5 Powerful Women Who Are Changing the World

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When we think of powerful women, we often think of women CEO’s or politicians, but what about the women who are shaking things up in controversial areas, such as homelessness, spirituality, immigration, disabilities, nature and the environment? Meet five powerful women who are change makers and all of them were speakers at this year’s TEDxBerkeley.

I couldn’t be prouder to once again be co-curator of TEDxBerkeley, a TEDx event organized in the Bay Area that comes alive on the Zellerbach Hall stage every February.

powerful women Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson on the main TEDxBerkeley 2018 stage at Zellerbach Hall. 

Each year, I’m amazed at the strength and courage of our speakers who are changing the world, one hour, one day and one year at a time. While we had over twenty speakers and performers, in honor of International Women’s Day this week, let’s kick off with some of the powerful women who spoke this year, all of whom will touch your soul with their life work. Be sure to also read my piece on Goddess Energy, which went live this week. The inner Goddess is indeed within all women.

5 Powerful Women You Need to Know

The lenses you pick are important and give rise to a new perspective, telling a different story, and below, I cover five powerful women who led their talks with conviction, passion and commitment far beyond two dimensions.  Listen to heart-filled stories from these voices and discover how they are shifting consciousness with their courage and resilience.

Michelle Brané on Immigrant Rights

First up on the powerful women list is Michelle Brané who is dedicated to immigration rights. As director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, she has had a fascinating but tough journey. When Michelle first told me her story on the phone a few months ago, I had to hold back the tears.

As one of the nation’s foremost experts on U.S. immigration detention and reform, she advocates for the rights of migrant women, children and families and the implementation of humane immigration and border policies.

powerful women

Under the current administration, things are tougher than ever. She started her talk with a story of a forced family separation at the border, between mother and child, and their sad reality when they hit the American soil not so long ago.

Conditions for women and children in detention, and unaccompanied minors, are far from acceptable. And yet, as all of us Americans know, we were once immigrants too who fled another land for a better life. Our heritage is rooted in many foreign soils and its a fundamental principle on which America is built in — accepting the melting pot and flourishing because of it.

Sadly, we have seen that the reality today is not what it once was when our ancestors first embarked on that grueling journey, whether they came over from Africa, South America, Asia or Europe.

Michelle’s stories are of women who have been turned away and unfairly treated when they reach the U.S. border seeking asylum. In other words, if they were to turn back, they would likely be greeted with death on the other side. She specializes in asylum cases and helps to develop relevant regulations and training programs for others in her organization.

A woman of heart and soul, Michelle has worked tirelessly to stand up for injustice in the states, as well as with human rights organizations in India and as a Human Rights Officer with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in Bosnia.

Michelle Brene - powerful women TEDxBerkeley

Strength and perseverance come through in a powerful way when you watch Michelle work and speak about these horrific truths. Michelle has testified before Congress, and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, and before the Human Rights Counsel and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Geneva. I bow down to her loyalty and commitment to this cause and so should you. Learn more about the Women’s Refugee Commission here.

Hear Michelle’s Talk:  TEDxBerkeley Video

Marianne Williamson on Saving America

If you’ve been on a spiritual journey at all, chances are you’ve come across Marianne Williamson’s work and will agree that such a force of nature belongs on a powerful women list. Let’s face it, with 12 books under her belt, seven of which have been New York Times Best Sellers, it’s not as if she isn’t a known personality. You may have seen her on Oprah, Good Morning America or Larry King Live or perhaps if you have done deeper spiritual work, you’ve actually read one or more of her books.

A Return to Love is probably her most renowned book which houses a powerful quote about our deepest fears, one which has been widely circulated in media outlets and on global stages.

Marianne says, “the times in which we’re living are dramatic and unstable, yet pregnant with new possibilities for a future released from the shackles of fear.”

Her words of wisdom on the TEDxBerkeley stage echoed what she feels her most important message is in the current climate. She asks: “At a time when fear and hatred have been turned into a political force, is it possible to harness the powers of love and decency for political purposes as well?”

Marianne is currently traveling around the country on what she calls a Love America Tour, which is based on healing and saving America. She asserts that “our task is to create a new, whole-person politics, breaking free of a paradigm based on a decidedly outdated view of the world and embracing a more enlightened understanding of our relation to the universe. We need a deeper, multi-dimensional understanding of our national story: where we have been, where we are, and where we need to go now.”

In a powerful voice, one filled with confidence and poise, she reminds us that it is “time once again to break free of an old way of being and embrace a new story going forward as with other extraordinary times in our history — from our Founding to Abolition to Women’s Suffrage to the Civil Rights era.”

