Top 9 Inspiring Women of 2012

Women have been making serious waves in 2012, in fields of science, design and music. It seems that every year, the scope of what the female of the species can do just pushes the boundaries a little further, and in honor of the many impressive ladies on our radar, we wanted to highlight a few of their achievements to share with you. We are well aware that this is a mere bookmark into a world of highly impressive smart and talented women, but the following nine have accomplished so much, in multiple ways, that we just had to celebrate their achievements.

 1 ) Pussy Riot, Punk Band / Social Media Activists

Pussy Riot’s claim to fame happened almost accidentally. On the surface they are a feminist punk girl group who like to lark around and sing vaguely anarchic songs- on the other hand, they are Russian and their music was frowned upon by the orthodox Russian community for its sarcastic depiction of religion and lack of respect for traditional values. The lyrics generally have an anti-Putin sentiment and the Pussy Riot girls are a fan of guerrilla actions- such as their now infamous performance in Moscow’s Cathedral on February 21st, 2012. This performance led to five of them creating an anarchic music video entitled ‘Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!’

The band are generally depicted wearing multicolored balaclavas and have around 11 female members, who tend to go by pseudonyms during interviews. During the trial in August 2012, the three women were named and all sentenced to jail for hooliganism promoted by religious hatred (though on appeal, one lady was released).

To help free their members the remainder of the group started a huge social media campaign on Twitter to help free them  and protect the right to free speech. Though you could look at what they did as distasteful, you still have to question whether locking up two women for singing in public is really appropriate for the crime. Social media was heavily used by their supporters causing the #pussyriot hashtag to trend. Even celebrities (Madonna) and charities helped those imprisoned and even reinvigorated the discussions of women’s rights and free speech in other countries. Though the Pussy Riot girls may not have been high tech, their situation was viewed, watched and retweeted by millions,and though everyone might not like their message, their right to have it should be respected.

 2) Malala Yousafzai, Blogger

Photo Credit: Telegraph

Malala Yousafazi could have been any other teenage girl in the world. Young, with colt like features, her dark brown eyes could have stared up at you from any school in America. Her intelligence and thirst for information is no different from any other American teen going through puberty. Malala wasn’t an ordinary teen however as she lived in Pakistan, and had to grow up under a restrictive regiment that controlled the type of education women received. Living under Sharia law has to be pretty tough for a young girl, but Malala managed to find an outlet- a blog about her experiences growing up in Pakistan. Supported by her family, she created an anonymous blog at the tender age of 11 that was published in 2009 by BBC Urdu online.  She documented the daily trials she faced as a young woman in the city. Her writing was vivid and descriptive and showed the daily fears she had to live with – which gained her a large following  worldwide.

“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. I was afraid going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. Only 11 students attended the class out of 27.”

With encouragement from home, she went public with her name and gained even more fans – people viewed Malala as the embodiment of of female empowerment in a place where women have very few rights, and saw her voice as hope.

Tragically, on Oct 9 2012, the Taliban regime fought back, boarding her schoolbus and shooting her in the head. She was moved to a British hospital for treatment and is still in recovery for her wounds. Her courage and selfless actions may hopefully lead a way for more rights for women in Pakistan, and her brave actions have led to a deeper understanding- worldwide – of what needs to change, and why education for all is so important.

 3) Beyonce Knowles, Singer/Entrepreneur

When you think of Beyonce there a few things that come immediately to mind. Firstly – the hair, I mean how could you not just gush in awe at that amazing mane she has? Secondly, Jay-Z, and then the music – as if we could ever forget it. From the warbling of Destiny’s Child to the grinding and soulful pouting to her own solo career, Miss Knowles has always been in the spotlight.

But she’s not just a pretty face; the various deals Beyonce signs has made her a pretty savvy businesswoman as well, recently netting $50 million for a deal with Pepsi that not only has her promoting the soda, but also gives her money for her own ‘creative projects’- we’ll have to wait and see what these will be.

Her live shows tend to be epic, both in scale and production values, and a recent performance by ‘Sasha Fierce’ of ‘Run the World’ seamlessly combined hi-tech digital artistry. She also works closely with the National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation, partnering with them to promote a video for Obama’s campaign and her media skills extend beyond that, as she’s the director and producer of a documentary about (you guessed it) her early life.

