“As women – and I think as African women – we are a significant part of these economies. And if this economy wants to grow – if this country wants to grow – then it’s a good idea that we sit at a table and that we start talking to each other and seeing what’s best on both sides.”
Kah Walla is an entrepreneur, activist and elected official from Cameroon. Kah is one of Cameroon’s foremost political leaders and is often cited as an example of a new generation of leadership throughout Africa. For 25 years, she has focused on good governance, the rights of women and youth, and the rule of law. She has worked with civil society in Cameroon and throughout Africa, developing policies and projects at the international, national and local levels that are inclusive of all: from farmers to motorbike taxi-drivers to persons with disabilities, student associations and governments.
In 2007, Kah was elected to the Douala City Council. Her political leadership is known for its focus on transparency and sound budget management. In 2008, she stood up against a constitutional amendment designed to eliminate presidential term limits and played a key role in advocating to overhaul the independent electoral commission. In 2009, Kah created Cameroon Ô’Bosso, a citizen movement to promote and defend the social, economic and political rights of Cameroonians. On October 9, 2011, Kah ran as a candidate for the presidency of Cameroon. In a country which has only known two presidents in the last 50 years, her campaign was groundbreaking.
An entrepreneur herself—Kah launched her consulting firm, STRATEGIES!, almost twenty years ago—Kah is also recognized for her work to create a culture of entrepreneurship globally. She serves on the board of the World Entrepreneurship Forum, and in 2008, she was one of seven women entrepreneurs in Africa profiled in the World Bank report, Doing Business: Women in Africa.
Kah’s objective today is to effect political change in Africa, and to build the systems of governance that will enable the continent to achieve its incredible potential.
Keep a Child Alivekeepachildalive.org
Alicia Keys is a 15-time Grammy® Award winning singer/songwriter/producer, an accomplished actress, a New York Times best-selling author, an entrepreneur and a powerful force in the world of philanthropy and in the global fight against HIV and AIDS.
Keys recently released her fifth studio album, Girl on Fire, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200, and reached number one on the iTunes album chart in 19 countries. Since the 2001 release of her monumental debut album, songs in A minor, Keys has built an unparalleled repertoire of hits and accomplishments with more than 30 million albums sold worldwide.
Keys made her directorial debut for Lifetime’s "Five" and most recently served as Executive Producer of the critically-acclaimed film "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete." In 2011, she made her producorial debut with the Broadway play Stick Fly, which Keys also composed the original music for.
A devoted and influential philanthropist in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, Keys co-founded Keep a Child Alive (KCA) and serves as Global Ambassador for the organization. She also joined Greater Than AIDS to launch “Empowered,” a national campaign highlighting the power of women to change the course of HIV/AIDS through every day actions.
The Empowerment Planempowermentplan.org
"Growing up with addicts for parents, everyone treated me as if I was just an extension of them. I spent my childhood trying to prove to people that I had value and that I was worth investing in. Every woman we hire at The Empowerment Plan has experienced so much in her life and yearns for the chance to be given a clean slate and to have someone see them for the amazing, talented, and valuable person that they are."
Veronika Scott, founder and CEO of The Empowerment Plan, was born to parents that struggled with unemployment, mental health issues, and addiction. Carrying these burdens with her for years, it wasn’t until college that Veronika was able to use her experiences to her advantage. To start, she built an organization around a single idea: to design a self-heated, weather-resistant coat that transforms into a sleeping bag for the homeless. That idea evolved into a system of empowerment in which homeless mothers are paid to learn how to produce the coat, giving them an opportunity to earn money, find a place to live, and gain back their independence. The mission of The Empowerment Plan is to prove that homeless parents have worth and are fully capable of learning and adapting to create a better future for themselves and their families.
Veronika is the youngest recipient of the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award from the JFK Library Foundation and Harvard University. She has also received an IDEA Gold Award from the Industrial Design Society of America. The Empowerment Plan story has been told across the world and shared at events such as the World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Forbes 400 Philanthropy Summit.
