50 Women Who Are Changing The World

Sheryl Sandberg 2
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Women are having a bigger impact on our world than ever.

In the past year, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg pushed feminism back into the center of the national discourse.

In Afghanistan, a country where women used to be treated as second class citizens, parliament member Fawzia Koofi made history by announcing plans to run for president.

To recognize these and other impressive women, we asked readers for nominations and asked our reporters and editors to vote on the women who did the most in the past year to change the world.

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#50 Cameron Russell

#50 Cameron Russell

The Victoria's Secret model gave a powerful TED talk last year about the fashion industry's obsession with beauty, discouraging young women from pursuing careers in modeling. She has controversially said she "has to feel guilty" working in the industry, even as she's pushing the conversation about unrealistic standards into the forefront. 

Russell has also branched off into other political ventures by running the blog ArtRoots.info, which aims to encourage grassroots public art and political power; and is director of The Big Bad Lab, focused on participatory art meant to inspire people to engage in radical demonstrations to bring about positive social change. 

#49 Alice Waters

#49 Alice Waters

Chef Alice Waters is at the forefront of the popular "slow food" movement" that has gained momentum across the country. 

Her culinary philosophy is rooted in the belief that the ingredients should come from local and sustainable farms. Her restaurant Chez Panisse supports a network of local farmers, and has inspired many others around the country to do the same.  Chez Panisse was badly damaged by a fire in March, but is expected to reopen in June.

Waters is VP of Slow Food International, a global nonprofit organization that promotes local farming initiatives; and speaks out about how fast food ruins culture

#48 Tig Notaro

#48 Tig Notaro

Comedian Tig Notaro captured America with her vulnerable stand-up routine last August. She took the stage soon after being diagnosed with cancer, and told the audience: "With humor, the equation is tragedy plus time equals comedy. I am just at tragedy right now."

The androgynous 41-year-old also shared her sadness over the death of her mother, a breakup, and a threatening intestinal disease. During her routine, one guy said, "This is fucking awesome." 

Since then, many people around the world say that she's helped them get through their own battles with cancer and other hardships. 

#47 Jennifer Hyman

#47 Jennifer Hyman

Rent The Runway's co-founder and CEO Jennifer Hyman transformed high-end retail with her Netflix-for-couture concept. 

She's raised $55 million to date, from big investors including Bain Capital and Conde Nast. 

The company has hinted at an IPO and plans to use its most recent round of fundraising to build showrooms so consumers can try on outfits. 

Rent The Runway also made waves this year when it decided to use real women as models, rather than the waif-thin typical fashion models.

#46 Margaret Thatcher

#46 Margaret Thatcher

The world stopped to honor Britain's first female prime minister when she passed away last month

Marget Thatcher was a dominant political figure. As a member of the conservative party in Britain, she was known for supporting a free-market economic ideology, and supported her close friend and then-US President Ronald Reagan in his fight against communism, which earned her the nickname of "Iron Lady" by the Soviets. 

Margaret Thatcher died on April 8, 2013.

#45 Anna Wintour

#45 Anna Wintour

The longtime Vogue editor has been a powerful force in fashion for decades, and as of late, in politics.

She poured $2.7 million into Barack Obama's campaign last year, making her the president's fourth-biggest fundraiser

There was speculation that Wintour would segue into the political arena, but for now, she has a new job to focus on: She was promoted to Artistic Director of Conde Nast earlier this year. It's a position that was created specifically for her to have more influence over the media company's publications.

#44 Sara Blakely

#44 Sara Blakely

Sara Blakely is the youngest self-made billionaire in the world. 

At 29, Blakely reinvented the girdle with Spanx. Now 41, she's revolutionized an industry. 

Before her business venture took off she was a greeter at Disney World rides and sold fax machines door-to-door for a living. Now she makes $250 million in annual revenues and owns 100 percent of her company, without ever needing any outside investment. 

#43 Peng Liyuan

#43 Peng Liyuan

China's First Lady Peng Liyuan is a literal rock star.

