10 Incredible Nonprofits and the Women Behind Them

10 Incredible Nonprofits and the Women Behind Them

Isabel showing students the library for the first time.

Image credit: Amanda Truxillo, Nate Johnson and Martiza Chateau

Today, female leaders today are perceived to be more effective at taking initiative, demonstrating integrity and honesty and working for results than are their male counterparts, according to a survey from leadership consultancy Zenger Folkman.

Related: How Your Business Can Build Lasting Partnerships With Nonprofits

Given this avowed power female leaders have, it may be timely to celebrate some of the women making an impact in the nonprofit sector.

Certainly, issues like the lack of access to education and healthcare have existed for decades, even centuries, but progress is possible through new ideas and the willingness to implement them. Those ideas and their implementation are coming from the women behind the organizations listed below.

These leaders are taking risks and innovating; they're game-changers within their respective causes. And their entrepreneurial spirit is pushing them to not just ideate, but take action -- as well as tackle historic problems using new solutions.

Under their leadership, these organizations are inciting significant changes, like creating the world’s largest sports movement for people with intellectual disabilities, and bringing surgical care to thousands of people in underserved communities. Driven by their founders’ desire to see results, social change is coming from the following ten organizations:

1. Movemeant Foundation

At the Movemeant Foundation, Jenny Gaither is changing the way women perceive their own bodies. After becoming a SoulCycle instructor in 2010, she faced the uncomfortable truth that she herself struggled with body-image issues. Her personal struggles inspired her to start the Movemeant Foundation, which empowers young women to feel confident in their bodies by equipping them with the tools to be active.

Through positive mentorship, health education and grants that encourage fitness and physical movement, the organization is shifting women’s focus from "slimming down" to discovering their strength and self-esteem. In addition, Movemeant events raise large-scale awareness for positive body images. Its flagship outdoor event, “Dare to Bare,” and other projects are empowering women to feel confident, whole and capable of anything.

2. Women for Women International

Women for Women International (WfWI) supports marginalized women in countries affected by conflict and war. Since 1993, the organization has served nearly 429,000 women, by equipping them with life, business and vocational skills. With these tools, women can earn income, improve their health and well-being and learn about their legal rights to create a sustainable difference in their own lives and the lives of those around them.

The organization was founded by 23-year-old Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi-American humanitarian and entrepreneur. Under her leadership, from 1993 to 2011, WfWI grew to distribute more than $118 million in aid and loans to women in eight conflict locations. Among other accolades, Salbi has been named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum (2007) and a Clinton Global Initiative Leader (2010).

Jennifer Windsor is now WfWI's CEO and leads 550 staff members across 11 international offices, working to empower women to strengthen themselves, their families and, ultimately, their communities.

Related: Leaning In: The 10 Fastest-Growing Women-Owned Businesses

3. Keep A Breast Foundation

When her friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, Shaney Jo Darden committed to raise awareness for the cause through art and creative-action sports culture. Her efforts resulted in the Keep A Breast Foundation (KAB), an organization that provides young people with breast cancer education and support.

The organization is setting out to achieve its mission through art, education, awareness and action. From hosting traveling education booths at music tours, to promoting fundraising through its DIY Action program, the organization provides multiple channels for people to learn and play a part in the mission.

4. Special Olympics

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Eunice Kennedy Shriver saw the mistreatment of people and children with intellectual disabilities and decided to take action. She invited youth with intellectual disabilities to a summer day camp in her own backyard, and the idea behind her efforts eventually grew into the Special Olympics movement.

Since 1968, Special Olympics has fostered acceptance and changed lives around the world. With more than 4.5 million athletes across 170 countries, it is now the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities. The organization provides year-round athletic training and competition that allows children and adults to find joy, develop confidence and discover new strengths through the power of sport.

5. Camp Kesem

Millions of children live with a parent who has cancer. Camp Kesem, a nationwide community spearheaded by college student leaders, is supporting this often-neglected population through innovative, fun-filled programs. Iris Rave, herself a lifelong camper, started the first Camp Kesem chapter at Stanford University with four student leaders in 2000. They chose kesem, Hebrew for “magic,” precisely because they sought to bring magic to families affected by cancer.

