Women are on a mission to change the world. For all the names we know—extraordinary figures such as Malala Yousafzai, just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her leadership—there are millions more who are helping to push the world in the right direction in their own communities.
Over the 15 years I've worked in global development, I've learned change rarely happens only from the top down. Progress begins with the decisions women make every day to make life better for themselves, their families, their neighbors, and beyond.
In other words, changing the world may not always look like what we expect. And that's what makes me most optimistic. Many women who are driving progress will never step into the halls of the UN or have a meeting in the White House. They are running farms to feed their families or working in health clinics to treat, cure, and protect their communities. They're pooling their savings with neighbors and friends to start small businesses and nonprofits. They're making the decision to protect their health and their future by using contraceptives, even when it means walking five miles to the health clinic and back. They're standing up against harmful traditions, like child marriage, and raising awareness about domestic violence. That's what changing the world looks like.
We have a stake in ensuring that women everywhere are given the chance to shape their own futures. When women can make these important decisions—and are empowered to act on them—the benefits extend to everyone.
One woman, one small act of courage, is all it takes. If we stand up and join them, the movement will take off.
This article appears in the January 2015 issue of Marie Claire.