7 French people who made a difference in 2017

… Not including Emmanuel Macron

We were talking in the office about people who had done something outstanding in 2017 (apart from Emmanuel Macron and his election win). Here are seven names that came up - some of them are well known, others less so. Who would you add?

Charlie Hervier, ecological kayaker

Proving that ‘every little helps’, especially when it comes to doing your bit for the environment, an adventurous young video blogger who kayaked from Le Mans to Nantes and picked up rubbish along the way deserves a thumbs up. Charlie Hervier, 27, took seven days to complete his 240km journey, picking up plastic bottles from the Sarthe and Loire on the way, pitching his bivouac each night.

Yannick Noah, French Davis Cup team captain

The former player and now team captain, Yannick Noah brought more than just smiles and songs to the French Davis Cup tennis team – under his guidance, they won their 10th title amid wild scenes at the final in Lille. They secured their first title since 2001 with a 3-2 victory over Belgium in November. The talismanic Noah, also a popular singer and very active in charity work, celebrated his third title as captain after leading France to victory in 1991 and 1996.

Thomas Pesquet

The 39-year-old spaceman with an eye for (very) aerial photography, brought France into the public imagination in dramatic style during his 196 days on the International Space Station. Pesquet, the 10th Frenchman to go into space, posted stunning images on Twitter of his home country (including Dieppe, where he grew up), thereby showing France in all her finery and providing some free PR for tourism authorities.

Isabelle Kocher

Mother of five Isabelle Kocher is the only female boss of a CAC40 business (Engie), and was ranked seventh in Vanity Fair’s 2017 list of most influential French people in the world. As well as making forward-thinking ecological promises – in December, she announced that the company aims to switch all of its gas operations to biogas and renewable hydrogen by 2050 – she is also an ardent advocate of giving women senior business roles. Engie’s stock price rose 15% during 2017 – proof that climate change responsibility and business success in France and are not mutually exclusive.

Philippe Croizon

Nobody did more in 2017 to highlight the issue of overcoming the perceived limitations of handicap than Philippe Croizon, the quadruple amputee who completed the Dakar rally in January. Then in April, he called upon the government to create a ministry for the disabled, before using his high profile again in September to highlight poor attitudes to the disabled.  An SNCF crew member on a train from Rouen to Paris had demanded that Croizon, in a wheelchair and visibly with no hands or feet, to prove his disability.

His preferred Twitter hashtag is #toutestpossible (everything is possible).

Sofie Goetghebeur and Tony Verhulst

If a true measure of society is how it treats its most vulnerable, then those who create charities for neglected animals can be said to be raising the bar of decency.

Elephant Haven, a project founded by Belgian vets Sofie Goetghebeur and Tony Verhulst, is taking shape in Limousin. It aims to help retired circus elephants (there are around 100 in Europe) who have suffered mental distress, as well as physical problems such as arthritis and TB.

Having secured the land on which to build the sanctuary, and obtained planning permission, the pair are now fundraising for the start-up of the construction of the first elephant barn.

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