Even on its best days, the world can be an ugly place. But it’s important to remember—and to celebrate—what’s right about it as often as possible. For every snake, every shark you meet, there’s a really good person somewhere working hard to make Earth a more hospitable place for humans, animals or even (as you’ll see) coral. So without further ado, we present our Most Inspiring People list for 2016. We hope it similarly drives you to do something that gets you on next year’s list…

                                                              * * * * *

1. JACOB SMILG might be the best best friend in the world. After a freak lightning strike left his pal Ethan unable to speak, the 14-year-old fashioned a brilliant communication device using an LED display, a microcontroller in a 3D-printed case and two buttons mounted on a wheelchair headrest. Just as Ethan’s life had been transformed by the accident, it changed again (for the better) in the blink of an eye.

 

2. MARGARET HAMILTON can stake a claim to being the coolest engineer ever. Why? How about because—as head of a software development team at NASA—she wrote the code that saved the 1969 Apollo landing and put the first man on the moon. In November 2016 this “Women in STEM” pioneer was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contributions—and not a moment too soon.

Photo: NASA

 

3. CHRIS CAO was 14 when he had the epiphany. After meeting a younger student whose family could not afford a laptop, Chris (now 17) made it his business to track down old unloved laptops, fix them up and gift them to those who need them most. This bridger of digital divides enlisted his high school friends and started the non-profit Reboot For Youth so no one in his community would get left behind. We visited them earlier this year…

 

4. THE MERETNIEMI FAMILY of Finland clearly have a common-sense deficiency of the best kind. The reason? These brave/insane adventurers (mom, dad and three small children) put their normal life on hold to sail the world for 6 years. You’ve heard of home school? Well, this is boat school and it opened our minds to new ways tech, travel and education can look. You can read their full story here.

5. YUSRA MARDINI knows what it means to swim for your life. The 18-year-old Syrian refugee fled her war-ravaged country in a dinghy and, when it capsized, swam 3 hours in the open sea before reaching safety in Greece. Last summer the heroic swimmer inspired millions, competing in Rio as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team.

 

6. ASHLEY DARA DOTZ may have coined the term “design with a purpose”—she deftly combines elements of good design with a relentless devotion to humanitarian works. Developer of both 3D-printed umbilical clamps and a zero-gravity 3D printer (the first used in space), Ashley leads and we follow. In an era often defined by austerity, this “Frugal Innovation” relief pioneer is teaching us all how we can do more with less.

Photo: Intel iQ

7. THE HYDROUS is a San Francisco-based team fighting a noble (and some would say uphill) battle to save the world’s coral reefs, which are under increasing threat from pollutants and climate change. These savers of the reef use advanced 3D mapping to track the health of reefs and enable better global sharing of information that might lead to scientific breakthroughs. See how Lenovo is working to help The Hydrous here.

 

8. SHUBHAM BANERJEE is yet another remarkable teenager to make our list, a Lego inventor who built a low-cost braille printer using a Lego Mindstorms set and a heap of imagination. Banerjee started his own company (Braigo Labs = braille + Lego, get it?) with the goal of selling braille printers at a fraction of their usual cost and affording greater access to readers everywhere. Well done, young sir.

Photo: Banerjee Family

 

That’s our list for 2016. Send us links to your nominees in the comment field below.

Gavin O’Hara is Lenovo’s Global Social Media Publisher.