12 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World in 2012



Every year, Utne Reader puts forward its selection of world visionaries, people who have that extra twist of imagination and determination and energy, people who don’t just concoct great ideas but also act on them and lay their souls on the line for change. We’re proud to present you with 2012’s lineup of dreamers and doers.

by Utne Reader staff and contributors

Nance Klehm, photo by Jason CrepsNance Klehm
Radical Ecologist 

The phrase “radical ecologist” may have connotations, but traced from Latin and Greek these words amount to a roots-based study of the relationships between living things. There couldn’t be a more accurate summary of Nance Klehm’s work, which ranges from landscape design and art experiments to writing and leading urban weed-eating tours. Connect the dots between all of these activities, and you have an outline for re-connecting city-dwellers to their habitat.

Magazine Profile | Nance Klehm Interview and Online Extras | Top of Page  


John Edel
John Edel

Vertical Farming Pioneer
For most people, the term “vertical farm” conjures images of skyscraper-like structures built from stacks of terraced gardens reminiscent of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Ask John Edel what his ideal vertical farm looks like and he’ll sketch you a picture of an old meatpacking facility with plenty of brick and no natural light. Better yet, he’ll just hand you a photograph of The Plant —the Chicago-based vertical farm, which is the first of its kind in the nation.  

Magazine Profile | Top of Page 

Michel Nischan
Michel Nischan
Food Justice Advocate 

For many people, poverty means a diet of highly processed foods and the attendant poor health. Reversing such a trend might seem overwhelming, but the founders of Wholesome Wave saw it as an opportunity. Michel Nischan and Gus Schumacher created the Double Value Coupon Program, making SNAP benefits worth double in farmers markets. The program is now enabling health, strengthening local economies, and empowering communities across the United States.


Magazine ProfileMichel Nischan Interview and Online Extras | Top of Page 

Anonymous Seal

Hacktivist Collective  

Since the dawn of the internet age, activists have been talking about going digital. Some of them even pioneered tactics for electronic civil disobedience. But it wasn’t until a subculture of hackers became politicized that a popular movement took off. The result is a subversive, unapologetic, and surprisingly powerful activism. Anonymous may have a reputation for pranks and crime, but by early 2011 the group’s reputation as an influential, if loosely organized, hacktivist collective was solidified

Magazine Profile | Anonymous Online Extras | Top of Page 


David Graeber
David Graeber
Global Justice Activist 

Anyone wondering exactly where the Occupy movement came from should begin by reading David Graeber. A seasoned veteran of the global justice movement, Graeber was one of a handful of activists involved in planning Occupy from the very beginning. He has also written extensively on radical activism, participatory democracy, and the ideas and conditions that sparked occupations in Zuccotti Park and around the world.

Magazine Profile | David Graeber Online Extras | Top of Page 

Steve DeCaprio
Steve DeCaprio
Squatters' Rights Activist
While the idea of squatting is nothing new, Steve DeCaprio’s approach to “occupying,” as he prefers to call it, is unique. DeCaprio seeks to permanently improve and repurpose abandoned buildings for the benefit of the community at large, and within the law. To do that, he has exhaustively researched and educated himself on a widely misunderstood law called adverse possession.

Magazine Profile | Top of Page 

No Papers No Fear in action
No Papers No Fear
Immigrant Rights Activists
Last summer, immigrant rights activists traveled 2,000 miles from Phoenix to the DNC in Charlotte to raise awareness about human rights abuses in our immigration system. No Papers' courageous journey was part of a larger "coming out" campaign of undocumented immigrants who refuse to live in fear of government harassment.



Magazine Profile | No Papers No Fear Online Extras | Top of Page 

Sanjit Bunker Roy
Sanjit "Bunker" Roy
Grassroots Educator
Barefoot College founder Sanjit "Bunker" Roy observed that one of the largest obstacles facing small villages throughout India and Africa was the absence of electricity to light homes. Since it would be nearly impossible to power the towns with a conventional electrical grid, Roy decided that solar technology was the best alternative. For 10 years the college taught men in solar engineering courses, but Roy concluded that they were too restless and now only employs women for the job, mainly grandmothers.

Magazine Profile | Top of Page 

Marcin JakubowskiMarcin Jakubowski

Open Source Inventor
Marcin Jakubowski was a broke farmer with a PhD in fusion energy. Lacking the money to build the small farm and settlement he envisioned, Jakubowski identified the 50 most important machines for modern life to exist and set out to build them cheaply and efficiently. Open Source Ecology, the company he founded to complete this Global Village Construction Set, does not operate as a typical business motivated by profit, but instead applies the open source principles of free distribution of product design and implementation so that anybody with a computer can benefit from their work.

Magazine Profile | Top of Page 

Let the Children Play and HealMiddle East Children's Alliance

Human Rights Activists  

For 25 years, MECA has provided children in war-torn Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq not only with basic necessities like water and medical care, but also the crayons, pencils, and playgrounds that children need just as much. The organization has also worked tirelessly to educate Westerners about the realities of Middle Eastern war, often through the voice of its most vulnerable victims.

Magazine Profile | Barbara Lubin Interview and Online Extras | Top of Page  


David Wish
David Wish
Music Education Innovator
David Wish was a first-grade teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. Upset that his school no longer offered music education, he decided to do something about it.Ten years later, his nonprofit organization Little Kids Rock has provided free instruments and music education to more than 200,000 kids in public schools across the country that lack sufficient music funding.

Magazine Profile | David Wish Online Extras | Top of Page 

Dr. Mahir SaulDr. Mahir Saul
Debunker of African Stereotypes
When it comes to African cinema, even the most avid film watchers’ minds draw a blank. African titles never make the final cut in all-time-great film lists. It’s this void that Dr. Mahir Saul wants to fill, and last winter, he introduced African film, for the first time, to eager Istanbul Museum of Modern Art audiences.

Magazine ProfileDr. Mahir Saul Online Extras | Top of Page 

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