All around the world, black women are making boss strides, from fashion and entertainment to technology and healthcare. Here’s a look at 10 global women of power to watch this year, paving their own way and putting a stamp on history that just can’t be ignored. —Janell Hazelwood
THE THESPIAN: GENEVIEVE NNAJI This Nigerian actress, known as the “Julia Roberts of Africa,” has appeared in more than 60 films since her debut in 1998. A Nollywood A-lister — and one of the highest paid actresses in the industry — she won the African Movie Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 2005, and today is the spokesperson for several international ad campaigns including MUD Cosmetics.
THE INNOVATOR: BIRAME SOCK This inventive scholar has been an entrepreneur since the days of her youth in Senegal. She’s had several enterprising ventures, including a music app business, and now serves as CEO of Third Solutions, an eco-friendly tech and marketing company. Its flagship product is MyReciepts, a service that allows consumers to receive and track receipts online, access info about purchases and create customized reports, all while cutting down on paper waste.
THE TASTEMAKER: MARIAN KIHOGO Catching the eye of international fashion mags including Elle UK, Vogue Paris, and Cosmopolitan, this London-based stylist and creative consultant has created quite a buzz as founder of Mariankihogo.com. Listed by the New York Post as one of the “25 Best Dressed” during last year’s New York Fashion Week (Fall/Winter), Kihogo expresses her inspiration and flair for style via the Website, highlighting the latest in runway trends, international art, literature and the social scene.
THE ECO-ENTREPRENEUR: LORNA RUTTO A former financial industry professional, Rutto couldn’t erase the images of plastic waste that saturated her surroundings as a young girl. In 2010, she founded EcoPost, a company that collects plastic waste and turns it into fencing posts, meeting yet another demand for Kenya’s many country homes, farms and gaming reserves. Her company is credited with getting rid of 300 tons of plastic in the country, and lessening the need for depletion of forests for wood use. Rutto became a Cartier Women’s Initiative Laureate in 2011 after receiving the award for Sub-Saharan Africa, and her company continues to contribute to the employment woes of the company as well, with a focus on putting local women to work.
THE SONGSTRESS: EMELI SANDE This Scottish singing phenom has collaborated with the likes of Leona Lewis and Susan Boyle, and has had two Top 10 singles under her belt within two years of being signed to a major record label. She headlined MTV’s “Brand New For 2012” show in late January, bringing down the house with an soulful, R&B style that can stand strong beside the likes of Adele and Marsha Ambrosis. Definitely a woman to watch, Sande won the Brit Critics Choice Award just last year— and is up for another Brit Award this year. She even got the ultimate co-sign from the toughest critic of them all: American Idol‘s Simon Cowell, who called her his favorite songwriter “of the moment.”
THE TECHIE: JULIANA ROTICH A Kenyan-born tech entrepreneur, blogger and environmental activist, Rotich founded Ushahidi.com, a crowdsourcing Website that compiles and organizes worldwide information on crisis areas, and collates it into live, online maps. The site’s technology was used to target and remedy violence during the 2007-2008 Kenyan presidential election, and has been adapted for disaster situations in Congo, Haiti, and Chile. She’s also served as environmental editor of Global Voices, an international Web community of bloggers that report on worldwide issues.
THE HEALTH ADVOCATE: CHRISTY EKERETE-UDOFIA With more than a decade of experience at the Center For The Right To Health (CRH), Ekerete-Udofia began working toward her passion as a teenaged volunteer with the Youth National Service. This Lagos, Nigeria-based accounts manager and organization leader manages initiatives including a Health-On-Wheels service, a mobile doctors’ surgery that visits remote communities, and the CRH’s HIV prevention-and-care programme. She’s also worked to lobby against discrimination against people with HIV-positive status, building awareness among businesses, healthcare providers and judicial courts.
THE ATHLETE: JANET CHEROBON-BAWCOM A Kenyan-born marathon runner, Cheroban-Bawcom has beat records, had eight NCAA All-American titles and three Division II national championship wins to her name, and won three U.S. national road championships. The humble and soft-spoken athlete went from an unknown who ran marathons for fun to becoming a front-runner to watch for the U.S. Olympics team.
THE PHILANTHROPIST: SARAN KABA JONES After fleeing Liberia at age 8 and returning 20 years later, Jones was touched by the impoverished, post-conflict environment. She soon founded FACE Africa, a nonprofit provides access to clean water to tens of thousands living in rural Liberian communities, using a social enterprise business model, and seeks to alleviate the epidemic of extreme poverty in Liberia and the rest of Africa.
Are you a Woman of Power? Then Join us for the annual Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit hosted by State Farm, Feb. 15–18, 2012, at The Ritz-Carlton, Orlando, FL. This exciting, executive leadership summit is your chance to focus on YOU. Network with industry leaders, learn career strategies, find work-life balance, and start creating—and living—the life you really want! Register now and use code DGED12 to receive a $200 discount off the price of registration! (Cannot be combined with other offers).