Meet the 25 Women Changing the World in 2017

Coming to the rescue, speaking out, shattering barriers — these real-life superheroes help others soar

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Gillian Laub

Wonder Women

"I think you can't only empower the women, you have to educate the men too," the Israeli-born star, 32, says of portraying Wonder Woman onscreen. "For boys to go to the movies and see that women can be amazing and badass and strong and inspiring—I think that's very, very important."

Gadot has a special appreciation for the first responders she met on the day of the PEOPLE shoot, having served in the Israeli army for two years as a combat trainer. "They are the true heroes," she says. "They're the wonder women." Air Force Capt. Staci Rouse loves the comic-book icon's message "to be the best you can be for the world around you." Adds ER nurse Kelly Lynch of seeing Gadot's character resonate across the world: "It's a great time to take charge of your future and know you're no longer held back by your gender."

02 of 23


Michael Crook/UNICEF

Fighting for the World's Kids

"I care about kids," Pink, 38, and mom to Willow, 6, and Jameson, 11 months, says of her partnership with the United Nations Children's Fund. "UNICEF has helped more children around the world than anyone else, and in a humanitarian crisis, they're there. [UNICEF USA President & CEO] Caryl is tireless—she is 50 humans inside of one body. She's no BS, and yet her mission comes from love."

"I wish we'd look at children by their age, not define them by their borders," says Stern, 60. "Children do not get to pick where they're born. They surely would not pick poverty or conflict if they did."

03 of 23


Jan Stürmann courtesy California Museum

Making School Lunchtime Better by Connecting Teens

For Hampton, 17, lunchtime at her middle school was terrifying. "I was sitting alone every day being physically attacked and verbally bullied," she says. After switching to a new school in ninth grade, Hampton decided to help anyone who might be similarly struggling by designing the app Sit with Us, which helps connect students who are looking for others to share a table at lunch. The innovative idea is now being used by more than 100,000 people in eight different countries.

04 of 23


Dr Jane Goodall Speaks At Taronga Zoo
Dr. Jane Goodall. Robert Gray/Getty

A Legend Inspires the Next Generation

"I'm gradually starting to realize this impact is bigger than I ever could have dreamed," famed primatologist Goodall says of dedicating her life to the study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees. "When you're brought into this life, you're given certain gifts, and you have to use them," Goodall says of her "strong constitution" (at 83, she still travels 300 days a year) and her strengths as a communicator. Today she is using those gifts to help educate younger generations about conservation and compassion through her program Roots & Shoots. "Its main message is that every single one of us makes a difference." Roots & Shoots started in 12 countries and has already expanded to more than 98.

05 of 23


2017 Sundance NEXT FEST - Day 2
Emma McIntyre/Getty

A Voice for the Voiceless

As a social activist and supporter of Hillary Clinton, Ferrera says she was "feeling really despondent" after the 2016 presidential election. So the Superstore star, 33, teamed up with her husband, actor-director Ryan Piers Williams, and actor Wilmer Valderrama to create Harness, an advocacy organization that aims to shift current narratives about social issues by bringing leaders in communities of color, immigrants, refugees and Muslims together with Hollywood creators to help tell their stories.

06 of 23


Derrel R. Todd

Unifying Women

After her impassioned speech at the 2017 Women's March, the singer and actress, 31, has kept the momentum going with her organization Fem the Future, which seeks to unite professional women to uplift the next generation. "It's a grassroots movement about making sure that those in a position of power are actively including more women who can compete at a high level," says Monáe, who as head of Wondaland Records finds and employs female music producers and engineers.

07 of 23


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Celeste Sloman

Combating Sexual Harassment

"It's the 'be fierce' movement," the former Fox & Friends host says of the message she shares in her new book about fighting sexual harassment. Her 2016 lawsuit against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes led to his resignation and emboldened women in other industries to share their own stories. Carlson, 51, emphasizes that men who are aware of harassment must make it known "that they're not going to tolerate it on behalf of women."

08 of 23


Karin Schermbrucker

Eradicating HIV/AIDS

Nkosi was in her teens when she learned she was HIV positive during her second pregnancy. In her home country of South Africa, more than 5 million people are estimated to have HIV/AIDS, the largest number of infections in the world. In her conservative culture, Nkosi faced ostracism, but a nurse told her about mothers2mothers — a group that helps HIV-positive pregnant mothers prevent their babies from contracting the disease.