Her message was not just about healing America but also about ‘saving’ it. So many of us feel wounded and torn, misunderstood and fragmented and ill-equipped to deal with what is happening around us. Globally, people are confused. Domestically, people are saddened and disheartened, baffled by lies and new regulations that are impacting immigration, our environment, and our education and healthcare systems.  Marianne Williamson TEDxBerkeley powerful women

So many of us feel powerless. She addressed the audience with compassion but also with vigor suggesting that we need a revolution in consciousness for both personal and national renewal.

She quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. who said: “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” She asks us to now embrace the possibility of both.

I heard someone a few rows behind me say, “wow, her voice sounds like a preacher — powerful and inspiring.” Not everyone sees her that way as they look to her work with A Course in Miracles and Return to Love, but truth be told, she speaks to an audience weekly at the Marble Collegiate Church on 29th Street in the Big Apple.

While her tone may be rawfully truthful at times, it is also bold, brave and beautiful and her fans argue necessary for the world to hear. You see, she stands up for what must be said, not what is popular and has the strength and staying power to pull it off. 

power women

We are in troubled times so if you’re not stepping into and leading with your own light, why not? The time is now. Head on over to Marianne’s website for more information on her world, her books and where you can hear her speak next.

Hear Marianne’s Talk:  TEDxBerkeley Video

Doniece Sandoval on Homelessness

With emotion, authenticity and near tears, founder of Lava Mae Doniece Sandoval addressed homelessness in a raw and profound way. She asserts that when she finally saw (truly saw) a homeless person for who they were, rather than her perception of who they were, her life was forever changed.

You see, when you truly look into the eyes of a stranger living on the street, and say “I see you,” they too are profoundly changed. The homeless on the streets rarely feel heard, or seen and when they do, an ounce of hope pierces through their heart in a way we in our privileged life will never quite understand.

San Francisco-based nonprofit Lava Mae began by converting public transportation buses into bathrooms on wheels for the homeless. Driven by a fierce belief that everyone deserves the right to be clean, Doniece started this project after learning about the appalling lack of showers and toilets available to people experiencing homelessness across this country.

Her mobile hygiene odyssey began with an inherent understanding that collaboration across the sectors was key to making her non-profit successful. She worked tirelessly with the help of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and other companies to turn “hope” into a reality.

She tells us the story of her three-and-a-half year journey since launching its service, and how Lava Mae has transformed the lives of more than 10,000 Californians since then. This is a remarkable feat and not a small or easy one at that. Taking risks and overcoming obstacles and challenges are only two of the reasons that easily put Doniece on this powerful women list. She thinks ‘big’ and is making things happen globally.

Doniece is now sharing an open source toolkit to respond to the 1,600+ requests for help from communities as far away as Zimbabwe and Mongolia and as close as Los Angeles and San Jose. Doniece’s goal is to enable one million new showers around the globe over the next two years.

power women homelessness TEDxBerkeley

This commitment isn’t an easy one but the growing issue of homelessness in the Bay Area and beyond, touched her heart so fiercely one day that she could no longer look away. This is often how true and lasting happens.

Doniece’s brave efforts yielded her a 2017 CNN Hero Award and countless women of the year awards for the positive impact that has led to sustainable change. If you don’t know much about the severity of homelessness in this country or elsewhere in the world, there’s no better time to get educated than now. Check out Lava Mae for more information on her world and how you can help in your own community.

Hear Doniece’s Talk:  TEDxBerkeley Video

Jennifer French on Disabled Communities

Meet a woman who wears courage on her sleeves and then some. As an advocate for people with disabilities and impairments, this paralympic games medalist is trying to change the way we think about and address people with disabilities.

As I watched Jennifer French wheel herself out onto the Zellerbach stage in her Irish green sweater, a smile fell to my face, one of those wide beaming kinds. It’s not just that she’s an advocate for change, but her courage and authentic voice melts your heart every time you see her.

TEDxBerkeley powerful women Jennifer French

Jennifer became a quadriplegic from a C6-7 incomplete spinal cord injury in 1998 and since then, her life was forever changed. Far from a quitter, she went on to win a silver medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games and the 2012 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, the first woman with a disability to receive this distinction.

Jennifer French powerful women

Jennifer French, one of the powerful women who spoke at TEDxBerkeley

Despite her disability, she couldn’t be more active in various communities, from co-founding the Warrior Sailing Program, which focuses on maritime education for wounded, ill and injured service members to serving on the board of the Disability Achievement Center and the Committee to advocate for people with varying degrees of impairments. Not an easy task.

