10 Awesome Women To Watch In 2016

IMG_6839Published on LinkedIn on January 7, 2016.

Every year, through my work, I meet some of the most incredible, amazing, and just plain awesome people. In particular, I’m amazed at how many incredible women I’ve met, gotten to know, and am now honored to call my friends, colleagues, and allies. It would be selfish of me to try and keep these women to myself, so I’ve listed below 10 such women I’ve met recently who you should keep a look out for in 2016, and follow on twitter!

Full disclosure, this list could really go on forever, so much so that I actually pondered creating a website called awesome people.com because sharing and celebrating is what I love to do.  But for now, here are just 10! Please note that this is in no way a ranking, because being awesome is not a competition. The more awesome in the world the better in my opinion, and it seems I’m not alone in this thinking. The Hollywood Reporter announced last year that their annual Power 100 list of the most influential women in the entertainment industry would do away with their rankings as a way of encouraging powerful women “to work together. To hunt as a pack.” What a wonderful idea. Gloria Steinem had the same idea on her recent book tour when she asked people to “Imagine we are linked, not ranked.” Frankly, who am I to argue with Gloria Steinem, so below you will find my pack, unranked and amazing, each and every one.

Emily Best

After producing her first feature film, Like the Water, in 2011, Emily Best was inspired by the sense of community that pervades independent filmmaking to create Seed & Spark, an online crowd funding and distribution company for independent filmmakers. I met Emily through a friend who thought I might be interested in investing in her new start-up, and she was right. I immediately became an investor in Seed & Spark where Emily serves as CEO. If you are passionate about independent film, then you should know Emily Best, because her dedication to this art form is to be commended. Twitter: @emilybest @seedandspark


Gail Dines

The coming of the Internet sparked a revolution in the porn industry, making the distribution of pornographic materials easier, cheaper, and anonymous. Today, the ramifications of this seismic shift in accessibility are being felt throughout society, and many researchers, sociologists, and academics fear that an entire generation of young men are being raised with a distorted and desensitized image of sexuality. One such academic is Gail Dines, a sociology and women’s studies professor at Wheelock College, and an anti-porn activist. Gail is the author of the eye-opening book, Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, which has been since been adapted into a documentary, and she travels the country lecturing on the dangers of the current porn industry, its emphasis on degradation, humiliation, and extremes, and the effect this is having on the sexual habits of young men. Last year, Gail delivered an incredible TedxTalk about the current epidemic of porn consumption, and how framing the issue as a public health problem may be the answer to solving it. I have supported her organization, Culture Reframed, in this mission, and as a mother to both a son and daughter, I am so grateful for people like Gail who are tackling this difficult and pervasive issue head on. Twitter: @GailDines @StopPornCultur1


IMG_4595Ava Duvernay

In the run up to last year’s Oscars, it seemed like Ava Duvernay was poised to make history as the first woman of color to be nominated for Best Director for her critically acclaimed film, Selma. When the nominations were finally announced, her name was absent from the list, and this omission was one of the many factors that led to the uproar over last year’s field of nominees, helped to spawn the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, and launched a national debate over the whitewashing practices of Hollywood. Through it all, Ava has remained a strong, articulate, and impassioned advocate for more opportunities for women and minorities, both on screen and behind the camera, which is not surprising considering that she is simply an all around amazing person. Ava joined the Sundance Institute Board of Trustees in 2013, and I have been honoured to get to know her better this past year through our work with this incredible organization. (Photo of Jacki Zehner, Ava Duvernay and Friends from 2015 Sundance Film Festival) Twitter: @AVAETC

Deborah Jackson

Lack of access to capital is a common problem for women across a wide variety of industries. Studies have shown that whether it is in the arts, sciences, or business, women receive a fraction of the funding their male counterparts enjoy, and in the world of venture capitalists and start up companies, the numbers are particularly dire. A 2014 study of venture capitalist funded companies that received funding between 2011 and 2013, found that only 2.7% of these had a female CEO. Deborah Jackson is determined to move the dial on these depressing statistics. After 20 years of working on Wall Street, Deborah left to found Plum Alley, a crowdfunding platform for women entrepreneurs that aims to provide access to capital that women may not have otherwise seen through the traditional channels. In a crowded crowdfunding market, Plum Alley stands out as a platform created especially for and by women, and I am grateful for all that Deborah is doing to promote female entrepreneurs, their businesses, and their dreams. Twitter: @dbdj1007 @plumalleyco


Cristina Ljungberg

Through my work at Women Moving Millions (WMM), I have the pleasure of meeting truly inspiring women from all over the world. One such woman is Cristina Ljungberg, a Swedish film junkie after my own heart. Cristina is a Partner of Influence Film Club, an online platform for supporting, investing in, and discovering amazing documentary films.  If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to start a doc film club, now you have all you need. As a producer/investor in documentary films myself, I understand the importance of not just funding these films, but promoting them to ensure that they reach the widest possible audience. It is for exactly this reason that platforms like Influence Film Club are so important, because potential game changing films are being made every day, but they can’t change the world if no one ever sees them. Cristina Ljungberg and Influence Film Club are working to make sure that doesn’t happen, and I couldn’t be more grateful to them for it. Twitter:@welovedocs