09 of 23


PaleyFest NY 2017 Presents - 'BLACK-ISH, USA - 09 Oct 2017
Kristina Bumphrey/StarPix/Shutterstock

Redefining Beauty

As a kid, Ross hated her hair. "I didn't see textured hair like mine in media, so I didn't think it was beautiful," says the Emmy nominee, 45. "I spent years trying to beat it into submission — to get it to be silky and straight. But as soon as I started to nurse my hair back to health, I started to nurse my soul back to health too." Now, through her portrayal of Dr. Rainbow Johnson, a mother of five on black-ish, her size-inclusive JCPenney collection and empowering speeches at events like Beautycon, Ross hopes to spread the message that "beauty is about being comfortable in your own skin."

10 of 23


Shiggy Ichinomiya/

Crusading for a Cure

Lying in the hospital after her double mastectomy in 2012, Bates "felt weird pains" in her arms and hands. After her arms swelled up, the Oscar winner and breast cancer survivor, 69, was diagnosed with lymphedema, which is caused by a blockage in the lymph nodes and can lead to deadly sepsis. Bates was shocked to learn that 10 million Americans suffer from lymphatic issues, but many doctors aren't required to learn much about the subject. "I was so pissed off," says the Disjointed star, who is now the face of the Lymphatic Education & Research Network. "People need to be able to get treatment before they have to lose a limb — or their lives."

11 of 23


Cheyenne Ellis

Bringing Health Care to All

Gounder was studying engineering when she realized she wanted to pursue a very different path. "Something clicked for me, the idea of working with underserved populations but leveraging science to do that in the form of medicine," says the N.Y.C.-based epidemiologist, 40, who now hosts a podcast called In Sickness and in Health. "There's a lot that can be done to make our health system better if we share stories," says Gounder. After volunteering to fight Ebola in Guinea, she's traveling the U.S. on an "ill-health tour" to highlight pressing issues including opioid addiction, poverty and human trafficking.

12 of 23


DEMI x JBL Tell Me You Love Me Pop Up Event
Mike Coppola/Getty

Mental Health Awareness

Discussions of mental health "can be very taboo, and I want to take that away," says Lovato, who has shared her own struggles with bipolar disorder and eating disorders. Teaming with Global Citizen and Save the Children, Lovato is promoting their Healing and Education Through the Arts (HEART) program in Iraq for kids affected by war and conflict. "I'm really looking forward to hopefully changing lives over there," says the singer-songwriter, 25. In opening up about her personal battles, "I do feel the impact, because I've had fans come up to me and say that I've saved their lives."

13 of 23


Maile Wilson

Embracing the Power of Vulnerability

Brown has a knack for distilling social research in a way that resonates for women. "Give up on the beer-commercial image of friends," says the bestselling author, whose 2012 TED Talk on embracing vulnerability has been viewed more than 30 million times. "If you've got one or two people who see you, you are the luckiest person in the world." The Texan and mom of two, 51, also offers practical advice for navigating family dynamics in polarized times. "I listen and I stay curious and I approach people with generosity."

14 of 23


Amanda Marsalis

Advocating for Animals

Chastain doesn't want people to pity her three-legged rescue dog Chaplin when they see him out on a walk. "He's so excited to be going down the pavement, hopping along with the most joy you could ever see," says the actress and Humane Society of the United States volunteer. The Oscar nominee, 40, has supported the group through its partnership with 200 school districts to bring plant-based menus into cafeterias. Chastain, who has "adopted every animal I've ever had," is an outspoken advocate on social media who encourages other women to make their voices heard.

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89th Annual Academy Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 26 Feb 2017
David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock

Evening the Playing Field

When DuVernay was little, her mom gave her sage advice: "If you try, and it doesn't work out, you're not a failure, you're a risk taker." Today the publicist turned Oscar-nominated director, 45, helps others take the leap through Array Now, which finds and funds films by women and people of color. She's also the first black female director to head up a $100 million film, A Wrinkle in Time. "I want to lead by example," says DuVernay, who employs all-female directors for her hit OWN Network drama Queen Sugar. "I refuse to believe the status quo."

