Image for 24 inspiring women (you might not know of) who are changing the world

24 inspiring women (you might not know of) who are changing the world

To mark International Women’s Day, we’re shining a light on 24 inspiring women who may have escaped your radar. From food to foreign policy, and from electronics to economics, they’re all changing the world by working on solutions

To mark International Women’s Day, we’re shining a light on 24 inspiring women who may have escaped your radar. From food to foreign policy, and from electronics to economics, they’re all changing the world by working on solutions

Clare Courtney and Karolina Koścień of Heart & Parcel

Manchester-based Heart & Parcel brings women together to cook and pick up English language skills in the process. With the support of more than 70 volunteers, the women prepare dishes that are then sold (in non-Covid times) at markets and supper clubs. Heart & Parcel was founded by Clare Courtney and Karolina Koścień: friends with a love of food and the connections and relationships that surround it. 

The team has adapted during lockdown, including to set up a YouTube channel full of English language resources and recipe videos from its recently published cookbook. It is also holding an online festival to mark International Women’s Day.

Read more here. 

Image: Rebecca Lupton

The UK’s first register of tradeswomen launched this spring
Hattie Hasan, founder of the National Register of Tradeswomen

A digger operator in Yorkshire, a tree surgeon in the Midlands and a stonemason in Scotland are among the experts to feature on a national register of tradeswomen, which is set to launch this month thanks to Hattie Hasan (pictured right, on the right). Hasan, who founded Stopcocks Women Plumbers, wants to ensure that vulnerable householders who feel safer with tradeswomen are able to find them. 

Hasan grew up in a violent home, so knows first-hand the challenges faced by women in similar circumstances. “Women are scared to allow tradesmen into their home, not only out of fear of the men themselves, but because of the reaction of their abusive partner if they talk to the tradesman or offer him a cup of tea,” she told Positive News. “Being able to access a register of certified, fully qualified tradeswomen is one way they can take back some control.”

Read more here.

Image: Stopcocks Women Plumbers

Samantha Holdsworth, director of Clowns Without Borders

Clowns Without Borders works with professional artists on shows that encourage children living through crises to laugh, dance and play. The charity usually works in refugee camps, conflict zones and disaster areas around the world, but performances have had to be suspended during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Undaunted, its director Samantha Holdsworth (pictured left) told Positive News how Clowns Without Borders has switched to livestreaming clown workshops online for children living in lockdown, so they can learn how to put on their own shows at home. “I like the idea of hundreds of children being little joy makers with their clown shows,” she said. “These are serious times so our need for laughter, humour and joy is greater than ever.”

Read more here.

Image: Henrik Kindgren

Mya-Rose Craig, founder of Black2Nature

Mya-Rose Craig (pictured right) is the founder of Black2Nature, an organisation that works to get more visible minority ethnic (VME) people engaged with nature. She organised her first birdwatching camp in 2015, and said of the experience: “I had 12 people book places; they were all white, middle class boys. At the same time, I read an article about the lack of ethnic diversity in birding.” She subsequently launched Black2Nature. 

Craig described to Positive News what gives her hope: “The young people around me – at school, at protests and at my camps – who have been empowered to make their voices heard and are determined to act to stop climate breakdown and other environmental damage.”

Read more here.

Isabella Tree, Knepp Castle Estate

Isabella Tree (pictured left) runs Knepp Castle Estate with conservationist Charlie Burrell and is the author of Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm. We interviewed her to find out how a hands-off approach at the once intensively farmed estate in West Sussex has paid huge dividends for wildlife and the land alike.

“If you’re not focused on a goal, if you’re not concerned about a particular species, but just let nature do its thing, then extraordinary things can happen,” said Tree, who is one of the UK’s most respected voices on rewilding.

Read more here.

Image: Anthony Cullen

Seyi Akiwowo, Glitch

“If something happened to me right now, your knee-jerk reaction would be to say, ‘Are you OK?’ You wouldn’t tell me it’s my fault!” Seyi Akiwowo (pictured right) pointed out the glaring difference in responses to abuse received offline versus online.

After being on the receiving end of particularly nasty online abuse herself – much of it racist – in 2017, Akiwowo set up Glitch, an organisation that aims to end online bullying through education and campaigning. Glitch provides workshops on digital safety to women with public facing online personas, as well as campaigning for governments and tech companies to take action. 

Read more here.

Image: Glitch

Luminary bakery
Alice Williams, founder of Luminary Bakery

London’s Luminary Bakery helps women who have fallen on hard times rise up and reach their potential. The social enterprise was founded by Alice Williams in 2014 to help women who have experienced homelessness, sexual exploitation, domestic abuse or criminal activity – people who have the hardest time getting work and reaching their potential.

Williams soon realised that employing them wasn’t enough, so she devised a six-month training programme that more than 50 women have now completed.

