[Year in Review 2020] From a centenarian runner to a teen scientist: the top 10 newsmakers in the social space

As we bid adieu to 2020, SocialStory lists the top 10 individuals who made headlines for exemplary and extraordinary efforts, talent, kindness, and more. Read on.

[Year in Review 2020] From a centenarian runner to a teen scientist: the top 10 newsmakers in the social space

Wednesday December 30, 2020,

6 min Read

2020 isn’t a year any one of us is likely to forget. The pandemic, lockdown, slowdown, layoffs….the bad news continued till the end of the year with reports of the virus mutating and becoming more transmissible.

However, in a year where COVID-19 dominated headlines, a few people made headlines for their talent, efforts, kindness, and more.

Centenarians and octogenarians like the 104-year-old ‘Miracle Mom’ and 85-year-old ‘Warrior Aaji’ proved that age is just a number. Meanwhile, a 14-year-old Indian-American girl has found a potential treatment for COVID-19.

There was also Neelakanta Bhanu Prakash who became the fastest human calculator, beating Shakuntala Devi, whose life story was filmed and screened on OTT platform Amazon Prime Video.

As we near the end of the year, SocialStory lists down some of the top newsmakers in the social space in 2020 and brings you their amazing stories.

Man Kaur: the 104-year-old ‘Miracle Mom’

Man Kaur

Man Kaur (Image: The Indian Express)

Old age often becomes a deterrent for rigorous physical activities, but 104-year-old Man Kaur from Chandigarh is defying the odds. Known as ‘Miracle Mom’, she was, on International Women’s Day, awarded the Nari Shakti Puraskar for 2019, for her exceptional contribution to women’s empowerment.

Man Kaur won her first medal in 2007 when she ran a 100m race at the Chandigarh Masters Athletics Meet, after she watched her eldest son, Gurdev, take part in a race in Patiala. Following this, she bagged more than 30 medals across the world, participating in and winning track and field events. 

Namya Joshi: the 13-year-old gamifying learning

Namya Joshi

Namya Joshi

Namya Joshi, a Class 7 student from Sat Paul Mittal School, Ludhiana, has changed the way students learn in her school with Minecraft, a popular video game. The innovation gave Namya the chance to meet Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who was on a three-day visit to India recently, at the Young Innovators’ Summit earlier this year. Nadella was absolutely fascinated by her “transformative” idea.

Through the game, the 13-year-old also helped teachers convert class lessons into interactive sessions across the world. Namya has trained more than 100 teachers in her school and around the world.

Neelakanta Bhanu Prakash: the fastest human calculator

Bhanu Prakash

Neelakanta Bhanu Prakash (Image: ANI)

Hyderabad resident Neelakanta Bhanu Prakash, 21, has emerged as the fastest human calculator. A St Stephen's College graduate, Bhanu Prakash won the first-ever gold medal for India in the Mental Calculation World Championship at the Mind Sports Olympiad (MSO) in London.

Bhanu Prakash holds four world records and 50 Limca records for being the 'fastest human calculator' in the world. His brain calculates quicker than the speed of a calculator. He hopes to start a mathematics initiative called Vision Math to reach out to millions of Indian children and instil a love for the subject.

Ranjitsinh Disale: sharing his $1M prize with other contenders

Ranjitsinh Disale

Ranjitsinh Disale

In a proud moment for India, Solapur-based teacher Ranjitsinh Disale was named the winner of the Global Teacher Prize 2020, in partnership with UNESCO.

Thirty-two-year-old Ranjitsinh, a primary school teacher, was recognised for transforming the life of young girls at the Zilla Parishad Primary School, Paritewadi, Solapur.

While delivering his winning speech, Ranjitsinh announced that he would share half the prize money with the nine finalists from across the world. Each would thus receive about $55,000 each, also making history by sharing the prize money with the finalists.

Kaamegowda: the Lake Man of Karnataka


Kaamegowda (Image: TNIE)

While various parts of India are suffering from depleting potable groundwater, an 84-year-old man from Karnataka has single-handedly dug 16 ponds to solve the drinking water issue in the region.

Kaamegowda hails from Daasanadoddi village in Mandya, Karnataka. The hamlet has not faced a water crisis in the last four decades thanks to his efforts. Renowned as Karnataka’s ‘Lake Man’, he was also recognised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who mentioned him on his Mann ki Baat radio programme.

Anika Chebrolu: the teen working on therapy to treat COVID-19

Anika Chebrolu

Anika Chebrolu (Image: Twitter)

Fourteen-year-old Indian-American Anika Chebrolu won the 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge and a cash award of $25,000 for her discovery, a possible therapy to treat COVID-19.

Anika developed a molecule that has the potential to bind to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, and inhibit its functioning. The teenager started working on this project much before the virus hit the public; she was then focused on finding a way to fight the seasonal flu. But the project shifted tracks after the onset of the pandemic.

To find a potential treatment for the highly infectious virus, Anika used multiple computer programs to identify how and where the molecule could bind to the virus. However, it is still not clear whether her tests were conducted on functional cells or a live model.

Shanta Balu Pawar: the Warrior Aaji who impressed celebs

Amidst the lockdown, a video of an 85-year-old woman doing Lathi Kathi, an ancient Indian armed martial arts form, went viral on social media. Seeing Pune resident Shanta Balu Pawar’s unrivalled skill, many prominent people of Mumbai came forward to help her, including pandemic warrior and actor Sonu Sood, who helped her start her own martial arts training centre.

The viral video, initially shared by actress Aishwarya Kale, garnered many responses from personalities, including Riteish Deshmukh and Richa Chadha. Recently, singer Neha Kakkar gifted her a sum of Rs 1 lakh.

Vinisha Umashankar: the girl who designed a solar-powered iron cart

Fourteen-year-old Vinisha Umashankar won the prestigious Children's Climate Prize from the Sweden-based Children's Climate Foundation for designing a mobile ironing cart that uses solar panels to power a steam iron box.

She received the prize amount of Rs 8.64 lakh and a medal at a digital event held by Isabella Lövin, Swedish Minister for Environment and Climate and Deputy Prime Minister.

Shashank Nimkar: Upcycling waste into new products

Turning raw materials into consumer products generates a lot of waste, though some part of it is absorbed into the value chain. Shashank Nimkar, from the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, has developed a method to use this waste to make other products. Known as Earth Tatva, his invention went on to win him the James Dyson India Award 2020.

Nimkar utilised ceramic waste, commonly called 'grog’ and clay, usually discarded after the production process to make brand-new commodities. The highlights of these products are that they could be manufactured with zero waste and also recycled.

Archana Soreng: the young climate activist

Archana Soreng

Image: Facebook

Archana Soreng, a climate activist from India, has been named by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to his new advisory group comprising young leaders who will provide perspectives and solutions to tackle the worsening climate crisis, as the global body mobilises action as part of the COVID-19 recovery efforts.

Soreng joined six other young climate leaders, aged between 18 and 28 years, who have been named by Guterres to his new Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change.

Edited by Teja Lele