Top 25 Women on WorldWatch's 'Best Of' List

Who they are: The Worldwatch Institute is celebrating the crucial role that women and youth play in ushering in the just and environmentally sustainable future that we’re working hard to bring about. When Danielle Nierenberg (pictured above, at left, director of the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet Project published its Top 25, we were thrilled to get permission to run the list.

What they do: Even in the 21st century, women own less than 15 percent of the world’s land, earn 17 percent less than men on average, and comprise two-thirds of the world’s 776 million illiterate adults. Today, Nourishing the Planet features 25 amazing women from all over the globe who have been ongoing sources of inspiration. See those below.

Why they do it: Because they know they have no other choice.


1. Rebecca Adamson, Founder, First Nations Development Institute: As a Cherokee, Adamson has worked directly with grassroots tribal communities, and nationally as an advocate of local tribal issues since 1970. She started First Nations Development Institute in 1980 and First Peoples Worldwide in 1997. Her work established a new field of culturally appropriate, values-driven development, which created the first reservation-based microenterprise loan fund in the United States; the first tribal investment model; a national movement for reservation land reform; and legislation that established new standards of accountability regarding federal trust responsibility for Native Americans. She is active in many nonprofits and serves on the board of directors of numerous organizations, including the Josephine Bay Paul and C. Michael Paul Foundation, The Bridgespan Group, and First Voice International.

2. Lorena Aguilar, Global Senior Gender Adviser at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature: As the Global senior gender adviser at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Aguilar oversees numerous organizations, and coordinates with governments and academic institutions, on topics related to gender, water, environmental health, and community participation. She has more than 25 years of experience in the field of international development. And, she is actively committed to incorporating gender perspectives into the use and conservation of natural resources in Latin America. Aguilar has created and participated in some of the most influential gender networks in the world. She has authored more than 70 publications, and has been the keynote speaker at numerous high-level international conferences.

3. Helen Browning, CEO, The Soil Association: As the chief executive of the United Kingdom’s leading nonprofit working for healthy, humane, and sustainable food, farming, and land use, Browning has a big job. In her spare time, she also operates a 1,350 acre organic farm in Wiltshire, and runs the village pub. Browning is also chair of the Food Ethics Council and has been a valuable member of numerous organizations working to improve the British food and agriculture system, including the Curry Commission on the Future of Farming and Food, the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, and the Meat and Livestock Commission.

4. Sue Edwards, Director, Institute for Sustainable Development: Edwards is the leader of this Ethiopian organization, which is working to influence governmental policies on education, agriculture, and the environment. Edwards says her mission is to create awareness and promote sustainable development. She has lived in Ethiopia for more than 40 years, and both she and her husband, Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, are passionate about the role that smallholder farmers can play in creating a sustainable future for all living things, from the greatest to the smallest, from the most appealing to the most appalling.

5. Kari Hamerschlag, Senior Food and Agriculture Analyst, Environmental Working Group: Hamerschlag’s work focuses on food and agriculture policy for local, healthy, organic, and sustainable options. She started her career 20 years ago as an organizer, researcher, and advocate for socially and environmentally sound development policy, mostly focused in Latin America. The agriculture branch of the EWG is best known for its extensive farm subsidy database and its voice for strong environmental health standards within agricultural policy.

6. Stephanie Hanson, Director of Policy and Outreach, One Acre Fund: From 2006 to 2009, Hanson covered economic and political development in Africa and Latin America for, the website of the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2008, she won a News and Documentary Emmy for “Crisis Guide: Darfur,” an interactive media guide that explores the history and context of the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan.

7. Kelly Hauser, Agriculture Policy Manager at ONE: Focusing on agriculture, nutrition, and US food-aid reform, Hauser has been integral in developing the Thrive campaign, as well as ONE’s agriculture-related policy positions, strategic partnerships, and the online Agriculture Griot Program. She joined ONE from Oxfam America, where she researched and wrote about agriculture, food security, climate change, and humanitarian-related issues.

