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9 Women Whose Passion Projects Are Helping to Change the World

Rebuilding communities after disaster strikes. Preventing food waste. Bringing clean water to families in need. Meet 10 amazing women who have turned their passion into purpose and are making the globe a better, healthier place.

The Politico 

Alison Désir, founder of Run 4 All Women

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Photo: Under Armour

In the Beginning: “I set up a GoFundMe with friends to run from New York to the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017, and I raised $100,000 for Planned Parenthood. When we got home, I started Run 4 All Women to raise money for candidates who support women’s rights.” (Related: 14 Things You Can Buy to Support Women's Health Organizations)

The Hurdles: “The logistics of organizing a 2,018-mile cross-country run [for the 2018 congressional elections] are huge. We have ambassadors leading runs in 11 U.S. House and six U.S. Senate districts, and we’re encouraging people to join us. But the actual bigger challenge is wondering, Am I qualified to do this? Realizing how powerful this project is got me past that.”

Her Best Advice: “The moral of the story is to take action. Allow your end goal to be dynamic because you never know what’s going to happen. Success is a moving target. Even though the midterm elections are still ahead, I already feel successful in getting people mobilized.”

The Rebuilder

Petra Nemcova, cofounder of All Hands and Hearts

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Turning Tragedy Into Action: “After I recovered from my injuries from the 2004 tsunami in Thailand [Nemcova suffered a shattered pelvis and lost her fiancé in the disaster], I wanted to see how I could make the biggest impact. I learned that once the first responders leave after a disaster, a community often has to wait four to six years for its schools to be rebuilt. That was unacceptable to me. Children can start healing only when they go back to school and have a sense of normalcy. I decided to start an organization, the Happy Hearts Fund, to provide long-term support.”

The Biggest Challenge: “I was passionate to help, but I had no experience, so I began studying other philanthropic organizations and learning from the best of them. Last year we merged with the group All Hands Volunteers. They provide the first response when disaster strikes, and our team is there for the long term. Together we can accomplish so much more. We have rebuilt 206 schools and helped more than 1.2 million people in 18 countries.”

Her Ultimate Goal: “Natural disasters have doubled since the 1980s. The need is so tremendous. I want to change the way the world responds to disasters—like last year’s devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico, which is one of the places where we are working right now—so that help is more sustainable. We are very determined to achieve this, and we will make it happen.”

The Holistic Doc

Robin Berzin, M.D., founder of Parsley Health

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Photo: Lianna Tarantin

Turning Her Passion Into Purpose: “During my residency, I’d hand out prescriptions, but I knew many patients’ issues were driven by diet, stress, and behavior. Then I worked at a holistic health practice and saw incredible outcomes, but it cost thousands of dollars. I started to think about how I could create a root-cause approach to health that would be available to all. That became Parsley Health, a membership-based primary-care practice. For $150 a month, patients get a range of holistic services.”

Her Best Advice: “Parsley grew really fast. I wouldn’t change that, but there’s an art to moving quickly. I think if we’d grown slower, I would have learned more from each phase.”

Her Ultimate Goal: “Having all the health insurance companies say, ‘What you’re doing is the future, and we’ll pay for it, so everyone has access to this kind of primary care.’”

The Confidence Crusader

Becca McCharen-Tran, founder of Chromat

Turning Her Passion Into Purpose: “I have an architecture degree, so I can see fashion from a different perspective. I design my swimsuits, lingerie, and athletic wear to fit all shapes and sizes. I want it to be functional and to make women and femmes feel empowered.” (Related: Outdoor Voices Launched Its First Swim Collection)

Promoting Diversity: “It’s important for me to showcase in my campaigns people from all places on the gender spectrum—and all sizes, ages, and races. It’s powerful to see someone in fashion who looks like you.”

The Ultimate Reward: “Our new sizing goes up to 3X, so people who have never worn a bikini now can. Watching someone’s reaction to a garment that makes them feel strong is so worth it.”

The Food Fixer

Christine Moseley, CEO of Full Harvest

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The Spark: “In 2014, on a visit to romaine lettuce farms, I learned that just 25 percent of each plant was harvested because consumers are so picky about what their produce looks like. I was heartbroken by that, and Full Harvest was born. We are the first business-to-business marketplace for ugly and surplus produce, connecting farmers to companies that use these foods in products.”

She Knew She'd Nail it When: “Last December we started working with several national food and beverage companies. I can’t believe what was once just me standing in a field has turned into something this huge.”

If She Had One Do-Over: “I wish I’d set up more of a support system of seasoned entrepreneurs that I could lean on for advice in the early days of the business. It’s really important to learn from people who have gone through it.”

Her Ultimate Goal: “In 10 years, I want Full Harvest to be the gold standard for eliminating food waste. Food touches all of us. It’s such a powerful way to influence people’s health, the environment, and the economy." (Here are 5 ways to fight food waste.)

