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5 Female Leaders Who Push the Social Sector Forward

By Elizabeth Chung
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Reading Time: 5 minutes

As leaders from across the social sector tackle the world’s toughest challenges, there are some whose game-changing solutions are truly moving the needle. Many of these social entrepreneurs are innovative women who are reshaping the ways we use resources and tools to solve a problem.

From the way we use certain types of technology, to the way we leverage data, to the way we tap into corporate giving—these change makers and their organizations are inspiring the entire sector to become more forward-thinking. Here are five female leaders whose innovative approaches are pushing the envelope on how we solve social problems.

1. Jocelyn Wyatt

CEO of

Jocelyn Wyatt is using design to end some of the world’s biggest social problems. She spearheads the overall vision, strategy, and funding for, the nonprofit organization launched by global design firm IDEO to tackle poverty through design.

By partnering with NGOs, foundations, governments, and social impact organizations, her creative team works to empower those in underserved communities through the products and resources they design—such as contraceptive services for young girls—as well as mobilize and equip those who have game-changing ideas. To achieve even larger impact, encourages the entire social sector to innovate and creatively solve problems through human-centered design, which is rooted in understanding the needs and perspective of those you serve.

Wyatt’s team shares how you can tap into the power of human-centered design in this video.

2. Nancy Lublin

CEO and Founder of Crisis Text Line

  • Former roles: CEO of, Founder of Dress for Success
  • Graduated from: Brown University (BA, Political Science); Oxford University (M.Litt, Political Theory); NYU School of Law (JD)
  • Interesting fact: In 2014, she was named one of Fortune’s “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” and Marie Claire’s “20 Women Changing the World.”
  • Reach her: @nancylublin

Text messaging can save lives, and Nancy Lublin is using data to prove it. She created Crisis Text Line (CTL), an organization that provides 24/7 crisis-intervention services to teenagers exclusively via text message. Within four months of launching in 2013, the hotline was receiving messages from all 295 area codes in America, and it has received over 13 million texts to date.

Beyond counseling those who text in, CTL is using all of this anonymous data to better understand when, where, and how these crises happen on a national level. For example, their data indicates that substance abuse hikes up on Mondays and Saturdays. Bullying, on an average day, spikes around 3pm. By surfacing these trends in the data—all of which is free to the public at —CTL equips families, legislators, school boards, and police enforcement officers to respond to crises in a more informed and prepared way.

Check out Lublin’s TED talk to learn more.

3. Clara Brenner

CEO and Co-Founder of Tumml

  • Former roles: Associate at WestMill Capital
  • Graduated from: New York University (BA, History); MIT Sloan (MBA)
  • Interesting fact: In 2014, she was listed as one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” for Social Entrepreneurship.
  • Reach her: @clara_brenner

Social entrepreneurs are coming up with the innovative solutions we need to solve our cities’ challenges, but they need capital to get their ideas off the ground. Investors, on the other hand, are typically hesitant to provide funding without seeing actual results first. This is the problem that Clara Brenner aims to solve through Tumml, an accelerator that supports new urban startups across the country.

Tumml provides entrepreneurs with resources like educational workshops, opportunities to interact with leaders in the space, and seed funding—all to help mobilize their businesses. Through its four-month program, Tumml has helped fuel 33 innovative organizations and create over 280 community jobs.

In this video, Brenner dives deep into the power of social entrepreneurship and the need for impact investors to support and empower today’s problem-solvers.

4. HyeSook Chung

Executive Director of DC Action for Children

  • Former roles: Program Officer of Washington Area Women’s Foundation, Early Care and Education Consultant for DC State Board of Education, Senior Program Associate of National Association of Counties
  • Graduated from: Seattle Pacific University (BA, Sociology and Communication); Boston University (MSW, Nonprofit Management)
  • Interesting fact: She was named one of the Dynamic Women of Greater Washington by DC Magazine’s Tech 2.0 November 2012 issue. She was also awarded the Washington Area Toyota Dealers’ Tribute to Working Women Award in 2013. HyeSook also spoke at the 2014 Collaborative and her organization was selected as a 2014 Classy Awards Nominee.
  • Reach her: @hyesookchung

When social impact organizations leverage data, they can make smarter decisions informed by facts and achieve greater measurable impact. Under HyeSook Chung’s vision and leadership, one of the leading organizations that embodies this use of data is DC Action for Children, who improves the lives of D.C. children and youth by providing policy makers with data-based analyses.

In order to leverage data science to really effect change, DC Action for Children partners with DataKind, another organization that brings together data scientists and social impact organizations. Together, they built and launched their first e-Databook in 2012, a powerful tool that provided data visualizations of child wellbeing in D.C. as part of the KIDS COUNT program, a nationwide program that evaluates child wellbeing.

In 2014, DC Action for Children and DataKind launched their DC KIDS COUNT Data Tools 2.0, an even more powerful and comprehensive version that allows leaders to dig into the needs, health, and safety of children at the neighborhood level.

DC Action for Children, DC Kids Count Data Tools 2.0

5. Melissa Lightfoot Levick

Co-Founder of Honeycomb, Executive Director of the ONEHOPE Foundation

  • Former roles: Co-Founder of Roozt, worked for the Economic Opportunity Initiative at the Clinton Foundation, part of All Hands on Deck at Jumo, Associate at Google Ventures, Assistant to President of the Americas Operations for Google
  • Graduated from: University of Southern California (BA, History); New York University (MPA, Nonprofit Management, International Development)
  • Interesting fact: During her three years at Google, she was the assistant to the President of the Americas Operations and the first Associate at Google Ventures.
  • Reach her: LinkedIn

Social impact organizations aim to tap into corporate giving, and businesses want to give back through partnerships with compatible nonprofits. Melissa Lake is using technology to bridge the two through Honeycomb, a software as a service (SaaS) platform that connects businesses to vetted social impact organizations by cause. Once a business chooses a nonprofit to support, the tool manages the relationship, tracking and measuring its philanthropic impact in real time. Honeycomb provides reports and social media assets so that businesses can spread the word about the impact that they’re making to their consumers.

Lake’s vision for the ONEHOPE Foundation is to similarly connect nonprofits with companies, manage the partnership, and calculate dollar-to-impact ratios for the increasing number of customers who support brands that give back. The organization calls this approach Social Impact as a Service (SIAS), a game-changing way to incorporate philanthropy into businesses.

Through both Honeycomb and the ONEHOPE Foundation, Lake is helping to reshape and reenergize corporate giving. Check out this video to learn more about how you can play a part in connecting companies with charitable causes.

From data analysis to corporate philanthropy, these social entrepreneurs are redefining how different facets of the industry are creating an impact. But these women are just a few of the female leaders who are reshaping the social sector today. Can you name other female social entrepreneurs you admire or are inspiring the way you do your work? Let us know in the comments below!

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