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Meet The League Of Extraordinary Women
Photo by Benjamin Lowy

There are many extraordinary women in our world, and too few of them get their due. But that's not why this issue's cover story is devoted to what we call "The League of Extraordinary Women."

When it became apparent to us that there was an unnamed but growing ad hoc alliance of women executives, activists, and philanthropists working to remake global society, we quickly concluded that this effort needed to be brought out from the shadows. Too often, media attention goes only to bad-news stories. Too often, intractable problems are ignored or left to others to figure out. Here was a grassroots movement, decades in the making, that was coalescing into significant positive impact.

As senior writer Ellen McGirt explains, data from around the globe now show clearly that the best way to raise up a community—to accelerate economic development and health improvements and education—is to support and assist the women and, particularly, the girls in that locale. Ironically, or sadly perhaps, the least-enfranchised half of the population is the group most critical to continuing the progress of human civilization.

The League of Extraordinary Women is not an old-style charitable initiative. It is a unique network, with growing tentacles, that is neither explicitly coordinated nor centrally funded. Rather, it is loosely linked and multilayered—a quintessential creation of the current era. The activities of the members of the League are grounded and specific. Charlotte Oades, for instance, who runs Coca-Cola's 5 By 20 initiative, which seeks to empower 5 million women entrepreneurs by 2020, isn't motivated by simple altruism; Coca-Cola's women-owned distribution centers in the developing world generally perform better financially than male-owned ones. From Maria Eitel at the Nike Foundation, who is focused on girls in developing nations, to Leila Janah of Samasource, who is providing jobs for women in Asia, Africa, and Haiti, to Laura Hartman, who is building a school in Haiti, each of these individuals is applying the lessons of modern business to solving the problems of our larger society, in ways that benefit all of us—men every bit as much as women.

The organization Room to Read established an education program in Zambia in 2007. Among other things, its Girls' Education program focuses on helping young women acquire life skills. | Image: Flickr user Marko Forsten

In her article, McGirt focuses on more than a dozen participants in this movement (which until now had not been named). The accompanying piece, "Extraordinary Women, Heroic Projects," catalogs more than 60 organizations affiliated not by charter but by perspective and overarching mission. And this is only a sampling of the efforts under way to attack often tough gender-based social and economic problems with rigor, data, and efficiency.

We are hopeful that our coverage will provide additional momentum for these initiatives, as well as more resources and more impact. You can learn more about the reach of the League by following our ongoing coverage.

A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.