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Celebrating women: 5 changemakers to follow

A photo collage of five women who inspire melinda gates
Illustration by Macaulay Campbell
It’s essential that we recognize women’s work, vision, and potential — certainly on International Women’s Day, but every day, too. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the women across the world who are working at all levels of leadership to guide the global pandemic response and challenge assumptions about what the world should look like on the other side.

This International Women’s Day, let’s allow ourselves a moment of celebration for the acts of courage and creativity that women are performing every day. To start, here is a list of five women who are helping the world to rebuild better, healthier, and more equal.
Photo illustration of Joy Buolamwini on a red background
Illustration by Hailey Merrill

Joy Buolamwini, Founder of Algorithmic Justice League

“Weapons of math destruction” is a term Joy Buolamwini uses to describe the threat that biased algorithms and artificial intelligence can pose to our society, especially for women and people of color. As a computer scientist, she understands that when machines learn from biased inputs, they produce biased outputs — so she worries about the fact that the datasets used to train AI to make decisions often skew, in her words, “pale and male.”

Joy is a researcher, Rhodes scholar, Fulbright fellow, and self-described “poet-who-codes.” She’s also the founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, an organization fighting to ensure technology lives up to its potential as a force for progress and equality.

For Joy, this work is personal. She has experienced firsthand what it's like to be invisible to a facial recognition program that does not recognize a face that is Black. Now, she is leading a movement to make sure technology sees everyone — equally and without bias.
Photo illustration of Ava Duvernay on a blue background
Illustration by Hailey Merrill

Ava DuVernay, Writer, Producer, Director, and Distributor of Independent Films

Ava DuVernay made her first film at the age of 32 because she believed there needed to be more people of color in front of the camera and at the heart of the narrative. Since then, she’s been busy.

Her 2014 film, Selma, was the first best picture nominee directed by a Black woman. Her breathtaking documentary, 13th, was an Oscar-nominated examination of the constitutional amendment ending slavery and the consequences of its terrible loophole. And her Emmy-nominated mini-series When They See Us zeroed into the impacts of systemic racism, as viewed through the eyes of five young men who found themselves thrown into a criminal justice system with very little concern about their right to justice.

Ava doesn’t just make her own art featuring men and women of color; she positions other creators to do the same. Ava’s distribution company, ARRAY, has released more than two dozen films by women and people of color. And, recently, she announced the launch of ARRAY Crew, a database of qualified candidates-of-color for studios to hire for film and TV shoots.

Behind it all, there is a social and moral purpose driving Ava. “These times will be studied,” she’s said. “The question will be, ‘what did you do?’” Looking at her work, the answer is crystal clear: She is doing everything in her power to lift people up.
Photo illustration of Gita Gopinath on an orange background
Illustration by Hailey Merrill

Gita Gopinath, Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund

We celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day in the middle of a global economic catastrophe that has pushed women around the world out of the workforce. If there has ever been a moment when we needed women represented at the highest levels of economic policy, it’s now. And that’s why I’m grateful for international macroeconomist Gita Gopinath.

Dr. Gopinath was born in Kolkata and earned degrees from the University of Delhi, the University of Washington, and Princeton. She is the first Indian woman to be granted tenure by Harvard’s prestigious economics department and, in 2019, she became the first woman to serve as the Chief Economist of the IMF. Now, she’s using her platform and expertise to help drive an inclusive global economic recovery.

One of the issues Dr. Gopinath is grappling with is what the IMF calls “the Great Divergence.” She is concerned that men will recover from the recession faster than women, rich countries will recover faster than poor countries, and high-wage workers will recover faster than low-wage workers. “Being the chief economist in the worst crisis we’ve seen sets a high bar for delivering,” she told Vogue India last year. And she is using her voice at the IMF to help deliver a global economic system that works better for everyone.
Photo illustration of Claire Cain Miller on a green background
Illustration by Hailey Merrill

Claire Cain Miller, Correspondent for The New York Times

“When Schools Closed, Americans Turned to Their Usual Backup Plan: Mothers.” “Should the Child Care Industry Get a Bailout?” “Working Moms Are Struggling. Here’s What Would Help.” The reason I have long followed Claire Cain Miller is that, in a world where caregiving is often invisible, these are the stories she reports, the questions she asks, and the solutions she investigates.

An award-winning journalist for The New York Times, Claire has spent years writing about the unpaid work that American women do as mothers and caregivers. And as the pandemic has intensified the pressures on women and families, Claire has continued bringing attention to its impacts. Her steady focus on these issues is an important addition to a vital national conversation, and I always look forward to reading more from her.
Photo illustration of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on a yellow background
Illustration by Hailey Merrill

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the World Trade Organization

Another woman leading on the global economic stage is economist and international development expert Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. As the new Director-General of the World Trade Organization — the first woman and the first African to hold the post — Dr. Okonjo-Iweala will play an important role in bringing countries together to drive an inclusive economic recovery.

Everywhere she’s been, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has made a difference for people. During her two stints as finance minister, Nigeria established itself as the largest and strongest economy in Africa. During her time chairing the board of Gavi, the vaccine alliance launched Covax to help deliver 2 billion vaccine doses to people in low-and-middle-income countries regardless of their ability to pay.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is also a powerful voice on the topic of women’s leadership. One piece of advice she offers to aspiring leaders: “There's no right way to be a woman leader. Be true to yourself.” She also urges women leaders to remember that the power of their example can help expand possibilities for the next generation. As she puts it: “Every woman who steps forward makes more space for the women who come next.”