Liron Peleg-Hadomi & Noha Khatieb
“You have to be optimistic that peace can be possible because otherwise you cannot continue living your life. There are difficult times. But I don't see myself living in Israel and not working to bring together communities and trying to make an impact.” – Liron Peleg-Hadomi
“This is how change starts. I believe in the small steps. These drops will eventually bring the big rain. And it will come.” – Noha Khatieb
Liron Peleg-Hadomi, a Jew, and Noha Khatieb, a Palestinian Arab living in Israel, have committed their lives to peaceful coexistence. Liron and Noha met in 2007 when both traveled to Northern Ireland as part of a Vital Voices delegation that brought Arabs and Jews together to collaborate with peace builders from Northern Ireland and South Africa. They instantly bonded on a personal level and returned to Israel inspired to build a new culture of tolerance.
Liron is a community organizer. Noha works for Israel’s Ministry of Education promoting cross-cultural understanding. LEAD, the program they co-created, works to ease tensions and foster healthy engagement with mutual understanding and respect. Through monthly dialogues and workshops, they are creating the next generation of women peace builders. Participants have credited the program with allowing them to put preconceived notions and prejudices aside to see one another simply as women. Some who might otherwise never have met have forged professional connections and personal friendships, just as Noha and Liron were able to do in Northern Ireland.
Ms. Foundation for Womenforwomen.org
“There is no bigger gift than doing the work we love. I was given this gift by everything from witnessing grassroots activism in India to the example of wise women like Bella Abzug, Alice Walker, Wilma Mankiller – and many more. They taught me that people are linked – not ranked – and that transformation must be made from the bottom up. It’s a simple message that saved my life. It now makes my life by passing it on.”
Gloria Steinem is a writer, lecturer, editor, and feminist activist. An organizer and frequent media spokeswoman on issues of equality, she is particularly interested in the shared origins of sex and race caste systems, gender roles and child abuse as roots of violence, non-violent conflict resolution, the cultures of indigenous peoples, and organizing across boundaries for peace and justice.
Ms. Steinem graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Smith College in 1956, then spent two years in India on a Chester Bowles Fellowship. She wrote for Indian publications, and was influenced by Gandhian activism.
In 1972, Ms. Steinem co-founded Ms. magazine. She continues to serve as a consulting editor for Ms., and was instrumental in the magazine’s move to be published by the Feminist Majority Foundation. She also helped to found New York magazine in 1968, and has written numerous bestselling books.
Ms. Steinem helped to found the Women’s Action Alliance and the National Women’s Political Caucus. She was president and co-founder of Voters for Choice, and was co-founder and serves on the board of Choice USA. She was the founding president of the Ms. Foundation for Women, and was a founder of its Take Our Daughters to Work Day. Now, she is working with the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College to document the grassroots origins of the U.S. women’s movement.
In 1993, she co-produced and narrated an Emmy Award winning TV documentary for HBO, “Multiple Personalities: The Search for Deadly Memories.” With Rosilyn Heller, she also co-produced an original TV movie for Lifetime, “Better Off Dead,” which examined the parallel forces that both oppose abortion and support the death penalty.
In 1993, Ms. Steinem was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. She is currently working on a book about her more than 30 years on the road as a feminist organizer, due out in 2015.
“I have seen first-hand how women are on the frontlines of change everywhere. I believe that we can do nothing less than to help them fast-forward their efforts to advance economic, political and social change, and in so doing create a better world for all.”
In 2009, President Obama nominated Melanne Verveer to be the first ever U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the Department of State. Ambassador Verveer spent the past four years working with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to coordinate foreign policy issues and activities relating to the political, economic and social advancement of women, traveling to nearly sixty countries. In such capacity, she worked to mobilize concrete support for women’s political and economic empowerment through public-private partnerships as well by working to fully integrate women’s participation and rights into U.S. foreign policy. President Obama also appointed Verveer to serve as U.S. Representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Today she is the Director of Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security. The Institute seeks to enhance national and global security by documenting the crucial role women play in peace-building and security through research and scholarship and by engaging global leaders from government, civil society and the private sector in conversations on the urgent issues of our times.
