8 Remarkable Female Innovators and What We Can Learn From Them

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As we inspire and empower each other to become leaders, inventors, and trailblazers in our respective fields, let’s celebrate the groundbreaking ideas of some of our society’s most innovative women thinkers — here are five incredible women whose stories are worth reflecting on.

1Susie Hewson, Founder of Natracare

In recent years, we have seen many new brands introducing sustainable menstrual products like reusable pads, menstrual cups, and period underwear. But the world’s first brand of organic period products actually came out more than 30 years ago. 

It began in 1989, when British environmentalist Susie Hewson came across a documentary about the toxic pollution brought about by the pulping industry, which produced the same materials used for menstrual products sold by big companies at the time. Concerned about the risks that these largely synthetic products posed on both the environment and the people who used them, she began lobbying for change, but to no avail.

Unfazed by this disregard, Hewson decided to start her own line of menstrual products and founded Natracare, the company that created the world’s first certified organic cotton tampon. In 1995, a time when very few companies seemed interested in reducing their plastic use, Natracare became completely plastic-free and compostable. Today, the company boasts a range of 31 organic and biodegradable products available in 70 countries, giving people the power to choose more sustainable alternatives for their needs. 

With her story, Hewson teaches us to be the change we want to see in the world, even if we’re the only one fighting.

2Melanie Perkins, CEO and Co-Founder of Canva

Before the world was introduced to the online design platform Canva, we had to navigate robust but cumbersome programs or resort to basic design tools to create our own graphics. Canva, with its user-friendly interface, professional-looking templates, and rich library of design assets, has empowered countless users to come up with their own high-quality designs.

But before Canva became the multibillion-dollar juggernaut it is today, Malaysian Australian co-founder Melanie Perkins, then a university student, was tutoring her peers in different design programs, which she observed took months for them to learn how to navigate. This led her to develop what would be Fusion Books, a design tool specifically for school yearbooks. But while Fusion Books, launched in 2007, eventually grew to become the largest yearbook publisher in Australia, Perkins knew that what they had developed could be used for something much bigger.

This attitude can be seen in Canva’s culture of setting “crazy big goals” and making them happen. Since its launch in 2013, Canva has become an award-winning company with offices in Sydney, Manila, and Beijing, serving 60 million monthly active users in 190 countries. By focusing on her goal and setting even bigger ones along the way, Perkins paved the way for others to learn and hone an increasingly valuable skill in today’s digital world.

3Rana el Kaliouby, Chief Science Officer and Co-Founder of Affectiva

We’ve become familiar with the concept of artificial intelligence, but a new branch of the technology, called artificial emotional intelligence, is fast emerging. Pioneered by Egyptian American scientist and Affectiva co-founder Rana el Kaliouby, artificial emotional intelligence, or what Affectiva calls “Emotion AI,” detects human emotions by analyzing facial expressions, body language, gestures, and voices — the nonverbal clues that make up most of human communication.

A former researcher at the MIT Media Lab, el Kaliouby initially specialized in autism and mental health. Here, she came up with the idea of analyzing human emotions using AI. She co-founded Affectiva in 2009, driven by the idea of developing technology that understands humans in the same manner that humans understand one another. An advocate for diversity and ethics, el Kaliouby emphasizes the need for Affectiva’s technology — whose use cases include qualitative research and road safety — to apply to people from all backgrounds.

Rana el Kaliouby is developing cutting-edge technology that many consider to be the final frontier of machine learning. And with diversity and inclusivity at the forefront, el Kaliouby’s work takes us forward by bringing us right back to the core of our humanity: our emotions.

4Kiara Nirghin, Inventor, Scientist, 2016 Google Science Fair Winner

South African Kiara Nirghin was 16 years old when she made headlines after winning the grand prize at the Google Science Fair in 2016. Her submission was a response to the worst drought to have struck the country — a new type of superabsorbent polymer (SAP), which could store large amounts of water hundreds of times its weight and be used to sustain farm crops.

At the time, SAPs were already an existing technology used in agriculture, but they were also expensive and made of synthetic materials containing harmful chemicals. The polymer that Nirghin created was instead made of orange peel and avocado skins, making it a much cheaper alternative that farmers could prepare themselves. Nirghin’s polymer, being biodegradable, also enhanced the quality of the soil and could sustain plant growth by 84% under drought conditions, increasing food security in drought-stricken areas by 73%.

Nirghin has since spoken at several events and published a book in 2019 advocating for the protection of our environment through innovation and the need for young girls to not only participate in STEM but to innovate and lead as well. Nirghin’s resourcefulness and initiative show us that sometimes, solutions can be found where we might least expect them.

5The Women Who Led the Development and Distribution of the COVID-19 Vaccine

In April 2020, the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator was launched in response to the pandemic. It had three pillars focused on diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. The vaccines pillar, also known as COVAX, is co-led by CEPI, Gavi, WHO, and Unicef, with the goal of ensuring that everyone all over the world, regardless of economic status, had access to the COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they were available.

COVAX has achieved a logistical marvel — from developing the vaccines to distributing them to all corners of the world — and many women have been in charge. Among them are Etleva Kadilli, Aurélia Nguyen, Kate O’Brien, and Melanie Saville, the COVAX workstream leads representing CEPI, Gavi, WHO, and Unicef. Thanks to their joint effort and groundbreaking solutions, the first doses of the vaccine reached people in record time.

Tags: Entrepreneur, Groundbreaking Women, Sustainability

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Written By

Dana Delgado

Dana Delgado writes and edits content for the web. She is also an advocate of zine culture and all forms of independent art. See Full Bio

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