is also the author of “Born to Struggle: The Child of Rohingya Refugees and His Inspiring Journey” which was published in March 2019, based on his personal life experience. 

He holds an Honors Degree in Computing from Greenwich University, UK. He has more than 15 years of experience as a business owner, journalist, TV anchor, corporate negotiator and project manager. He is also actively involved in software development, cryptography, security and data privacy. Noor trains and motivates people from all walks of life such as self-development, management and information technology. His ambitions are to implement technology to serve humanity.

6. Aravinth Panch

Focus geography: Sri Lanka

Organization: DreamSpace Academy

MissionTackling authentic local socio-economic and environmental challenges by empowering the underprivileged communities and protecting the environmental ecosystem in Sri Lanka, using project & challenge based learning.

About Ara and his work:

Aravinth is a devoted social entrepreneur empowering underprivileged communities in war-affected regions of Sri Lanka by creating an intellectual livelihood to solve local socio-economic and environmental challenges.

He was born in a beautiful coastal town called Batticaloa at a difficult time when his family lost several members – innocent civilians slaughtered as collateral damages in the civil war.

At the age of 14, he escaped the country in fear of becoming a child soldier, for ten years exiled as a refugee and returned to his motherland when the war ended almost after three decades.

In the meantime, he gained extraordinary interdisciplinary experiences in science, engineering, sustainability and art while solving very complex problems, and co-founded several successful organisations in Asia & Europe.

His craving to uphold those who went through the same life experiences propelled him to co-found DreamSpace Academy – a community innovation centre to empower underprivileged youth with challenge-based learning.

He co-created a personalised empowerment model consisting of 5 stages spanning 18 months. It starts with the identification of motivated youngsters from vulnerable societies, training them with multidisciplinary workshops in topics from storytelling to biotechnology, and ultimately leading them to become social entrepreneurs solving local challenges.

7. Arief Rabik

Focus geography: Indonesia

Organization: Environmental Bamboo Foundation

Mission: Building an international restoration economy through village-level bamboo agroforestry.  

About Arief and his work:

Arief Rabik is the President Director of Indonesia Environmental Bamboo Foundation and the founder of the 1000 Bamboo Villages project, which aims to create economic viability for the use of Bamboo Agroforestry to sequester CO2 and restore degraded tropical forest lands in dozens of countries. Arief is an expert in Bamboo Cultivation, Value added processing and Brokering public and private support and investment in village-level bamboo production.

Bamboo has exceptional climate benefits and in Indonesia alone the creation of nationwide “Bamboo Villages” would result in more than 100 millions tons of CO2 emission reduction annually. This provides governments seeking a pathway to meet their emissions targets with an efficient model that has significant co-benefits, including economic development for rural communities and improved soil and forest health. 

Arief’s breakthrough strategy is to restore degraded lands around the world with bamboo agroforestry while creating large markets for bamboo to be used in building material (which would also help displace carbon-intensive concrete), clothing, furniture, and more.

Arief is a second-generation bamboo specialist who is as capable and comfortable getting his hands dirty helping local producers on the ground as he is working with corporate leaders in the boardroom and politicians in national capitals to bargain for scalable policy and financial support to turn his vision into reality. Arief has already piloted his model and the first group of villages in Indonesia are already producing bamboo with purchasing agreements in place to sell value-added products to large global brands.

8. Rhea Mazumdar Singhal

Focus geography: India, and other countries

Organization: ECOWARE

MissionConverting common agricultural waste into 100% biodegradable, compostable and natural food packaging solutions which are a sustainable alternative to single-use plastics tableware.

About Rhea and her work:

Rhea Mazumdar Singhal is the Founder and CEO of Ecoware, India’s first and largest sustainable packaging company. Rhea was awarded the Nari Shakti Puraskar, the highest civilian honour for women by the President of India. Rhea is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader (2018) and an Asia 21 Young Leader (2019). Rhea is an invited member of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) National Committee on Women Empowerment and CII India CEO Forum on Air Pollution, she is also the Chairperson for the Indian Women Network for North India.

Rhea has attended the University of Bristol, Oxford and Harvard University. Rhea is a vocal spokesperson for sustainability and climate change and urges the private sector to shoulder more responsibility. Rhea is a purpose driven entrepreneur taking her impact to greater heights  

Rhea founded Ecoware with the sole aim of solving India’s plastic menace. Ecoware disrupted the food packaging industry by introducing a fully compostable alternative to plastic. Ecoware is made from the waste of agricultural crops that would otherwise be burnt, thus contributing to debilitating air pollution. The efforts of Rhea and the business model of Ecoware have now been validated by the global movement against single-use plastic and regulations to better consumer behavior.

Rhea has been featured in major national and international publications and has appeared as a speaker at events such as Dreamforce (annual product event of Salesforce), the Ellen MacArthur Foundation,  the Good Day (sustainability summit of Engie) and Empowering Women through Entrepreneurship (by National Commission for Women in India).

9. Patima Tungpuchayakul

Focus geography: Thailand and its neighboring countries

Organization: Labour Protection Network (LPN)

Mission: Working together with migrant communities mainly in the fishing industry and seafood processing industry to fight human trafficking and to eliminate slavery.

About Patima and her work

With her co-founder Mr. Sompong Srakaew, Patima established the Labour Protection Network (LPN) in 2004 to promote the labour’s quality of life and fight against child labour, human trafficking and all forms of exploitation. Her interest in human rights began in 1996 after graduation from Mahasarakham University, when she realized that the owners of factories near her hometown were abusing migrant workers, especially women and children. In more than two decades as an activist, Patima with support from the team has helped to create awareness of chronic rights breaches and worked with reformers to build understanding and improve the lives of migrant workers and the laws governing their employment.

LPN has assisted over 5,000 Thai and migrant workers to date. Respecting her courage and determination, Patima led LPN’s efforts to rescue nearly 2,000 captive and stranded fishermen from isolated Indonesian islands in 2014.

Her rescue work was the subject of a 2019 award-winning documentary film Ghost Fleet, and earned her a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. Patima remains a dedicated innovator focused on the reform work that still needs to be done on both land and sea.

10. Nguyen Thi Van

Focus geography: Vietnam

Organization: Will to Live Capacity Building Center for People with Disabilities (WLC)

MissionSupporting and assisting people with disabilities to integrate completely into society through employment and social initiatives.

About Van and her work:

Van is co-founder of the nonprofit organisation, “Nghi Luc Song” which means “The will to live”; as well as Chairwoman of the successful digital real estate company, Imagtor.

Van was born in the poor rural area of Nghe An in north-central Vietnam, bordering Laos. Along with her brother Nguyen Cong Hung, who sadly passed away in 2012, she has shattered expectations of what was once deemed ‘possible’ from a disabled person in Vietnam.

Van and Hung created the organisation The Will to Live in 2003 with the aim of creating opportunities for an equitable working environment. The organisation provides free IT, English language and vocational training to disadvantaged students in Vietnam. More than 1000 people with disabilities have benefited from this crucial educational and career support.

Van’s private company, Imagtor, employs 82 employees, more than 50% of who have disabilities, working on digital real estate photography. The Board of shareholders has committed to provide 40% of profits from Imagtor to support people with disabilities in Vietnam, as well as contributing to other social causes in the country.

In 2015, Van created the first ever fashion catwalk show for women with disabilities in Vietnam. “I am beautiful. You too!” aims to promote a perception of beauty stemming from diversity and difference. In 2019, Forbes Vietnam honoured Van as one of the 50 most influential Vietnamese women.