Ambassador Verveer is a co-founder of Seneca Women, a global leadership forum centered on the principle that advancing women and girls can fast forward us to a better world, and is a founding partner of Seneca Point Global, the global women strategy firm. She is the co-author of the forthcoming book, Fast Forward: How Women Can Achieve Power and Purpose.
Prior to her role at the State Department, Ambassador Verveer served as Chair and Co-CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international NGO she co-founded to invest in emerging women leaders. Prior to Vital Voices, she served as Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady in the Clinton Administration. She was chief assistant to Hillary Clinton in her wide-ranging international activities to advance women’s rights and further social development, democracy and peace-building initiatives. She also led the effort to establish the President’s Interagency Council on Women and was instrumental in the adoption of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. Prior to her time in the White House, Ambassador Verveer served in a number of leadership roles in public policy organizations and as congressional staff.
Ambassador Verveer has a B.S. and M.S. from Georgetown University. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission and the World Bank Advisory Council on Gender and Development. She has served as the 2013 Humanitas visiting professor at Cambridge University. In 2008, the President of Ukraine awarded her the Order of Princess Olga. She holds several honorary degrees and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the U.S. Secretary of State’s Award for Distinguished Service.
Samar Minallah Khan
“I believe I serve as a role model for my children. Speaking the truth is now a habit, and there are more rewards than there are impediments.”
Samar Minallah Khan, a Pakistani Pashtun documentary filmmaker, journalist, human rights activist, and anthropologist uses advocacy, documentaries, and other forms of media to open the eyes of civil society, policymakers, and human rights activists to culturally-sanctioned forms of violence. She has tackled issues such as human trafficking, dowry, acid crimes, child domestic labor and forced marriage.
Through Ethnomedia, a non-governmental media initiative she founded, she launched a campaign against swara, wherein girls are given as compensation to end disputes — from murder to property quarrels. As a direct result of her work, swara was made illegal in 2014. But that was not enough. Samar sought to ensure this new law was enforced by working with the Pakistani Supreme Court and launching a nation-wide advocacy campaign.
Whatever the medium, Samar’s stories are human, relatable, and culturally appropriate, produced in regional languages and screened locally to engage all levels of society. Samar thus brings unseen images, untold stories and seldom heard voices to public attention — catalyzing political engagement, challenging the status quo, and irrevocably changing the conversation about women and girls in Pakistan.
“It’s important that we make trade fair and that we make sure that the benefits of any trade goes back to the people.”
To outsiders, Samoa’s lush forests represent tropical paradise. But for many Samoans, the remoteness of their Pacific nation results in a poverty of opportunity. Consequently, many Samoans work abroad and send part of their income home to their families. The unintended negative consequences of this dynamic can be devastating: with women often gone away to work for weeks at a time, young girls became more vulnerable to gender based violence by older men in their family. Visionary entrepreneur Adimaimalaga (Adi) Tafuna’i believes this dynamic can and should change. Globally minded, yet rooted in her community, she works to build sustainable economic opportunities for Samoan women and families, in a way that is good for people, prosperity and the planet. Adi was determined to enable women to earn an income in their local community in order to educate, feed and care for their families. She leverages local resources to connect Samoan women to global markets through a village-based approach to economic development. Adi’s organization, Women in Business, is currently working with 600 families across the Pacific.
“With Americans for Responsible Solutions, Mark and I are using our second chance at service to make our communities safer from gun violence.”
Former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords has become known across the country for her resilience in the face of violence, and for her consensus-building leadership in Congress.
Giffords was shot in the head at point blank range at a Congress on Your Corner event in Tucson on January 8, 2011. Stepping down from Congress in January 2012, Giffords said, “I will return, and we will work together for Arizona and this great country.”
Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, founded Americans for Responsible Solutions to encourage elected officials to stand up for the 2nd amendment and safer communities by communicating directly with the constituents that elect them.
The youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona State Senate, Giffords represented her community in the Arizona Legislature from 2000-2005, and in Congress from 2006-2012. She championed border security, energy independence, and the needs of military families and veterans. Consistently ranked as one of the most centrist legislators in Congress, she is a strong supporter of fiscal responsibility, bipartisanship, and government accountability.
Giffords holds a Master’s Degree from Cornell University and a B.A. from Scripps College where she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Chihuahua, Mexico.
Becky Straw & Jody Landers
The People's Voice Award
“Aid is appreciated, but a job has the power to move an entire family out of poverty forever.” —Becky Straw
Becky Straw is Co-Founder and CEO of The Adventure Project. After years working in international aid, she was burdened with the overwhelming reality of abject poverty. She became determined to empower people with the tools and education to become entrepreneurs and serve their own communities with improved health, decreased hunger, a safer environment and clean water. She helped launch the organization with the knowledge that people want the opportunity to thrive — not with a handout, but through dignified work.
In four years, the organization has employed 745 entrepreneurs in India, Haiti, Kenya, and Uganda, which include well mechanics, healthcare workers, farmers and stove masons. Together they serve over one million people each day.
When Jody Landers and her husband adopted their two youngest children from Sierra Leone, the experience opened their eyes, and confirmed the desire to see a world where the adoption of orphans is not necessary.
From a tiny town in Iowa, Jody helped launch the organization with a mission of getting likeminded people involved. Jody knows there are millions of people just like her — eager to help, if they just knew how. She has helped to rally over 5,000 grassroots supporters, raising over $1.3 million. Jody is the proud mother to six children.
“Traffickers are afraid when we unite in action! With our combined talents and resources we can rid this world of slavery!”
Agnes Igoye is Uganda’s Deputy National Coordinator for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and the Training Manager at the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control. A survivor of Uganda’s Civil War and the atrocities of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Agnes’s childhood experiences shaped her life’s mission of being part of the solution to human trafficking. A member of the Clinton Global Initiative, Agnes speaks globally raising awareness about human trafficking, rehabilitates survivors and trains law enforcement. Since 2011, she has delivered over 92,000 text books for the education of vulnerable children in Uganda. She is the founder of The Huts for Peace Program, a community driven self-help initiative for women displaced, tortured, and subjected to gender-based violence by the LRA who are now rebuilding their communities using local materials. In addition to several global advisory roles, Agnes serves as Ambassador to “Let Girls Learn,” The White House and the Office of First Lady Michelle Obama and the U.S. Peace Corps’ collaboration to expand access to education for adolescent girls around the world.
“I’m looking forward to the day we can retire the phrase ‘women’s empowerment,’ when it’s understood that being empowered, from within and without, is an essential component of womanhood.”
Sarah Jones is a Tony® and Obie Award-winning playwright and performer, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and long-standing advocate for the empowerment of women and girls, working with organizations such as Equality Now, the Novo Foundation, the New York Women’s Foundation, and the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, where she is an honorary chairperson. Called “a master of the genre” by The New York Times, Sarah is known for her multi-character, one-person shows including the critically acclaimed Broadway hit Bridge & Tunnel, originally produced by Oscar-winner Meryl Streep. The product of a multi-racial, multicultural family and community, Sarah was educated at the United Nations International School and Bryn Mawr College, honing both her commitment to women’s equality and her empathy for the diverse experiences of people from all backgrounds. Sarah’s work includes multiple performances at the White House at the invitation of President and First Lady Obama, three main stage ‘TEDtalks’ and a new one-woman show, Sell/Buy/Date, premiering Fall 2016 at the Manhattan Theater Club.
The People's Voice Award
“I AM THAT GIRL creates a space for girls to be exactly who they are in a world telling them who they are not.”