8. Nany Karanja, Professor in Soil Ecology, University of Nairobi: From 2005 to 2009, Karanja was the sub-Saharan Africa regional coordinator for Urban Harvest, an initiative to enhance urban agriculture’s potential and food security in Kenya. She has led a number of studies on nutrient harvesting from urban organic waste, the re-use of urban wastewater for vegetable production, and the assessment of health risks associated with urban livestock systems.

9. Elizabeth Katushabe, Program Officer, Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA): An international NGO led and inspired by Africans, PENHA is committed to addressing issues of pastoralist concerns from a regional perspective. Katushabe has held meetings and workshops with Parliamentary leaders and pastoralists in East Africa, attempting to bridge the gap between policymakers and rural communities. Katushabe has also worked with PENHA to emphasize the role that herders can play in protecting the environment, by employing practices such as rotational grazing.

10. Frances Kissling, Senior Advisor, Women Deliver: Instrumental in planning the program for the Women Deliver 2013 conference, Kissling is a scholar and activist in the fields of religion, reproduction, and women’s rights. She was president of Catholics for a Free Choice from 1982 until 2007, and is now a visiting scholar at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. Kissling was a 2007–2008 Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute Fellowship Program, part of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. She regularly contributes to The Nation and The Huffington Post.

11. Anna Lappé, co-founder, Small Planet Institute: After leading this nonprofit organization dedicated to furthering democracy and equitable development worldwide, Lappé co-authored “Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It.” She is also a founding principal of the Small Planet Fund, and has for more than a decade been a key force in the growing international movement for sustainability and justice in the food chain.

12. Diana Lee-Smith, founder, Mazingira Institute:, As the head of this independent research and development organization based in Nairobi, Kenya, Lee-Smith carried out the first survey of urban agriculture in Kenya in 1985. She has more than 20 years of experience in research, policy, and advocacy work on urban poverty, gender, development, and environment issues. And, Lee-Smith has written extensively on gender and urban agriculture. She holds a doctorate in Architecture and Development Studies and was recently a visiting professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

13. Shirley “Baglady” Lewis, founder, Baglady Productions: Lewis’ organization works with schools, individuals, and the government to put sustainable behavior into action. Her work includes writing for newspapers in the United Kingdom and Australia, magazines and in-house journals, news radio reporting, and presenting for the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. She is best-known for her original campaign to say “no” to plastic bags.

14. Tess Mateo, former Director, Office of the CEO at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the strategic advisor to the Joint US China Collaboration on Clean Energy: Mateo also launched a real estate group, technology company, and innovative specialty clothing line. She is currently a member of the New York chapter of The International Federation of Business and Professional Women. Mateo was a panelist at the Innovative Collaborations Driving Inclusive Sustainable Growth event at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, this past June.

15. Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary, US Department of Agriculture: Working alongside Secretary Tom Vilsack, Merrigan oversees the day-to-day operation of USDA’s many programs and spearheads the US$149 billion budget process. She serves on the President’s Management Council, working with other Cabinet deputies to improve accountability and performance across the federal government. Merrigan spoke at the Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2011 Symposium in DC.

16. Anuradha Mittal, Founder and Executive Director, Oakland Institute: An internationally renowned expert on trade, development, human rights, and agricultural issues, Mittal is the recipient of several prestigious awards. Most notably, she was named the Most Valuable Thinker in 2008 by Nation magazine. She also has authored and edited numerous books and reports, and published articles and opinion pieces in widely circulated newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Bangkok Post, Houston Chronicle, and The Nation. Mittal has also addressed Congress, the United Nations, and given several hundred keynote addresses, including invitational events from governments and universities, and has been interviewed on CNN, BBC World, CBC, ABC, Al-Jazeera, NPR, and Voice of America.

17. Rema Nanavaty, General Secretary, Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA): Nanavaty founded SEWA, the largest union of informal-sector workers in India, in 1972, and the organization now has 1.3 million members—including small farmers, forest workers, salt farmers, artisans, and entrepreneurs. SEWA helps its members get fair prices for their produce, access markets and small loans, and grow enough food to feed themselves and their families. SEWA also provides micro-credit loans through its own women’s bank and insurance policies, while women can learn about new farming practices and improve their reading and writing skills at its training centers.

