6 inspirational young female leaders

  • As we commemorate International Women’s Month and Women’s Day on 8 March, we celebrate the women who choose to take on incredible challenges.
  • Here are six inspirational young female leaders who influence me and others around the world.

International Women’s Month is dedicated to the social, economic, political, cultural and scientific achievements of women and girls. In my work with the World Economic Forum’s communities of Young Global Leaders and Global Shapers, I am inspired every day by amazing women in our network: young female leaders who are driving the call for equitable and sustainable food systems, de-stigmatising mental health in developing countries, curbing the pandemic in vulnerable communities, raising awareness of the impacts of fast fashion, and a civic engagement leader who has defied all the odds.

Here are six inspirational young female leaders who influence me and others around the world:

Dr Neema Kaseje, Surgeon at Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF) and Founder of Surgical Systems Research Group, Young Global Leader

Dr Neema Kaseje is a medical surgeon working on the frontlines in Siaya, Kenya, to curb the COVID-19 pandemic and provide equitable youth opportunities in the region. Amid the pandemic, Dr Kaseje realized that to close the gap in cases there needed to be adequate training and capacity building for both hospital and community healthcare workers. By providing a comprehensive approach, her organization trained 1,300 healthcare workers to support minor and advanced COVID-19 patients. By leveraging technology, they could digitise processes to get real-time data to help make informed policy decisions and take immediate action to curb the pandemic. The pandemic hit youth, particularly young girls, the hardest in Siaya. With school closures, Dr Kaseje saw a rise in teenage pregnancies. She built a network of leadership and mentorship groups reaching 800 young girls to realize their potential while also providing essential needs like sanitary pads that are difficult to afford. So far, 99% of the young girls are back at school, and of the 400 she has checked in on, zero pregnancies have been reported. I have had the privilege of sharing her work over the past year, and every time I am in awe of her resilience. As a surgeon, Dr Kaseje could be living in a comfortable part of the world, but chose to make her impact much more significant. “It’s hard to make an impact in your comfort zone,” she told me. “Push boundaries with those who need it the most.”

Laksmi Lagares, Founding Curator, Oakland Hub & Chief Development Officer, A Better Way

Born and raised in East Oakland, California, Laksmi Lagares found purpose in helping people realize their potential, despite their circumstances, barriers and oppression. Laksmi faced adversity early in her life, losing her father and brother to murder and gang violence. Living in foster care, Laksmi saw firsthand the inequalities and lack of opportunities for children and teenagers in the system. Being exposed to civic leadership at a young age, she has made it her life mission to serve the underprivileged by leading with empathy, integrity and authenticity. And as a single mother, she has defied the stereotypical norms of leadership. Laksmi founded the Global Shapers Oakland Hub in 2018 and is the Chief Development Officer of A Better Way, an organization dedicated to empowering children and families with the insights and skills to promote their social and economic well-being for a better future. As a Bay Area native raised only 40 minutes from Oakland, I often think about the difference in opportunities for two women of colour like Laksmi and myself. Her defiance against all the odds is commendable, and her grace and strength continually inspire me.

Dr Gunhild Stordalen, Founder and President of EAT Foundation, Young Global Leader

Gunhild Stordalen is a Norwegian doctor and environmentalist on a mission to transform the global food systems. In 2020, she was tapped by the United Nations to take a leading role in the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit by finding solutions to shift towards sustainable consumption patterns. Meat, red meat in particular, is one of many factors causing climate change. Gunhild and her organization EAT are tasked with not only changing the way we eat, but also finding solutions to food waste. Before launching this effort, Gunhild initiated the EAT-Lancet report, which was successfully shared on global media outlets based on one simple point: it is possible to feed our growing population nutritious food while sustaining our planet. The pandemic made me realize that the way I purchase my food is not sustainable. Gunhild’s efforts on sustainable food systems have taught me a lot about my own carbon footprint. There is no ‘Planet B’, and Gunhild’s mission to revolutionise the way we consume and waste food is no easy feat, but her dedication is admirable and to be celebrated.

Bibi La Luz Gonzalez, Global Shaper, Guatemala City Hub and Founder/Director of Eat Better Wa’ik

Bibi La Luz Gonzalez merges food security, climate sustainability and human rights. In 2020, Bibi and her organization Eat Better Wa’ik were awarded the pandemic heroes of Guatemala for their work in providing healthy and nutritious food baskets to all communities, both rural and urban. This campaign supported small and mid-sized family-run farms, and helped reduce food and plastic waste. Eat Better Wa’ik is dedicated to creating food awareness and fighting to reduce malnutrition through creativity and inclusion in many forms – education, leading by example and entrepreneurial programmes. Employing within their community, the organization grew sixfold in 2020. They are now creating a collaborative programme to scale entrepreneurs working in accordance with the climate and human rights – less carbon footprint while implementing liveable wages. Through educational programmes and workshops, Eat Better Wa’ik has reached over 8,000 students in Central and North America, encouraging schools to pivot to healthier, more sustainable meals.

Dr Anjhula Mya Sing Bais, Director of Amnesty International, Young Global Leader

Dr Anjhula Mya Singh Bais is an international psychology trauma specialist and a director on the International Board of Amnesty International. Before the World Health Organization classified COVID-19 as a pandemic, Dr Bais shifted her efforts to offer virtual psycho-social material to help navigate these unprecedented times. In one of the first YGL virtual sessions at the start of the worldwide lockdowns, Dr Bais offered best practices and tools to help address the pending mental-health crisis that the pandemic could amplify. These tools, such as daily walks, check-ins with family and friends, and taking care of yourself first have helped me cope with the magnitude of confinement. Additionally, she has procured over 1,200 units of personal protection equipment and five ventilators to rural hospitals in Indonesia, and offered free therapy sessions for frontline healthcare workers in Malaysia. Dr Bais has shared with us all that it’s okay not to be okay, and that mental health is a real issue that requires compassion and commiseration from others.

Raashi Saxena, Global Shaper, Bangalore Hub and Consultant at Gapminder Foundation

Raashi Saxena, a social innovation practitioner and community builder working in the internet governance ecosystem, was featured in Mozilla’s 2020 annual internet health report, and is also on the board of directors of Threading Change, an international youth-led organization working on sustainable and ethical fashion practices. She is a member of Shaping Fashion and the M.A.S.K project – both led by the Global Shapers Community in scaling sustainable transformations in the fashion industry. When India went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, garment and textile factories were closed. This caused a rise in unemployment and economic hardship for the factory workers, while unsold merchandise inflicted major damage on both supply chains and the climate. The effects of COVID-19 have highlighted the systemic and structural change that is needed in the fashion industry. In order to alleviate the economic pressures, the team has provided meaningful work to garment workers by creating sustainable cotton masks. To date, their efforts have produced more than 9,000 masks and employed 100 garment workers. Raashi’s sustainable fashion work has inspired me to think twice about where I purchase my clothes and to adopt best practices to live a more conscious and sustainable lifestyle.

Six women in a community of thousands

These are just six women in a community of thousands whose stories and work are incredibly motivating and encouraging. As we commemorate International Women’s Month and Women’s Day on 8 March, we must celebrate the women like these who choose to take on incredible challenges for an equitable, healthier and sustainable world.