Tiffany Pham

Tiffany Pham is the founder and CEO of Mogul, an online news aggregator for women, the co-author of From Business Strategy to Information Technology Road Map, and the producer of award winning films such as 2010’s Girlfriend. She has also yet to turn 30. I met Tiffany last year at a family office event hosted by Cavendish Global. To say that I was impressed with this young women would be a huge understatement. Forbes, Business Insider, and Elle Magazine all listed Tiffany as one of the Top 30 Under 30 in various different industries, so clearly I am not the only one who is impressed with all that she has achieved in such a short period of time. Since meeting Tiffany, I decided to invest in her company, as I am committed to using some of the proceeds from the sale of Learnvest last year to support other women founders. Only time will tell how far Tiffany will go, but something tells me it will be quite far indeed.                                     Twitter: @tifftpham @onMogul

Regina Scully, Jacki Zehner, Pat Mitchell, and Courtney E. Martin at the speaker reception at TEDWomen2015 - Momentum, May 27-29, 2015, Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California, USA. Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

Regina Scully

Regina is one of my fellow WMM members, and a passionate supporter of the arts and media as a tool for social change. She is an Academy nominated and Emmy award winning producer that has helped produce upwards of 100 films all around a variety of recovery related issues- broadly defined.  She dared to go where few, if any, people have gone before. Her projects have tackled some of the most entrenched, stigmatized issues in our culture.  Some of the films she has executive produced are MissRepresentation, The Invisible War, The Hunting Ground, Anita: Speaking Truth to Power, CodeGirl, and Private Violence, as well as other award winning and critically acclaimed films such as Alive Inside, Fed Up, Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth, Boyhood Shadows, and The Mask You Live In. In addition to her film work, Regina is the Founder and CEO of the Artemis Rising Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to developing and promoting media, education, and healing projects that transform our culture, and she is a Founding Sponsor of the Athena Film Festival, one of the few film festivals dedicated solely to the stories and voices of women filmmakers. (Photo of Regina Scully, Jacki Zehner, Pat Mitchell and Courtney Martin from TEDWomen 2015)

IMG_5379Gloria Steinem

I did not first meet Gloria, THE Gloria, in 2015. I actually first met her in 1999, but in my mind, Gloria should be on every list of amazing woman, and especially this year.  Through her work as a journalist, activist, and philanthropist, Gloria has played a role in some of the most important movements, events, and campaigns in the push for gender equality of the past 50 years, and earlier this year, Gloria published a memoir detailing her life as an advocate for women and their rights. My Life on the Road has become a New York Times Bestseller, and has won critical acclaim for its portrait of how her life spent traveling the world has inspired her to continue to push for social change and equal rights for everyone. A true must read!  Twittter: @GloriaSteinem

Meryl Streep

Who are we kidding? Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past four decades, you already know who Meryl Streep is. You probably know that she is an incredible actress, that she holds the record for the most Oscar nominations of any other actor in history, and that she is known for being one of the few actresses in Hollywood to maintain her A list status as she’s aged. What you may not know is that Meryl is also an outspoken feminist and an all around amazing woman. She recently funded a lab for female screenwriters over the age of 40 in an effort to support voices that are often ignored in Hollywood, and she is dedicated to using her own voice and influence to enact change in the entertainment industry’s treatment of women. I had the pleasure of meeting Meryl at last year’s Women Moving Millions summit in New York City, and let me tell you, she is just as impressive in person as she is on screen. (Photo of Christy Turlington Burns, Cathy Schulman, Meryl Streep and Jacki Zehner from 2015 WMM Summit)

Maysoon ZayidIMG_6890

I met Maysoon at the WMM summit in New York City as well, and I was completely blown away by this incredible woman. Maysoon is an actress, stand up comedian, writer, and activist, and to understand her amazing outlook on life, look no further than her hilarious and heartfelt Ted Talk, I Got 99 Problems…Palsy is Just One. She talks about the challenges she has faced as a disabled Arab-American, not just in her career, but in living life in the digital age where as she so aptly puts it, “Humans on the Internet are scumbags.” I can’t imagine having to face being called a gumby-mouth terrorist, but Maysoon is a lesson in compassion and empathy. In an interview last year she described her approach to online bullies as such: “People would tell me, ‘Why do you respond to these anonymous trolls? They have no effect on you, you’re bigger than that. And the reason I respond is because someone has to. Because if no one ever tells them, ‘Stop. Think about what you’re saying. Are you proud of this?’ then they will go after someone not as strong as me. And when they go after someone not as strong as me, that person might take their own life. And if there is anything I can do to make people stop with the hate and find something better to focus on, that’s my goal.”  This woman is my hero. (Photo of Maysoon Zayid and Jacki Zehner from 2015 WMM Summit)                         Twitter: @maysoonzayid

Who did you meet this past year that rocked your world? Feel free to share. And yes I know there are all women and someone will surely say, how about the men? I plan on doing an awesome male list too. Then maybe another awesome people list.  Let’s celebrate awesome!

And speaking of AWESOME – have you heard about the AWESOME Foundation? Check it out here and apply for a $1,ooo gift/grant.  @awesomefound .  Also please see Awesome Without Borders , launched by a dear friend, and another AMAZING woman, Ruth Ann Harnisch. They give $1,000 every single week. @harnischfound

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