7 Female Social Innovators Changing the World

Michelle Wright celebrates seven amazing women who are pioneering social change.

I’ve recently become interested in exploring the world’s present day social innovators and especially those female leaders that might be leading global social change and entrepreneurship. 

The question of who our present day social innovators are is one that I’ve now posed to hundreds of social sector leaders across the charities and social enterprises that I come across and it’s been a question that depressingly, and at least in the UK, has seemed to leave people a bit stuck. 

There is no doubt that we’re very good at championing our Victorian era heroines – the magnificent Octavia Hill – a vital force in social housing in the UK or America’s Jane Addams the social reformer who devoted her life to helping the urban poor.

We’re also undoubtedly good at looking after our entrepreneurial stars – JK Rowling, Martha Stewart or Oprah Winfrey trip of the tongue as commercially successful talents. 

However, it’s been surprisingly difficult to uncover the present-day social innovators.

Who are the women that are really leading the way in finding solutions to the key health, education and social issues of our time?

It seems that in the social innovation sector we might be somewhat embarrassed to cite role models or ‘stars’. In such a worthy field of endeavour, celebrating those achieving great things in the social sector – might be a level of hype that we feel rather ashamed to embrace…in a rather female way we’re self-deprecating even in the face of exceptional global achievement.

So here follows a run-down of some of those female social innovators that have been put forward – those that can act as vital role models for others:

  •  Anne Githuku-Shongwe – Founder of Afroes, which develops cutting-edge interactive digital media and gaming solutions rooted in Africa’s heritage and designed to mould young citizens across Africa. 
  • Wendy Kopp - The CEO and Co-founder of Teach for America that encourages the best college students into teaching as a career. Kopp is also the inspiration behind global network Teach for All that has already expanded to 22 countries. 
  • Rebecca Onie - Co-founder of Health Leads, which enables healthcare providers to prescribe basic resources like food and heat just as they do medication to socially marginalized patients.
  •  Wu Qing - A fearless legislator and human rights activist, Wu Qing has played a pioneering role building Chinese women's entrepreneurship and political participation at the grassroots level.
  • Benita Refson OBE - Chief Executive and Founding Trustee of Place2Be, the award-winning UK children’s charity which provide integrated, early-intervention support to address low aspirations, truancy and exclusion to 64,000 children in over 170 UK schools.
  • Linda Rottenberg - Founder of Endeavor Global, an international network that selects, mentors and accelerates high-impact entrepreneurs around the world. The initiative has created over 100,00 jobs and injected billions of dollars into emerging markets. (To read The NextWomen’s interview with Linda, click here)
  • Jane Tewson - The original brains behind Comic Relief and a number of other innovative social enterprises. Jane set up Charity Projects (the official registered name for Comic Relief) to help homeless people in Soho. 

This is an incredible list – and there will be many more....given the challenges of our time, it would seem that now’s the time for us to lose the inhibition and to celebrate these present day talents of social innovation that can inspire and teach the next generation….who else should be on the list?

Michelle Wright founded award winning third sector organisational development and fundraising enterprise Cause4 in 2009. Michelle was the winner of the female entrepreneur category in the Natwest Startup awards 2011 and is a top 10 winner in the Ernst and Young Future 100 awards 2011 for entrepreneurs under 35 that demonstrate innovation in progressing a responsible business venture. She is a silver award winner in the 2012 international Stevie Awards for female innovator of the year and was invited in 2013 to become an Accelerate 250 member in recognition of the UK's top growing businesses. For more information in Michelle, see her profile.

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