The second wife of China's President Xi Jinping "is a renowned soprano singer in her homeland, even attaining the equivalent rank of major general as a 'artist-soldier' in China's army and is well-known for her charity work."

Since becoming the first lady, Peng Liyuan has led trips to Russia and Africa to humanize the communist regime abroad. She is also a dynamic fashion icon, known for favoring local Chinese brands over Western fashion labels. Liyuan made TIME's 100 Most Influential People list this year. 

#42 Ronda Rousey

#42 Ronda Rousey

Thanks to martial arts fighter Ronda Rousey, women now fight in the UFC.

The trash-talking Olympian qualified for the Athens games when she was only 17, and was the youngest judo competitor enlisted. In 2006, she became the first U.S. female athlete in nearly 10 years to win an A-Level tournament when she took home the gold metal at the Birmingham World Cup in Great Britain. 

She also graced the cover of ESPN's body issue last year. 

#41 Jenna Lyons

#41 Jenna Lyons

The J. Crew president and creative director has played a crucial role in building up the company's iconic brand, changing the way America dresses. 

Lyons caught the eye of J. Crew Founder and CEO Mickey Drexler, who said her collections were "incredibly creative and like nothing I have ever seen." She's since become a fashion icon in her own right. 

And on the business side, she's helped double sales in the past seven years, bringing the company to a valuation of $1.7 billion. 

#40 Anne-Marie Slaughter

#40 Anne-Marie Slaughter

Anne-Marie Slaughter got everyone in America talking with her controversial article, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," published in the Atlantic last year. 

The former State Department policy planning director made a bold argument that women could never achieve the ideal "work/life balance" — and that, frankly, there's no such thing as "work/life balance."

It sparked a much larger discussion, especially with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg weighing in with her controversial book "Lean In" and Marissa Mayer being named CEO of Yahoo while pregnant.

# 39 Jill Abramson

# 39 Jill Abramson

Jill Abramson was named executive editor of the New York Times in 2011, becoming the first female editor of the Times.

One of her biggest challenges coming in was retaining top talent and creating an increasingly digital publication

Recently she was criticized for her management style in a POLITICO article, but many came to her defense and dismissed the article as sexist. Reporter Brian Stelter told Business Insider that "a lot of the [Politico story] didn't ring true me. My sense is that she has the support of the news room. When I read the story I came away thinking, she sounds like she's the boss. That's what she is."

She's also been on a kick recently to help women succeed at the paper.

# 38 Helaine Olen

# 38 Helaine Olen

Journalist Helaine Olen took down the financial guru establishment — including Suze Orman, David Ramsey, and others — with her controversial book, "Pound Foolish."

She dismisses what has been "accepted wisdom" in the financial world, and recommends taking a more vanilla approach to investing and managing money. 

"These people are telling us, hey, just buy a few umbrellas and sand bags and no matter what wave comes your way, you're going to be fine," she told CBS Moneywatch. "And, by the way, they're the ones selling us the sandbags and umbrellas and they don't often disclose that."

# 37 Amy Cuddy

# 37 Amy Cuddy

Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy caught everyone's attention last year with her TED talk about the art of the power pose, which has 5 million views and counting.

In her talk, she explains how small changes in the way that we stand — holding our arms wide, taking up more space — can make a world of difference in how we feel about ourselves and how we convey a sense of power to others.

Cuddy told CNN that, "as a researcher, I'm moved beyond words by these strangers' willingness to share such personal stories of vulnerability, and I'm humbled and astounded to see how this research has resonated with people outside my science."

#36 Fawzia Koofi

#36 Fawzia Koofi

Fawzia Koofi could be Afghanistan's first female president.

Already the first female deputy speaker of the Afghan Parliament and the vice president of the country's National Assembly, she announced her plans to run in the 2014 election. 

She's a strong supporter of women's rights in her country and abroad, undoubtedly propelled by her past. Unwanted by her own mother, she was left out to die in the sun when she was a baby. Now she has made equal rights a fierce part of her life mission. 

#35 Serena Williams

#35 Serena Williams

Serena Williams currently ranks No. 1 in women's singles tennis, and is one of the greatest players of all time. 