16 of 23


Build Presents Janet Mock Discussing Her Book "Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me"
Ben Gabbe/Getty

Protecting LGBTQ Kids

Before coming out as a transgender in her late teens, Mock felt ashamed of who she was. "I struggled with speaking my truth," says the TV host and New York Times bestselling author, 34. "But when I did, I became a part of a community." Now she is working with organizations like the BreakOut! Youth Project in New Orleans and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in New York City to "ensure that trans people and LGBTQ youth are protected, that they have the resources that they need, and that they have someone they can turn to in times of crisis."

17 of 23


Bethenny Frankel and Jessica Alba at an Advertising Week Event

Ruling the Boardroom

Her company's global mission began as a more personal one for Alba. "My kids have the same allergies as I do," says the mother of two girls, 36 — she's expecting her third baby (a boy) this winter — who once went to the ER after a reaction to a hair product. In 2012 she founded the Honest Company, which has grown into a billion-dollar business empire of nontoxic household, baby and beauty products from an original line of just 17 products. "My goal is to make a positive impact," she says.

18 of 23


Glamour Women Of The Year 2016 LIVE Summit - Backstage
Jeff Vespa/Getty

Leading the Fight Against Alzheimer's

When Shriver's father, Sargent Shriver, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2003, the news was devastating. Working on multiple education and advocacy fronts — from producing HBO's Alzheimer's Project series to testifying in Congress — Shriver, 62, helped uncover a groundbreaking fact: For every brain that develops the disease (1 every 66 seconds in the U.S.), two-thirds belong to women. "No one knows why," says Shriver, who founded the Women's Alzheimer's Movement, a global alliance committed to understanding why women are at a higher risk — and to finding a cure. "My endgame is for every woman to know she's vulnerable, to raise money for research and to wipe this mother out."

19 of 23


Cathrine White

Guiding Parents Through the College Years

When Heffernan burst into tears in the middle of the produce aisle after her son went away to college, she knew she wasn't alone. Through their Grown and Flown website, Heffernan and fellow mom Mary Dell Harrington, 62, built an online community of more than 200,000 parents with older children. "These are the times when kids are making some of the most consequential decisions in their lives, and there was very little support," says Heffernan, 58. Today group members share advice and tangible help like college scholarship donations.

20 of 23


Scott Chamberlin/Whole Child International

Building Connections for Vulnerable Children

Spencer's lightbulb moment came when she was taking parenting classes with her first baby: What if there were a way to apply the same emphasis on connection to the world's most vulnerable kids? So began Whole Child International, which teaches caregivers and government officials in developing countries how to create a more loving and nurturing environment for the children in their care. By making simple changes to emphasize connective relationships, WCI has seen huge health gains, including a 47 percent increase in children's heights and a 37 percent increase in weight with no changes to diet. "Simply by ensuring that children have a quality primary-care relationship, they will grow stronger," says Spencer, 45.

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Lacey West/Heffer International

Feeding Families

Aduba knew she was in for something special at her first Heifer International event. "It was the only red carpet I'd ever been to that had goats and chickens," says the Orange Is the New Black star, 36. So Aduba decided to join forces with the organization, which aims to end world hunger by helping families gain self-reliance. "It's the next step from teaching a man to fish," Aduba says of Heifer's practice of gifting families a calf as an income source and then asking that family to pay it forward by gifting their heifer's first calf to another family in need.

22 of 23


Shanna Fisher

Tackling Online Hate

The anonymous death and rape threats long ago stopped scaring video-game developer Quinn. "I'm used to it now," says Quinn, 30, whose life was nearly destroyed after an ex-boyfriend's angry blog post sparked a massive cyberbullying campaign against her in August 2014 that became known as #GamerGate. "Their plan," she recalls, "was to get me to kill myself if they didn't do it first." Quinn not only survived, but today she helps others like her fight back against online harassment with her Crash Override Network website.

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Eric Espino/NFL

Transforming America's Most Popular Game

The former quarterback got her start with the National Football League by making a Hail Mary pass to the hiring committee. "I sent a football with my résumé and wrote, 'What other quarterback could accurately deliver a football 386 miles?' " Rapoport, 36, recalls. As the NFL's director of football development, she is responsible for increasing opportunities for women in football operations. "I would love for girls growing up to believe that if they love the sport as much as I do, that they could be a part of it," she says. Among the breakthroughs under her direction: The Buffalo Bills hired two female coaches, and the Minnesota Vikings added two female scouts.

Watch the full episode of 25 Women Changing the World, available now on PeopleTV. Go to, or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite mobile or connected TV device.

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