In the years since, the organization has empowered 6,642 student leaders nationwide to provide transformative camp experiences for more than 11,352 children. Ninety-eight percent of the parents involved have said they believe Camp Kesem positively affected their families, noting their children’s new confidence, support network and increase in self-esteem.

The organization's one-week sleep-away camps host fun activities while giving these children the extra attention they need -- and creating a lasting community to support them.

6. The Malala Fund

As a young schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai spoke out for female education. When she was shot in the head in 2012 by a Taliban gunman and survived, her voice only became louder, and today she is a leading advocate of female rights and education. She is also the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace prize.

The Malala Fund is the organization Yousafzai helps lead. It provides girls with 12 years of education to achieve their potential and create positive change within their families and communities. The organization works with local leaders and partners to increase safe, quality education for girls and also advocates for policy changes and resources that prioritize girls’ education.

7. Samahope

Millions of people worldwide lack access to basic surgical care. Local doctors and resources are stretched thin to provide medical care on a large scale. To address this issue, Samahope enables supporters worldwide to fund these doctors through crowdfunding. Donations underwrite treatments for birth injuries, burns, birth defects, blindness and trauma-based injuries. The platform has activated more than 3,000 donors to impact the lives of over 6,000 patients.

Leila Janah and Shivani Garg Patel launched the organization in 2012. Janah is an award-winning social entrepreneur and founder of the nonprofit Sama Group, which leverages technology and social business to connect people to work, education and healthcare. Samahope, its medical care arm, is one of three initiatives. Janah is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, a 2012 TechFellow and the youngest recipient of the Heinz Award. Patel, a social entrepreneur, was a former Microsoft product manager, McKinsey consultant and contributor to the Grameen Foundation, World Bank and World Health Organization.

8. National Organization for Women

The National Organization for Women (NOW) is the largest feminist organization in the United States. In 1966, the Third National Conference of the Commission on the Status of Women gathered hundreds of representatives in Washington, D.C. Though the conference theme was “Targets for Action,” delegates were frustrated because they lacked the authority to pass a resolution to end sex discrimination in employment. As an alternative solution, Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, and 27 other women set up NOW, to establish women as equal partners of men in American society. 

Since its inception, NOW has taken action on multiple issues to advance women’s rights. Its victories include putting more women in political positions; increasing their educational, employment, and business opportunities; and driving stricter laws against harassment and discrimination. NOW has hundreds of thousands of members and more than 500 local and campus partners nationwide.

9. Dressember

IN 2009, Blythe Hill wore dresses for the entire month of December -- dubbing those 31 days “Dressember” as a protest against exploitation of women because of their femininity. But she had no idea that her actions would evolve into a global community fighting for the freedom of all women. She was approached by women friends who wanted to do the same thing. The next year, her friends’ friends were up for the challenge, too. The movement continued until Hill realized that she could use Dressember to fund-raise for anti-trafficking efforts.

In 2013, Dressember’s fifth year, the organization aligned with International Justice Mission, a human rights organization that works to rescue victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and modern-day slavery. That year, 1,233 registered participants around the world rallied to collectively raise over $165,000. Participation doubled the next year, and the campaign raised more than $465,000. Starting in 2015, the campaign will increase its partnerships with other anti-trafficking organizations.

10. Girls Who Code

Seventy-four percent of middle schools girls express interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), but only 0.4 percent of high school girls choose computer science as their major. Girls Who Code aims to empower girls with the computer science education and skill sets needed to pursue 21st century opportunities. The deputy public advocate of New York City, Reshma Saujani, the organization’s founder and CEO, started Girls Who Code to close the gender gap in technology. 

In 2014, its programs served 375 girls in multiple cities. Some 90 percent continued to pursue computer science or a closely related field as their major or minor, and 77 percent changed paths because of their time with Girls Who Code. By moving toward gender parity in computing fields, more girls will be equipped with the tools they need to innovate and incite social change.

These are just a few of the incredible organizations women leaders have launched. The problems they tackle are deeply ingrained into society, but their own drive and resourcefulness are pushing their missions forward and creating a widespread impact.

By risking their time, money and effort, these women are building these organizations and achieving significant change.

Related: How Two Ambitious Women Found Success With a Cause-Driven Company