“We put a strong focus on access to work because that’s the key to unlocking so many other doors,” Williams has said. “But in order to get and sustain a job, maybe your first job, when you’re overcoming so many other things in your past, including trauma, other areas of life need support to give you the best help succeeding.”

Read more here.

Image: Matt Scheffer

Catherine Howarth, ShareAction

You can buy shares in Barclays for the price of a cup of coffee. Being a shareholder of a corporation means you are permitted to attend the annual general meeting – and fire questions at members of the board.

Volunteers working for ShareAction, a ‘responsible investment’ charity, do just that, using company AGMs to take businesses to task on environmental, social and governance issues. 

“We take a positive approach to engagement,” explained Catherine Howarth (pictured right), ShareAction’s chief executive. “A polite but firm question that is fact based but asks something demanding is a thousand times more effective than something sarcastic.”

Read more here.

Image: ShareAction

Janet Gunter, co-founder of the Restart Project

Your gran was right: they don’t make them like they used to. Take the humble washing machine. In the 1980s, these once-dependable white goods would typically clean your clothes for a decade before giving up the ghost. They now need to be replaced every seven years, on average, according to research.

One of the leading lights of the movement to improve things is Janet Gunter (pictured left, centre), co-founder of the UK-based Restart Project, which aims to improve people’s relationship with electronics.

Gunther is a US/British activist and anthropologist who has lived and worked in Brazil, East Timor, Portugal and Mozambique and who now calls south London home. She counts “agitating for access to spare parts” among her hobbies.

Read more here.

Image: Mark Philips

Philosophy professor Sophie Grace Chappell

Amid an increasingly toxic debate about trans rights, transgender philosophy professor Sophie Grace Chappell (pictured right) suggests how to foster tolerance and compassion instead. In 2020, she spoke to Positive News about how we can move past toxicity when it comes to trans rights, and come together instead.

“When people are loved, they’re more secure and less aggressive. I haven’t always been completely secure myself, but when you’re loved by a family it is much easier to be gentle and kind to others. I think the most basic thing to do when people have these fears, is to think about how it looks from their point of view,” she told us.

Read more here.

Image: Murdo MacLeod

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Marissa Conway, Kristina Lunz and Nina Bernarding, Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy

The Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy is a research and advocacy organisation that works to promote feminist foreign policy, ensuring that the people most impacted by decisions are involved in making them. It was founded by Marissa Conway and Kristina Lunz, who featured on the 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Nina Bernarding, who has been at the organisation since 2018, became a co-founder 2020.

The group is currently focusing on ensuring that governments’ responses to the coronavirus pandemic don’t trigger a roll back on women’s and human rights. “The response to the current pandemic is in dire need of feminist perspectives, especially as we are already seeing the gendered impact coronavirus is having,” reads the organisation’s website.

Read more here.

Image: A Nigerian woman, photographed by Ayo Ogunseinde

Liv Little, founder of gal-dem magazine

Liv Little, who oversaw gal-dem’s growth from a small blog platform to an increasingly influential media company, founded the site aimed at women and non-binary people of colour after studying politics and sociology at university in Bristol. The texts she was asked to analyse often centred on the voices of ancient white men: nothing came close to reflecting her experience as a young black British woman.

Little (pictured right), who appeared on the cover of Positive News in 2019, said: “The most fundamental thing is having space to explore lots of different opinions. As women and non-binary people of colour it’s easy to feel pigeonholed into only being able to discuss certain things.”

Five years after founding gal-dem, she has stepped down to return to academia.

Read more here.

Image: Vicky Grout

Amy Williams, co-founder of Good Loop

Can an industry built on flogging us stuff ever be ethical? We interviewed Amy Williams (pictured left) from the Good Loop ‘ethical advertising agency’ as part of a feature about the people making ‘ad land’ more responsible.

Since setting up in 2016, the maverick ad agency has raised over £500,000 for various charities. Media spend represents 90 per cent of the advertising budgets of global brands, equivalent to over £100bn each year, noted Williams, who counts the likes of British Gas and H&M among her clients.

“Imagine what good that money could do if spent in a way that is not funding online hate, not even just a neutral spend, but actually adds positive impact in the world?”

Read more here.

Sharmaine Lovegrove, publisher at Dialogue Books

“It’s an honour to be in my position.” Sharmaine Lovegrove is reflected on her role as publisher of Dialogue Books, which launched in 2017 with a focus on writers from under-represented backgrounds. “It’s such a rich area – to be looking for people whose voices haven’t been heard and to find those stories,” she said.

Lovegrove (pictured right) isn’t alone. Dialogue – an imprint of the Little, Brown publishing house – is one of several initiatives chipping away at UK publishing’s chronic diversity problem.

Dialogue publishes fiction and non-fiction by writers from BAME or working class backgrounds, are LGBTQ+ or have disabilities. “It was really important to me that it was around ‘inclusivity’ rather than ‘diversity’,” she explained. “There’s a big distinction around who you bring to the table; my aim is to not exclude anybody.”