To date, Williams holds 15 Grand Slam singles and 13 Grand Slam doubles titles, as well as four Olympic gold medals. She won the 2012 US Open in "epic fashion" beating then-No. 1-ranked Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 2-6, 7-5.

She's never been afraid to show emotion on the court; and she's also made bold statements in the world of fashion, on and off the court. 

#34 Jacqueline Novogratz

#34 Jacqueline Novogratz

Jacqueline Novogratz has transformed what is now venture philanthropy. 

She founded and leads the global non-profit The Acumen Fund, which takes an entrepreneurial approach to eradicating poverty. The idea is to use market-oriented strategies to help revitalize depressed economies. Instead of handing out grants, the fund invests in companies and organizations that deliver useful products to the developing world.

Currently the Acumen Fund manages over $20 million in investments, and has served as a model for other funds around the world. 

#33 Sunita Williams

#33 Sunita Williams

This Indian American astronaut holds the record for the longest space flight and most space walk time for a woman.

She was also a United States Navy officer and was awarded a Navy Commendation Medal twice, a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, a Humanitarian Service Medal and other service awards.

She started out as a flight engineer after being recruited by NASA; and in her two most recent expeditions last year, Williams spent four months aboard an orbiting laboratory. The mission earned her the sixth spot on the all-time U.S. space endurance list. 

#32 Dilma Rousseff

#32 Dilma Rousseff

Dilma Rousseff is currently the President of Brazil and the country's first female President.

Her political career took off when she was only 16, when she became an organizer to fight the repressive military regime that had been in power for over 20 years. During the dictatorship, Rousseff was persecuted, imprisoned and tortured for advancing democracy in Brazil. 

She's also known for redesigning Brazil's electricity sector through the “Light for All” program during her service as Minister of Mines and Energy, as well as overseeing the influential housing program, “My House, My Life." 

#31 Mindy Kaling

#31 Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling is one of the creative geniuses behind the Emmy Award-winning series, "The Office." She's a writer, director and co-executive producer for several of the show's episodes, and was named one of TIME's 100 Most Influential People for her work. 

She launched a new series, "The Mindy Project," on FOX this fall; and recently starred in the Five-Year Engagement and Wreck-It Ralph. 

#30 Michelle Obama

#30 Michelle Obama

America's First Lady is a force to be reckoned with. She's a Harvard Law School-educated fashion icon who candidly talks about having an equal marriage with the president.

In Jody Kantor's book, "The Obamas," she captures a great moment where Barack Obama inquires about his wife's exchange with a Chicago restaurant owner, whom she knew from her teenage years: 

President Obama then said, “So if you had married him, you would now be the owner of this lovely restaurant,” to which Michelle responded, “No. If I had married him, he would now be the President.”

Michelle Obama has also used her platform as First Lady to fight childhood obesity in America with her campaign, Let's Move!

#29 Roberta A. Kaplan

#29 Roberta A. Kaplan

Roberta Kaplan gained national attention for her Supreme Court argument against the Defense of Marriage Act, the Clinton-era law that says the federal government doesn't recognize same-sex marriage. 

"The minute I heard the facts of the case, it took me about three seconds to decide that it was absolutely the right case to bring," Kaplan told Business Insider. Her firm, Paul, Weiss, took on the case free of charge. 

Kaplan has been honored by several organizations, including the National Organization for Women, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Gay Men's Health Crisis and the New York County Lawyers' Association.

#28 Katherine Bigelow

#28 Katherine Bigelow

The director, producer and screenwriter has made a huge impression on Hollywood and beyond. 

Kathryn Bigelow's recent films The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty became controversial box office hits for turning recent American military operations abroad into action movies. In 2008, The Hurt Locker won six Oscars, including Best Picture, and Bigelow became the first woman and the only woman to date to win the Best Director award for the same film. 

She's publicly weighed in on the national conversation over torture, and her film even led the Senate Intelligence Committee to briefly consider an investigation into Zero Dark Thirty. 