The Boundary Breaker

Michaela DePrince, ballerina and ambassador for War Child Netherlands

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Photo: Jockey

The Driver: “At age 4, I was in an orphanage in Sierra Leone after my parents died in the war. I had vitiligo, a skin condition that causes white spots and is considered a curse of the devil there. One day I found a magazine with a beautiful ballerina on the cover who looked so happy. I wanted that kind of happiness too, so I decided that I was going to become a ballerina, no matter what.”

Turning Her Passion Into Purpose: “I was adopted by American parents. I couldn’t speak English, but when I showed my new mom the cover of the magazine, she understood and enrolled me in ballet. That saved me. Ballet was how I channeled all the emotions I couldn’t express. Now I’m part of Jockey’s “Show ’Em What’s Underneath” campaign to give others the message of hope.”

Staying On Her Toes: “A lot of people said I couldn’t be a ballerina because of my skin color. Some teachers thought that because I was black I’d get fat. But when I’m told I can’t do something, I work as hard as I can to prove those people wrong. And I did: At age 18, I was invited to join the Dutch National Ballet’s Junior Company. Last year, I was promoted to second soloist with the main company.”

Her Ultimate Goal: “I’ve realized that my purpose in life is to help others, and that’s why I joined War Child and traveled to Uganda with them. I want kids affected by war and conflict to know that they deserve hope and love, and that they are not defined by the things they’ve lived through.”

The Period Protector

Nadya Okamoto, founder of Period

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Photo: U by Kotex

Finding Purpose Through Hardship: “My family was homeless and living with friends during my freshman and sophomore years of high school. I met girls and women who told me their stories of using toilet paper for pads or skipping job interviews because they didn’t have menstrual products. That was my catalyst. My initial goal was to distribute 20 period packs of tampons and pads to shelters weekly. But right away, it was clear we’d tapped into a huge need. Now we distribute 3,000 packs a month just in Portland, Oregon, and Period has 185 chapters in the U.S. and overseas.” (Related: Gina Rodriguez Wants You to Know About "Period Poverty"—and What Can Be Done to Help)

The Lesson She Learned: “If you want to start something, just do it. Ask for help when you need it, but go for it. I googled everything—how to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, how to set up a board of directors. And when things got hard, I kept going.”

Her Big Goal: “Eliminating the sales tax on period products that exists in 36 states. That would send a very clear message that access to them is a necessity, not a privilege.”

The Skin Saver

Holly Thaggard, CEO of Supergoop

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The Spark: “After college, I was a third-grade teacher. When a good friend was diagnosed with skin cancer, a dermatologist explained to me how much damage is due to incidental exposure, and I thought, Wow, I never saw a tube of sunscreen on the school playground. So I started Supergoop in 2007, with the goal of developing a clean sunscreen formula that would go into classrooms across America.”

The Failure That Fueled Her Passion: “At that time, California was the only state that allowed SPF on school campuses without a doctor’s note [that’s because the FDA considers sunscreen an over-the-counter medication]. I spent two years working to try to get around the restrictions, but unfortunately, I couldn’t. So I had to change course and get into retail in 2011 in order to build my brand.”

How She Crushed Her Goal: “Today 13 states allow SPF in the classroom. To get sunscreen to them, we created a special program called Ounce by Ounce, which is funded by Supergoop’s retail success. Just send us an email via the link on our website, and we’ll connect with your child’s teacher and supply the entire class with free sunscreen.” (Related: Is This Controversial Ingredient In Your Sunscreen Doing More Harm Than Good?)

The Thirst Quencher

Kayla Huff, founder of The Her Initiative and Fit for Her

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The Spark: “Networking with other women in Denver in early 2015, I thought, What if we could change the game for women in developing countries by connecting with them in some way? I went to my boss at Healing Waters International, a clean-water nonpro t, about creating a campaign that lets women in the U.S. raise funds for water projects in places that have no running water, through events like dinners or Spinning classes. I got the green light and launched Her Initiative.”

The Tipping Point: “To kick things off, I brought some social media in influencers with me to the Dominican Republic to create awareness of what a struggle it is for women who lack running water. We walked with these women to the place where they collected dirty water for their families, and the Instagram posts showing them trudging home carrying 40-pound buckets instantly clicked with followers, and people started signing up to donate. We’ve had an 80 percent growth in all our monthly donors through the Her Initiative. It’s been incredible.”

She Knew She Nailed It When: “Now that they’ve seen what a difference our organization can make, I’m hearing from a lot of women who want to help end the global water crisis, especially those in the wellness industry who host Fit for Her workouts for us. We have the luxury of reaching for our water bottles during exercise, and that really drives home the thirst of women in developing countries.”

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