Read more here.

Image: Little, Brown

Katrin McMillan, Hello World

“If you combine all the funding that’s available to solve the education deficit and apply it to building schools and hiring teachers, you still don’t come close to reaching every child.”

Katrin McMillan (pictured left) explained the problem that led her to set up Hello World – a bid to fill the deficit that currently sees around 263 million children go without schooling globally. 

Her solution: solar-powered, wifi-enabled kiosks that are fitted with touchscreen computers loaded with learning resources and constructed in some of the world’s most marginalised communities. There are now 25 Hello Hubs in three countries: one in Nigeria, 12 in Nepal and 12 in Uganda.

“We see a massive increase in children’s learning rate,” McMillan said. “Teachers close to hubs say that children’s test scores have increased significantly.”

Read more here.

Image: Hello World

Carina Millstone, executive director of Feedback

Shining a light on where our food comes from is just one aspect of the hyperactively busy campaign group Feedback. Set up in 2013 by Toast Ale founder Tristram Stuart, Feedback exists to promote a food system that is genuinely sustainable: that is to say, one that “gobbles” fewer resources to produce food, feeds everyone fairly, and is a whole lot less wasteful.

“Our overall goal is to regenerate nature by transforming the food system,” said executive director Carina Millstone (pictured right), who has also authored a book, Frugal Value. By her own confession, it’s a “very lofty” ambition, but Feedback has a reputation for breaking down its mission into tangible, easy-to-understand initiatives.

Millstone and her team – mercifully – brings some lightheartedness to a debate that is all too often characterised by acrimony or argument.

Read more here.


Rosie Ginday, founder of Miss Macaroon

Coventry-born Rosie Ginday had already trained as a high-end pastry chef, worked at a Michelin starred restaurant, taught English in Taiwan and opened a community vegan restaurant. At the age of 25, she wanted to combine her passion for food with a social enterprise business that supported young people. Ginday (pictured left) eventually hit upon macarons: the brightly coloured double-discs of light, crisp almond meringue. 

She launched Miss Macaroon in 2011 with just £500 of her own cash, and has now worked with 85 people aged 18-35 on the training scheme Macaroons that Make A Difference (MacsMAD). The social entrepreneur’s food business helps some of the Midlands’ most disadvantaged young people.

Read more here.

Image: Richard Battye 

Living with cancer
Kris Hallenga, founder of CoppaFeel!

Twelve years ago, Kris Hallenga (pictured right) was told she only had a few years left to live. In the latest issue of Positive News magazine, she told us about finding happiness after her diagnosis.

At the age of 23, she was diagnosed with stage four cancer (“there is no stage five”, she noted). The doctors initially gave her two and-a-half years to live. That was in 2009. She credits her longevity to excellent medical care, a concoction of new and not-so-new drugs, the love of friends and family, and, most importantly, an abiding passion for life.

Much of that passion over the last decade and more, she has poured into CoppaFeel!, a cancer awareness charity that Hallenga set up just three months after her diagnosis. Her mission is simple: to talk boobs. Or, more accurately, boobs with lumps. Schools, music festivals, social media platforms; CoppaFeel! takes its message to young people wherever they are, however it can.

Read more here.

Image: James Bowden

Mariana Mazzucato, economist

Was the iPhone entirely the product of Steve Jobs’ genius? Actually, argues Mariana Mazzucato (pictured left), it would not have been possible without previous technological innovations – like the internet and GPS – that were developed with public money.

Mazzucato’s theories about the role of the state and wealth creation have made her one of the most influential economists working today. She founded and heads up University College London’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. She also advises public officials on how to stimulate innovation to tackle society’s biggest challenges (like the climate crisis) and drive economic growth that works for everyone.

Read more here.

Rebecca Trevalyan, Emma Shaw and Sophia Wyatt, co-founders of Library of Things

On average 80 per cent of household items, like drills or electronic goods, get used less than once a month. When they eventually break or can’t be repaired, they end up in landfill. Borrowing things we use only now and again cuts down on clutter, saves each household money, brings people together to share, and is kinder to our planet.

That’s the theory behind Library of Things, a social enterprise that started life in Lambeth – West Norwood and Crystal Palace in London, founded by Rebecca Trevalyan, Emma Shaw and Sophia Wyatt. 

Wyatt told Positive News: “We want the simple action of borrowing items to become a pathway for people to get more involved in their neighbourhood and make more environmentally-friendly choices. So what starts with ‘I need a drill’ becomes ‘I’ve made friends with my neighbours’, ‘I’ve learned basic repair skills’, or even ‘I’ve decided to start a local project myself’.”

The project has recently had support from Lambeth Council through a post-Covid recovery grant, to try out a Things on Wheels delivery service in Brixton.

Read more about the Library of Things concept here.

Image: Rob Wilson Jnr – Fluid4sight
Main image: Sharmaine Lovegrove. Credit: Little, Brown

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