Hi. My name is Emily. I’m a girl. In 2008 I met another girl, Alexis, who created a space that was safe for me to be me – more honest and vulnerable than I’ve ever been – and my life changed forever. She asked me to join her, and I said yes.
We’re creating a new normal: a community where girls have permission to be who they are, instead of who they think they’re supposed to be. A world where girls lift each other up, have each other’s backs, and give each other permission to talk honestly about things that matter.
With over 175 local chapters and an online community of over 700,000, I AM THAT GIRL empowers, supports and educates an engaged and growing community of girls from across the globe to love and express themselves through online and offline programs and initiatives.
Our programs all address the emotional, mental and physical well-being of girls. We are shifting culture – raising the standards for how girls treat each other, themselves, and the world. Join us.
“The key is to connect markets with the skills of women. Markets that provide opportunities for women are markets that will transform cycles of poverty into cycles of prosperity!”
Maria is co-founder of Wakami, a business dedicated to developing products and services that generate hope, income and prosperity for rural communities. Currently, under the Wakami brand, handmade fashion accessories produced by over 450 Guatemalan women are being exported to over 20 countries.
Maria serves as a consultant to both the private sector and to governmental entities on methods for bringing markets to rural regions. She was co-designer of a $60 million loan to Guatemala from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development bank to give market access to over 300 rural companies. She has also partnered with UN Foundation, UNDP, the private sector and others to implement her methodology.
Maria graduated from Cornell University under a Fulbright Scholarship. She serves on the Aspen Institute Leadership Initiative and was co-founder of the Guatemalan Vital Voices Chapter and Central American Network.
In 2007 Maria received the Vital Voices Washington Global Economic Development Award and in 2015 Wakami was awarded the Stephan Schmidheiny Award in Innovation in Production for Latin America.
Dr. Martine Rothblatt
Martine Rothblatt is Chairman & Co-CEO of United Therapeutics Corporation and President & CEO of its Lung Biotechnology public benefit company. She previously created and led Sirius XM as its Chairman & CEO. She has JD and MBA degrees from UCLA and a Ph.D. in Medical Ethics from the Royal London School of Medicine & Dentistry. Her patented inventions cover aspects of satellite radio, prostacyclin biochemistry and cognitive software.
Martine’s activism began with leading the transgender community’s project to create a first-ever Health Law Standards for Transexualism, adopted by consensus on September 15, 1993. Thereafter, she led the International Bar Association’s Report to present the United Nations with a treaty to prohibit discrimination on the basis of genetic information, which was ultimately endorsed by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998 as the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights. Her activism continued with the publication of her books, The Apartheid of Sex: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender and Unzipped Genes: Taking Charge of Baby-Making in the New Millennium, the first to lay out a detailed legal basis for the rights of people to marry and parent regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. Most recently she has focused her human rights work on respect for the dignity of people who must rely upon computerized prostheses due to advanced medical conditions.
Martine left SiriusXM to start her biotechnology company because no medicines were available to save the life of her daughter from a rare fatal illness, pulmonary arterial hypertension, and it remains one of the largest donors to research scientists and patient associations. Today nearly 30,000 patients with this disease, the large majority of whom are women in the prime of their life, are taking her medicines.
She is also in the forefront of creating an unlimited supply of transplantable organs and medicines for rare diseases. Within the past year she has obtained FDA approval for the first-ever treatment for neuroblastoma, a rare pediatric cancer, and she has led the effort to save the lives of over a dozen people by using a revolutionary technology that converts degraded and hence unusable donated organs into being healthy and transplantable. This technology has the potential to eliminate all waitlists for organ transplantation.
Martine believes that women’s empowerment is an essential, if not sufficient, basis for socio-economic development. When women’s talents shine, the entire environment around us brightens. As nurturers of life, either biologically or by gender affinity, women translate the potential of humanity into its best realization. In a very similar way, the part of each of our cells called ribosomes translate the potential of our DNA into its best realization as proteins. Without ribosomes, there is no life. Without women, there is no joy.