Today, as co-founder of the Neurotech Network, she uses neurotechnology and speaks to the benefits it has provided for her and so many others.

Met with challenges along the way, including naysayers who dismiss the value of neurotech, her perseverance is beyond commendable. 

A peaceful warrior of sorts, you feel her feisty energy and caring attitude every time you speak to her, one of her many incredible traits and qualities as a human being.

She asserts that anyone with a disability, regardless of what it is, should have the choice to use neurotechnology or other technology advancements on the market to improve their lives. Currently, this isn’t the case and one of the reasons she travels around the world to educate others about why it matters….why choice matters.

Before the end of her riveting talk that brought tears to many people’s eyes, she showed us neurotechnology in action. With a push of a button, she stood up and held onto a walker, showing us the power of choice.

With this technology, Jennifer can choose to be upright or in a wheel chair, regardless of whether it is for ten minutes or two hours. The most important thing is that using it for her and so many others can transform disabled people’s lives, building self-esteem, confidence and improving their overall well-being.

TEDxBerkeley Jennifer French powerful women

Jennifer Frenchtakes a stand, literally….using neurotechnology. Power Women. Above credit: Shruti Adusumilli 

For additional information on her world and neurotechnological advancements, head on over to the NeuroTechNetwork website for more. You will find it easy to see how she landed on a top 5 powerful women list.

Hear Jennifer’s Talk:  TEDxBerkeley Video

Teresa Ryan Taps Into the Wisdom of our Ancestors

Canadian-based Teresa Ryan walked onto the Zellerbach Hall stage with poise. She began her talk by greeting the audience in her native Aboriginal language, including her name Sm’hayetsk (Teresa) Tsimshian (Ryan). 

As a University of British Columbia Postdoctoral Teaching and Research Fellow in the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences, her ongoing research is motivated by her Aboriginal Tsimshian heritage and the guidance from her grandfather to transform the current landscape of the fisheries industry.

powerful women Teresa Ryan

Teresa Ryan on the TEDxBerkeley 2018 stage.  

We learn at the start of her talk that listening to your elders in Aboriginal culture is not just a passing wish — the next generation takes those requests seriously. When her grandfather told her she had to become a fisheries scientist, this led her on a journey of discovery and the ultimate truth of why he pushed her in this direction.  

You see, ancient traditions and wisdom are invaluable when we listen to them — it’s as if our Higher Voice takes over and leads the way. We all have our own ancestral roots and yet so often, we forget the lessons learned from our own ancient wisdom, which is particularly valuable when it comes to nature and protecting our land and oceans.

For her dissertation, Teresa examined colonial dispossession of Aboriginal lands and trade and as she began to dig deeper, she learned that the ecologic and social harmony once enjoyed by Aboriginal peoples was dismantled, with enormous costs to them, to the natural resources, and colonial society. 

Teresa used a framework to explore Ancestral ecological-social institution linkages in terms that better portray an Aboriginal viewpoint and the connection of these complex adaptive systems to heterogeneous mosaic landscapes. And wow, what a discovery!

She demonstrated how thousands of years of sustainable use based on the synergistic Aboriginal knowledge of cyclic resource production and variability was an intuitive component not just of Aboriginal stewardship but had positive ramifications far far beyond.  

Her current research investigates Aboriginal salmon fishing technology and strategies that were used to increase abundance and maintain salmon biological diversity while contributing marine-derived nitrogen to coastal forests. The synchronicity of salmon and forests are so intertwined that changes to the rhythmic cycles of either may affect the other. And, sadly they have.

powerful women

Teresa Ryan/TEDxBerkeley 2018 speaker / powerful women

Marine-derived nitrogen is transported into the forest by salmon predators and made available along mycorrhizal networks below ground among the trees providing a vital nutrient for forest health.

As I listened to her TEDxBerkeley talk, her emotion and consideration come through again and again.

If you care about nature, if you care about our oceans, rivers and lakes and if you care about protecting ecosystems across the board, then you’ll be hard pressed not to applaud Teresa’s work in spades. Her work makes it easy to include her on a top powerful women list, don’t you think?

Head on over to Research Gate for more information on her projects, research and collaborators.   

Hear Teresa’s Talk:  TEDxBerkeley Video

For more information on TEDxBerkeley, other powerful women and to see previous speakers and read the TEDxB blog, head on over to this website for more.



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