#27 Valerie Jarrett

#27 Valerie Jarrett

Valerie Jarrett is a longtime supporter of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle. She knew the couple years ago in Chicago, and has stuck by their side ever since, protecting their reputation and becoming one of their closest confidants.  

She's now a senior advisor and assistant to President Obama and was co-chair of the Obama-Biden presidential transition team. 

Before moving to Washington, she was a force in Chicago — as a lawyer serving in the city government, as director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, leading a property development firm, and taking on finance chair when President Obama ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004, among other things. 

#26 Tory Burch

#26 Tory Burch

Fashion designer Tory Burch officially became a billionaire this year. 

She launched Tory Burch LLC 10 years ago in her kitchen, and brought in $800 million in revenue in 2012. She's most famous for her signature ballet flats, but her line has expanded well beyond that. 

She's also a notable philanthropist, launching the Tory Burch Foundation in 2008, which provides economic opportunities to women and their families. 

#25 Virginia "Ginni" Rometty

#25 Virginia "Ginni" Rometty

Ginni Rometty is the chairman and CEO of IBM, the first woman to head the multinational company. She officially took on the role in January 2012.

Since then, she has strived to refocus the company on innovation and catering to clients' needs. And it seems to be paying off. The 55-year-old businesswoman was voted The Most Powerful Woman in Business by Fortune last year.

She was paid about $16 million last year—arguably not enough compared to other male CEOs—but she's paving the way for other budding businesswomen.

#24 Christine Quinn

#24 Christine Quinn

Christine Quinn has been the Speaker of the New York City Council since 1999, making her the first female and first openly gay person in office.

She's known for her brash tactics, but there's no doubt that she gets things done. Since she's been in office, she's built more affordable housing, expanded early childhood education,  provided opportunities for small businesses, and worked to make the city more sustainable. She's currently fighting to raise the smoking age to 21. 

Now she's running for New York City Mayor and is considered a frontrunner, under the wing of current Mayor Michael Bloomberg. If she wins, she'll be New York City's first female and first openly gay mayor.

#23 Jennifer Lawrence

#23 Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence epitomizes the ideal of normal girl in Hollywood—if that girl were an Oscar, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild award winner, of course.

Still, she makes Hollywood seem more accessible while enjoying tremendous success. In the last year, the 22-year-old actress starred in Silver Linings Playbook (her performance earned her the Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a SAG Award, and the Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress, among others) and became a fan favorite for her lovable candid interviews. 

She's down-to-earth, and despite her success she knows the value of money.

“I was raised to have value for money, to have respect for money, even though you have a lot of it," she told the UK's Fabulous magazine.

It's refreshing to see a starlet embrace normality and humility rather than the hard-hitting party habits of some of her peers.

#22 Sophia Amoruso

#22 Sophia Amoruso

After dropping out of college in 2006, Sophia Amoruso began selling a curated collection of cool vintage clothing on eBay as a hobby, calling her site Nasty Gal.

Her site became so successful that she moved it over to its own domain name. Today, Nasty Gal is one of the most popular e-commerce sites on the web, with $100 million in annual sales.

Nasty Gal is such a success story because despite the fact that it has no stores and little official marketing, it has a loyal fan base that's been won through social media. Nasty Gal has over 97,000 followers on Twitter and over 720,000 followers on Instagram.

Amoruso is only 28, but she's already worth about $250 million, according to Forbes. She recently raised $40 million in venture funding for Nasty Gal while still holding on to most of her company.

#21 Zaha Hadid

#21 Zaha Hadid

Zaha Hadid is one of the most prominent female architects in the world, known for building gorgeous, futuristic designs.

She's probably best-known for the London Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park; Maxxi, the National Center for Contemporary Arts in Rome; and the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan.

She was the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize (the Nobel Prize of her field) in 2004, and has continued to be rewarded for her work. She also won the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2010 and 2011, and the 2013 Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award.

The British-Iraqi architect has spoken out about misogyny in the architecture field, saying that "I am sure that as a woman I can do a very good skyscraper. I don't think it is only for men."

Though she's notoriously difficult to work with, she's still blazing a trail for all future women architects.

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