18. Sunita Narain, Director General, Centre for Science and Environment: A New Delhi-based public interest, research, and advocacy organization, Narain’s organization researches and lobbies for sustainable and equitable development. Narain also heads the Society for Environmental Communications, and publishes the fortnightly science and environment magazine, Down to Earth. Her research has focused on the relationship between the environment and development, and has raised awareness about the vital need for sustainable development.

19. Mariam Gnire Ouattara, Leader, Slow Food Chigata convivium: Since 2006, Ouattara has been leading women in the village of N’Ganon, based in the Korhogo region of the Ivory Coast. Her goal is to organize a women’s farming co-operative with the goal of providing quality local food in schools. Determined to provide local produce to children, increase women’s productivity, and prevent corporations from monopolizing the market with low-standard products, Ouattara partnered with Slow Food International to establish the co-op, which produces rice, white beans, groundnuts, and a wide variety of vegetables. Ouattara and other leaders of the co-op have helped other villages, such as Nangounkaha, to replicate the project.

20. Marceline Ouedraogo, president, Burkina Faso’s rural women’s association, Songtaab-Yalgré: The first group in the country to produce and sell certified organic shea butter, Ouedraogo started Songtaab-Yalgré in 1990 by going door to door and woman to woman, asking people to join. Because many of the women who joined the association were illiterate, Ouedraogo developed a program to teach them to read and to write. Today, the association has more than 3,000 women in nearly a dozen villages, and has 11 centers where they collect arechete, or shea butter nuts. All of the profits from the sale of shea butter—and peanut oil, soap, and other products the group is now making—are distributed equally among the members.

21. Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director, Science & Environmental Health Network (SEHN): Raffensperger began working for SEHN in 1994, and specializes in the fundamental changes in law and policy necessary for protecting and restoring public health and the environment. Raffensperger has authored numerous publications, including “Precautionary Tools for Reshaping Environmental Policy” and “Protecting Public Health and the Environment: Implementing the Precautionary Principle,” and has been featured in “Gourmet” magazine, The Utne Reader, Yes! Magazine, the Sun, Whole Earth, and Scientific American. Raffensperger is at the forefront of developing new models for government that depend on the larger ideas of precaution and ecological integrity.

22. Nely Rodriguez, Mother, Farmworker, Key Leader, Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW): A community-based farmworkers organization based in the Southern United States, CIW is comprosed of more than 4,000 mostly Latino, Haitian, and Mayan Indian members working mainly in agriculture throughout the state of Florida. Rodriguez has been a vital part of organizing and inspiring her community to speak out against injustice in the tomato fields. She is also vocal about the hardships and sacrifices women make in the fields to put food on the table for their families while caring for and raising children.

23. Jill Sheffield, Founder, Women Deliver: This global advocacy organization is working to generate political commitment and financial investment for fulfilling Millennium Development Goal number five—to reduce maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health. Sheffield has served as a commissioner to support the efforts of the UN Secretary General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health. She is also the founder of Family Care International, a distinguished nongovernmental organization and winner of the 2008 United Nations Population Award for outstanding work in sexual and reproductive health and rights.

24. Vandana Shiva, Director, Navdanya and the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology: A physicist, environmentalist, feminist, writer, and science policy advocate, Shiva has helped to organize more 65 community seed banks across India. She and her organization have also trained 500,000 farmers in seed sovereignty, food sovereignty, and sustainable agriculture; and helped develop the largest direct marketing, fair-trade organic network in the country. Shiva is the author of numerous publications, which focus on protecting nature and people’s rights to knowledge, biodiversity, food, and water. In 1993, she received the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize.”

25. Alexandra Spieldoch, Independent Consultant: Spieldoch has worked both for and with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, and the World Rural Forum. Most recently, she co-directed the Gender, Trade and Development Project at the Center of Concern and coordinated the secretariat for the International Gender and Trade Network in Washington, DC. She has been engaged in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and regional trade advocacy since 1999. She has published research and popular education on trade negotiations at the WTO and in the Americas from a human rights and development perspective. A member of the Alliance for Responsible Trade and active in the Hemispheric Social Alliance, Spieldoch studied at the University of Buenos Aires and lived in many places in France. She received a master’s degree in international policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and her bachelor’s is from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., with a major in French literature.

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