In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating influential female leaders who have shaped, and continue to shape, important social change.
Whether you’re just starting your social-impact career or you’re interested in being more involved as a community organizer, find inspiration and encouragement from six exceptional contemporary changemakers and the organizations and causes they fight for.
National Domestic Workers Alliance, Caring Across Generations | Ai-Jen Poo
Photo credit: Jeremy Bigwood
If you tuned in to the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, you may have seen Ai-Jen Poo representing the domestic workers she advocates for through her work as Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NWDA).
Founded in 2007, the NWDA works to ensure the rights and protection of the domestic workforce. In an essay about her experience attending the awards in solidarity with other women activists, Poo reminds all idealists that “if you want change, you have to first envision it, and then name it to summon it into existence.”
Poo is also Co-Director and founder of Caring Across Generations, an organization created to highlight the need for affordable and quality care for the country’s aging population and connecting caregivers with opportunities to do their important work.
Girls for Gender Equity | Tarana Burke
Photo credit: Glamour Magazine
Tarana Burke also attended the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, bringing recognition to her work as Senior Director of Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) whose mission is “committed to the physical, psychological, social, and economic development of girls and women.”
In addition to her work with GGE, Burke is credited with developing #MeToo long before the movement officially launched in 2017. Burke used the phrase “Me too” in her earlier work and founding of Just Be You, Inc., a nonprofit organization supporting victims of sexual harassment and abuse. Burke emphasizes that Me Too is about much more than one single person: "This is about survivors.”
The Laundromat Project | Risë Wilson
Risë Wilson founded The Laundromat Project in 1989 upon envisioning “a space for people to be able to create, not just consume, art.” From that passion for connecting and supporting the appreciation and creation of art, The Laundromat Project was born across NYC’s laundromats serving as impromptu galleries and gathering spaces across the boroughs.
Today the movement has expanded to other public spaces. And while Wilson is still an active champion of the organization, she now serves as the very first Director of Philanthropy at The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.
Girl Develop It - Philadelphia, ROAR For Good | Yasmine Mustafa
Yasmine Mustafa has been dedicated to empowering women since she learned how to code with then New York-based Girl Develop It (GDI), a nonprofit dedicated to judgement-free software and web development learning opportunities for women.
Out of a desire to help women in the Philadelphia area to develop these skills, Mustafa founded the city’s own Girl Develop It chapter. Today GDI has chapters in more than 50 cities across the country.
Mustafa’s work to empower women continued with her role as co-founder and CEO of ROAR For Good, a self-defense app and accessory developed out of a dedication to keeping women safe from the threat of violence and assault.
Black Alliance for Just Immigration | Opal Tometi
Photo credit: The Laura Flanders Show
Opal Tometi has dedicated over fifteen years of her career to social activism and community organizing, including co-founding the #BlackLivesMatter movement in 2013.
In addition to her years of advocacy and thought leadership, Tometi serves as Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), which “educates and engages African American and black immigrant communities to organize and advocate for racial, social, and economic justice.”
Together BAJI and Tometi build campaigns organized to drive social justice, advance immigration policy, and foster open dialogue.
Transgender Law Center | Isa Noyola
Isa Noyola is Deputy Director at the Transgender Law Center (TLC). Noyola felt compelled to join the TLC because she recognized a leadership void of transgender women of color in advocacy and policy, particularly where immigration and transphobic violence were concerned. While her work is focused on trans liberation, Noyola reminds the community that this fight is also “inherently intersectional and is in solidarity with other movements like reproductive justice, healing justice, racial justice, and environmental justice.”
Noyola offers this advice for Idealist Careers readers who are interested in careers in social activism: “Don’t get comfortable. Come into the work with humbleness, willing to be transformed through the work. More often than [not] this work ends up changing you holistically if you are willing to take risks and step out with a courageous heart.”
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About the Author | Yoona Wagener is a freelance writer and WordPress developer who believes in the value of nonlinear career paths. She has experience in academic publishing, teaching English abroad, serving up customer support to software end users, writing online help documentation, and mission-driven nonprofit marketing and communications.