Her talents also extend to animation and electronics, and she has a role in upcoming 3D movie ‘Epic’ and has worked with Nintendo promoting their products and using their StyleSavvy fashion game as a springboard to sell her own clothing brand ‘virtually’.

As 2013 dawns, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of Beyonce’s work- as creatively and professionally she manages to be both a business woman, an artist, and a loving and devoted mom and wife.

 4) Sarah Wood, CEO Unruly Media

Sarah Wood has an impressive pedigree, but don’t let the dazzling resume or rather attractive portfolio image she has put you off the fact that this lady is one smart switched on cookie. A founder of the three team company Unruly Media, Wood helped start Unruly Media in 2006. The company is based around the idea of social video and looks at how video views can be delivered, tracked and monetized for brands with an emphasis being on delivering and promoting shareable content. Remember those adorable Evian babies on roller skates? Or that cool T-Mobile Life’s for Sharing?  That was all promoted through Unruly Media.

In January 2012, Sarah’s company received 25 million dollars in funding and they were able to build larger teams abroad as well as extend their Social Video lab in London to include the latest in video analytics software, including eye tracking capabilities to show clients exactly what people are focusing on in their videos.

Sarah also teaches a course in online video and culture at Cambridge University and has previously taught American studies at the University of Sussex. A lady with many interests and a lot of knowledge! She took her understanding of how people consume culture and share things online and translated this into a successful video agency that promotes and distributes video.

 5) Tara Hunt, Entrepreneur and Social Media Queen

Photo Credit: Inc


It’s possible that reading about Tara Hunt may leave you feeling a little exhausted, so take a deep breath, have cup of coffee and prepare to be inspired and realize you really can do it all. An author, blogger, social marketer and acclaimed entrepreneur, Tara doesn’t seem to like staying still.

This Canadian lady was part of the first wave of online marketers. She quickly learnt how to engage with people online and understood what companies needed to do to participate in web 2.0. She worked in Silicon valley for a while, training companies how to create an online presence. Her key theme has always been that brands need to have a two way conversation with consumers, this way they create relationships and not just customers.

In 2006, Tara cofounded the Citizen Agency which helped brand build a network of customer communities, and focused on working with startups. Other noticeable things about the self-styled Miss Rogue (her Twitter handle and online persona) are her love of open source software (girl after our own heart), and that she works with community-based standards movements such as Micro formats and OpenID.

She published the Whuffie Factor in 2009, a book about using social media to build a business and it has since been published in 8 languages. It’s considered to be one of the original books on how the social web changed the way we do business.

Tara also co-founded the company Buyosphere in 2009 which helps people discover items to wear online – with real-time advice from everyday consumers. Think of it as an online personal shopper, but all the personal shoppers are other women (or men) with no vested interest other than their own opinion and experiences. It hasn’t been easy running a startup, and Tara has always been very honest about the pitfalls of the business- her talk at Thinc Iowa 2012  had her openly admit to the mistakes she’d made. It’s refreshing to find someone so willing to share what went wrong, as well as what they did right, and it’ inspirational to see that process as it evolves.

Finally, in 2012, Tara was recognized as one of the women to watch in 2013 by Entrepreneur magazine. (Go Tara!)

One extra fact about Tara: She was one of the first 100 people to sign up to Twitter.

6) Rachel Armstrong, Architect and Biologist

Rachel Armstrong is a great role model for both women and men worldwide. Her goal is to use the endless possibilities that science provides to address issues which can’t be solved conventionally, and she’s a trained architect AND a synthetic biologist. She’s also the co-director of Avatar, a research group which explores how advanced technology can be used in architecture.

Armstrong studied at The Bartlett School of Architecture in the U.K.,  trained at UCL and attended the University of Denmark, and her education covered both architecture and science, making her a woman of many talents. She combines these skills by using and promoting new technologies such as Synthetic Biology.

Synthetic Biology combines science and engineering, and uses biology to exploit the living system and how it can be used to help people through nanotechnology or Biosensor technology for example. Armstrong also designs solutions for environments with this, and her work includes using protocells (a chemically programmable agent that can be used to construct an artificial reef) to create new materials which can have a positive impact on the environment and help build sustainable structures.

