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Igniting a Millennial Movement to Save the World's Oceans.

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By: Natalia Rankine-Galloway*

Daniela Fernandez, a junior government and economics major and founder and president of the Georgetown Sustainable Oceans Alliance, has been named the Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) Leader of the Year.

Fernandez was nominated by her peers for her extraordinary efforts in launching the first-ever Sustainable Oceans Summit at Georgetown, which raised the profile of the issue of marine health and the environment. Her leadership epitomized the ideal of being in service to business and society and made her a true ambassador for social enterprise.

Michael McLaughlin, MBA ’15 and 2014 GSEI Leader of the Year, presented Fernandez with the award.

“It’s been inspiring to see Daniela grow so much in the course of less than one year to be the leader that she is,” McLaughlin said.

On a train from New York to D.C., Fernandez made a decision. She was on her way back to Georgetown from the United Nations meeting on ocean sustainability. The issue of ocean sustainability was new to her, but the urgency of the leaders at the meeting sparked an interest in her. She thought of the leaders’ focus on rising sea levels, water acidification, changing migration patterns, and the anticipated extinction of all fish by 2050.

On the train, Fernandez realized that she had been the only young person in the room. For all the unanimity about the dire consequences of inaction, the message of sustainable oceans was clearly not getting out. She decided that it was her responsibility, after this unique exposure, to broadcast the message to millennials like herself.

Fernandez launched Georgetown’s Sustainable Oceans Alliance (SOA) with the goal of encouraging the next generation of leaders to take up the issue of restoring the world’s oceans to health. The SOA works to bring students from Georgetown and from universities across the country to understand not just why the oceans need preserving, but how they can help.

“Millennials are eager to effect change,” Fernandez said, “but they aren’t always given the tools to make it happen.”

This is not the first time Fernandez has seized an opportunity and charted her own course. Arriving in Chicago at the age of seven from her native Ecuador, she knew the path to the life she wanted lay in higher education. She became involved with Chicago Scholars, a nonprofit dedicated to preparing first generation, low-income students for college. After graduating from the program and while awaiting permanent residency, Fernandez enrolled at Elmhurst College and worked full-time for Chicago Scholars. It was the nonprofit’s executive director, a Hoya himself, who first suggested Fernandez apply to Georgetown.

“I had actually never heard of Georgetown until then,” she said. Thinking at the time that she was on the road to a career in public service, she was thrilled when she was accepted. Everything that the university had to offer in terms of location and faculty was ideal to prepare her for an elected office someday.

Once on campus however, she became increasingly interested in the ways that business and the policy sector could unite to make change. Having learned from experience the impact that capital can have on a low-income community, she began to orient herself towards a business career and found a supportive environment as a Global Social Enterprise Initiative Student Leader.

She brought SOA and the Oceans Summit to GSEI, which convened the summit at Georgetown McDonough on April 25, 2015. The summit brought together leaders in business, policy, science, and entrepreneurship to find sustainable solutions for sustainable oceans.

“The business community in particular has many opportunities to redirect investment to help solve these problems,” she said. “Through impact investments, we can refocus attention on developing technologies, find sustainable fishing solutions, or track illegal fishing.”

The summit concluded with a call to action for millennials, asking them to start their own local SOA chapters to raise awareness, sign a petition to encourage world leaders at the UN to vote for meaningful change on the issue, and provide steps on how to adjust daily practices to take a personal role in restoring the oceans.

With her final year at Georgetown ahead of her, Fernandez is preparing to enter the finance world and manage an impact investment portfolio.

Natalia Rankine-Galloway is Associate Director of the Global Social Enterprise Initiative