Changing the world can feel impossible, until you look up and see someone who’s gone before you.
That’s why on this International Women’s Day we are celebrating the women who are pioneering new ways for business to be a force for good. There are millions of innovators, pioneers and changemakers who have set the pace for women around the world to pursue purpose in both their personal and professional lives, and this list is a small selection of just some of the women who are making a difference to the world of purpose.
It’s no secret that we still have a long way to go to achieve gender equality. But the road to a truly equal future is made up of the small steps that women take every day.
Here are our top picks for the women who are advancing purposeful business:
Sheryl Sandberg – The Executive
“The more women help one another, the more we help ourselves. Acting like a coalition truly does produce results.”
Sandberg has been Chief Operating Officer at Meta (formerly Facebook) since 2008, and has helped to dramatically increase the social media firm’s revenue due to her focus on positioning Meta as a platform for small businesses. Her role at Meta made her the first woman to serve on the board of directors.
In 2010, her TED Talk, ‘Why we have too few women leaders went viral, and she has written two bestselling books: Lean In, about why we need more women in the most senior positions in business , and Option B, her own story of grief and resilience.
Naomi Klein – The Activist
“We are built to survive. So are our oceans. So is the atmosphere. But surviving is not the same as thriving, not the same as living well.”
Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and celebrated author of The Shock Doctrine, This Changes Everything and On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal – recognised as staple works in the climate change and stakeholder capitalism debate.
Klein’s work on climate, ecofeminism and neoliberal economics has solidified her position as one of the most prominent international activists today.
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu – The Entrepreneur
“Prosperity creation is the sole route to the elimination of poverty. And to create sustained prosperity, you have to create something truly world class.”
Founder and executive director of SoleRebels, Alemu set out with one goal: to provide jobs and incomes for her community. By 2016, her company had sold 125,000 pairs of shoes and provided 1,200 jobs.
Alemu has been a pioneering force in changing the narrative around African businesses and has paved the way for Ethiopian businesses to shape their own international image.
Anita Roddick – The Pioneer
“The business of business should not be about money. It should be about responsibility. It should be about public good, not private greed.”
In 1976, Roddick envisioned a business that would provide ethically sourced, cruelty-free and sustainable skin care products while allowing her to support her daughters on a single income. Nearly 40 years later, The Body Shop has a range of over 1,000 products sold in 65 countries, and has achieved B Corp certification.
Melinda Gates – The Philanthropist
“Women and girls should be able to determine their own future, no matter where they are born.”
Gates is co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest private charitable organisation in the world. She is an outspoken advocate for women’s rights across the world, and published her book The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World in 2019.
Angela Ahrendts – The Leader
“I believe it is imperative that great companies add greater social value — the larger the company, the larger the obligation.”
Formerly the CEO of Burberry and later senior vice president of retail at Apple, Ahrendts is a well known figure in the corporate world. She salvaged Burberry at a time the company was struggling, and embedded the core concepts of values, mission and vision into the company. She is also a non-executive board member of Save the Children and Charity: Water.
Jessi Baker – The Innovator
“I don’t think I ever really wanted to start a business – I just wanted to solve the problem. And I still just want to solve the problem. That’s really all I’m motivated to do.”
Jessi Baker founded Provenance, a digital platform that enables businesses to share information about the journey of people, places and ingredients behind their products. Her mission was to create a business that would allow people to make informed decisions about the products we are buying, based on their impact on the environment and society.