Examples include paint that can absorb carbon dioxide (thus leading to fresher air) which alters color when it becomes ‘full.’ A great way to combine practicality with environmental protection, merging design and science in an easy to understand applicable way.

Armstrong was invited to be a TED Global Fellow in 2009, and was a Senior TED Fellow in 2010, and in February 2012 she published a Kindle Single book in conjunction with TED publications called Living Architecture: How Synthetic Biology Can Remake Our Cities and Reshape Our Lives (yes, that’s a bit of a mouthful). The book currently sits at number six in the  Nonfiction > Science > Biological Sciences > Biotechnology category and looks at how we can create cities that act as evolving ecosystems.

Armstrong regularly speaks at conferences and thinktanks, and was a ‘champion speaker’ at the EcoBuild conference, an event dedicated to sustainable design, construction and environment  and spoke about Living Environments for the Future.

7) Zaha Hadid,  Architect

Photo Credit: Business Insider

Zaha Hadid has a distinguished career in architecture and where she excels is in pushing the boundaries of what one can do with new techniques. Currently she uses sophisticated 3D modeling to design high tech buildings and owns her own firm of architects.

Hadid has the honor of being the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize for Architecture and her work combines art with structural science to showcase something beautiful and creative. Born in Baghdad, Hadid had to struggle to succeed in architecture, a traditionally male dominated world in Iraq, but Hadid didn’t let that deter her. Her work has been described as baroque modernism and she challenges classic formal rules to create geometric designs that have their own unique fluidity – encapsulating the chaos of modern life with unusual spaces. Hadid likes to create spaces that look like they are about to morph into something else, and change the user journey as they pass through.

Often described as the Lady Gaga of architecture, Hadid’s tireless quest to follow her own path, despite the obstacles, has led to her success and her style has now become celebrated and adopted worldwide, helping inspire others to have belief in their own ideas, and to strive for their best.

8) Renee Kuriyan Wittemyer, Intel’s Director of Social Impact

Renee Wittemeyer isn’t the traditional Intel employee. Sure, she’s computer savvy and has a passion for innovation, but she’s also an intrepid self-starter who moved to Kenya for a fellowship after college graduation, with no knowledge of the language or people. During her time there, she taught herself Swahili, and worked with local women to help them get their finances in order. Later she lived in India and used the Intel Learn curriculum to teach young people educational basics.

Wittemyer currently works for Intel in Social Impact, and as well as her daily duties she focuses on looking at how women access the internet. A new study will shortly be released that works with the African women’s entrepreneurship program to help encourage African women to get empowered.

While at Intel she also launched the Code for Good initiative, which is based around creating apps to help solve social issues. She regularly blogs for Intel, and her focus is all about getting women more engaged with technology. Her Girls can Code piece is thought provoking and  demonstrates the need for more females in the coding world. One interesting tidbit – studies show that companies with more women have a 34% higher return on investment. How you like them apples!

9) Danielle N Lee (DNLee) Biologist and Blogger

DNLee is someone I’ve grown to be very fond of. A trained biologist, she started blogging to share information about her specialties in animal behavior, mammalogy and ecology, and quickly grew a following via her blogspot domain – Urban Science which she started in 2006. Not only is her writing incredibly down to earth and conversational, but she has a great knack for making scientific concepts accessible, and this led to her being snapped up by the Scientific American Blogging network to write for them in 2011. She also has a post-doctoral research position at Oklahoma State University, and gained a doctoral degree in biology at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

Danielle N Lee (as she likes to be referred to) has a very witty turn of phrase and her articles are incredibly engaging- examples being Sexual Politics of HipHop examined as lessons in sexual selection and a health piece called ‘What’s so Special About tight vaginas?’

Danielle’s outreach efforts focus on African Americans students and she aims to engage them with science facts that they can enjoy. She also uses social media and blogging as a platform to encourage more African Americans to enter the science world. We’re impressed both by her content, and by her positive attitude and love of her work, and hope that her inspiring actions will continue to make more people think about and engage with science in a whole new way.

Did we miss a woman who was tech-inspiring for you this year? Hit the comments to let us know.

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