Fearlessly Changing the World 2023 Future 50 Project Leaders

Courage, impatience, a burning desire to change the world. These are all attributes we’ve come to associate with the rising project leaders and change agents who make up PMI’s Future 50 list. This year’s class of honorees is no exception – as Brantlee Underhill explains.

Written by Brantlee Underhill • 28 September 2023

Fearlessly Changing the world 2023 Future 50 Project Leaders

My first impression while reviewing this year’s Future 50 list, PMI’s annual survey of rising project management leaders around the world, is that the honorees are a fearless group.

Antoine-Marie Préaut of France, for example, literally ran into a burning building. The building in this case happened to be the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, which was partially destroyed by fire in 2019. Antoine-Marie raced into the cathedral that April afternoon to help rescue several priceless artifacts. Now, as Adviser to the Minister of Culture in Charge of Heritage and Architecture, he’s working to secure and restore Notre-Dame and the prized objects within it.

“The heritage of the past allows future generations to remember the most beautiful, ordered, innovative, daring—so much knowledge that our ancestors generously gave to us,” he says.

Meanwhile, Aisha Garba of Nigeria, a senior education specialist at the World Bank, is boldly breaking down long-standing bonds of poverty, poor infrastructure and forced early marriage to help young women gain valuable job skills and continue their education.

Aisha leads the Adolescent Girls Initiative for Learning and Empowerment (AGILE) Project, a five-year program launched in 2020. The program’s ambitious portfolio includes projects to build and rehabilitate schools, improve safety conditions, deliver health and nutrition information, and create cash-transfer programs to incentivize households to send girls to school.

Sara Castle, co-founder and director of IF_DO, a design consultancy in the U.K., isn’t afraid to make big statements. Building eye-catching, community-centered designs that transform urban landscapes is what IF_DO is all about.

As part of the Brent Cross Town Substation project, for example, Sara and her colleagues wrapped the electrical substation with a 21 meter (68.9 feet) high, rainbow-colored structure with undulating bands and triangle-shaped panels. It’s viewed by some 6 million commuters every day on their way to and from work.

Norma Edith García-González is the first woman and first person of color to take the helm of 180 public parks in the largest county in the United States. Not only that, Norma Edith also took over as Director of Parks and Recreation for the County of Los Angeles at the height of the pandemic. She responded by establishing testing sites and vaccination centers and providing food and shelter to vulnerable populations. Now Norma Edith is reimagining the department's project portfolio: launching jobs programs oriented to at-risk youth, creating six new public parks, and establishing shelters within park gyms.

Improving people’s lives is a common theme across many of the Future 50 honorees. Jiawei Wang, a project leader with Beijing 58 Information Technology Co., has helped establish a virtual job fair for some of China’s 400 million laborers. His goal: “providing blue-collar workers with continuously optimized recruitment experiences…helping them quickly find their desired positions while also assisting companies in recruiting talents.” To date, the project has assisted nearly 100 million people find work in industries including construction, manufacturing, and service.

Then there’s Gabriel Liguori of Brazil who holds a medical degree and multiple PhDs. He’s the founder of TissueLabs, a startup developing artificial organs to address a shortfall in organ donations for transplant. His innovative advances in regenerative medicine have landed Gabriel on both the Forbes Under 30 and MIT Innovator Under 35 lists.

Healthcare technology is also the province of Naoji Matsuhisa, an associate professor at Tokyo University in Japan. His team is developing ultra-flexible wearable technology made of soft, skin-like material that flexes with the human body and allows a broader spectrum of monitoring. This could one day improve detection of conditions like dementia or track the changing size of malignant tumors.

Other rising leaders exhibit both fearlessness and impatience – especially when it comes to climate change. “A lot of people are making net-zero promises for 2060 or 2070,” Harshavardhana Gourineni, Executive Director of Amara Raja Batteries Ltd., says. “I don’t want to set targets that are going to outdate my retirement.”

Harshavardhana’s ambitious plan is to get to 100% renewables in the next 11 or 12 years. In 2022, he signed on to the United Nations Global Compact, a powerful signal of his goals for the company. Now the company is investing INR7,000 in the lithium-ion battery manufacturing segment as it sets its sights on the growing electric vehicle space.

A similar desire to shake things up has fueled Nuha Hashem. As co-founder of Zywa, she’s developed a banking platform designed specifically for young people in MENA where only about 40 percent of people between 15-24 have a bank account or a mobile money service, according to The World Bank.

“I realized that it’s a massive opportunity to impact the lives of Gen Z and to revolutionize the way that they think about money,” she says. “Financial literacy is one of the most important lessons that people should learn early in life.”

While we’re on the theme of young people, my favorite Future 50 honoree has to be Alisha Arora of Canada. At only 16 years old, Alisha is a UNICEF Youth Ambassador, MIT's youngest AI researcher, a member of the World Economic Forum's AI Council, and the founder of a nonprofit organization that distributes necessities and comforts to children in foster care.

Did I mention that, with support from Microsoft, she’s also working on an algorithm to detect suicidal ideation in social media content? And that she’s been awarded the Princess Diana Award for her humanitarian efforts? And launched the Digital Rights Strategy with Prince Harry? And created, as an intern at Procter & Gamble, a personalized health app for women to address overlooked health needs?

So, it is with a certain sense of awe and humility that I offer congratulations to Alisha and to all the 2023 Future 50 honorees. Your fearlessness, drive, and, yes, even your impatience inspires us and reminds us of the incredible potential that resides in this rising generation of project leaders and change agents.

Brantlee Underhill headshot

Brantlee Underhill
Chief Community Officer and Interim Managing Director, North America | PMI

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