Everyone has the power to be a social impact hero. Just ask these women.
We live in a world where more and more women are being encouraged to embrace their strengths every day — but it's an uphill battle.
While the upcoming generation is already being touted as the generation that will "save the world," the young women in that group are still fighting to have their voices heard.
That said, all this social activism is empowering women in new and exciting ways. By standing on platforms for change that inspire them, whatever that may be, women's voices are being raised to new heights, and, as a result, they're reaching many more girls and women eager to pick up the torch.
L’Oréal Paris is amplifying these inspiring voices through their Women of Worth program.
Since 2005, L'Oreal Paris has been honoring women making a significant impact in their communities through their passion for volunteerism and giving back to others.
Shandra Woworuntu. Photo via L'Oreal Paris Women of Worth.
Each year, L’Oréal Paris selects 10 Women of Worth Honorees to receive a $10,000 grant in support of their charitable cause. Following a nationwide vote, Honoree Shandra Woworuntu was chosen as the 2017 National Honoree, and received an additional $25,000 grant in support of her organization, Mentari. A survivor of human trafficking and domestic violence, Shandra founded Mentari, which is a nonprofit organization that assists victims of human trafficking free of charge. Even though she's just one woman, her efforts are making a monumental difference.
Here's a look at three other women whose strengths made a huge impact in their own communities.
The 2017 Women of Worth. Photo via L'Oreal Paris/Upworthy.
1. 19-year-old Cassandra Lin started Project Turn Grease Into Fuel (TGIF), which strives to get leftover grease converted into fuel for underserved families to heat their homes.
Growing up in Westerly, Rhode Island, during the 2008 recession, Cassandra learned many families couldn't afford to heat their homes in the winter.
"I think the fact that some people have to make the decision of whether to put food on the table, or to heat their homes, is a really difficult decision that no family should really have to make," says Cassandra.
Cassandra at 10. Photo via L'Oreal Paris/Upworthy.
At just 10 years old, she was determined to come up with a solution.
While visiting a green energy expo at the University of Long Island, Cassandra learned that you could turn used cooking oil into Biodiesel fuel. So she started going around her neighborhood to local restaurants to see if they'd be willing to donate theirs.
Several got on board, and soon enough, TGIF was helping local families and shelters stay warm in the winter.
A restauranteur donating cooking oil to TGIF. Photo via L'Oreal Paris/Upworthy.
And it's not just about philanthropy — using biodiesel fuel is also much better for the environment. In fact, to date, TGIF's efforts have offset almost 3 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.
2. Meanwhile Valerie Weisler is giving strength and confidence back to teens all over the world who've been bullied.
When Valerie was 14, her parents told her they were getting a divorce, and just like that, she shut down. Suddenly she became this person who didn't talk or make eye contact, which unfortunately made her a target for bullies.
Kids started leaving cruel notes attacking her behavior in her locker. It didn't take long for those words to sink in.
"I just branded myself with all those words and told myself that they were right," says Valerie.
Then, one day she saw another kid getting bullied by his locker, and her perspective changed. She told him he wasn't alone in what he was going through — he told her that validation meant more to him than she could possibly know.
That night, she went home and started her nonprofit — The Validation Project.
Photo via The Validation Project.
The organization not only provides support for teens who feel like outsiders, it connects them with a project they're passionate about that also happens to generate social good. It's all about reminding them they're capable of anything.
"Sometimes you just really need somebody else to tell you that you have that worth inside of you and show you how you can use it," says Valerie.
Today, the Project works with approximately 6,000 teens in 105 countries around the world.
3. And Deborah Jiang-Stein helps incarcerated women move on with their lives, and not be defined by their past.
Deborah was actually born and spent the first year of her life in prison because her mother was incarcerated. She then spent the majority of her childhood in foster homes, and almost wound up back in prison on a number of occasions.
Eventually, however, she was able to pull herself off her destructive path, and founded UnPrison Project — a nonprofit dedicated to helping incarcerated women lead a successful life after their release.
"The theory is that if there're self-development programs, self-esteem education, literacy improvement inside, that they'll have the skills on the outside to do something differently and be a resource," says Deborah.
Deborah Jiang-Stein. Photo via L'Oreal Paris Women of Worth.
But it's not just about developing life skills. A large part of Deborah's job is sharing her own story with incarcerated women so they can see that it's possible to take a different path after prison.
Deborah says it's about taking away the label of "prisoner," and showing these women who they truly are.
"When I'm at a prison, what I see before me isn't prisoners," says Deborah. "I see people's mothers, and aunts, and grandmothers, and daughters, and sisters, and we relate to each other like that."
Thanks to bold activists like this, more and more women will know they can do anything through both strength and conviction.
"We see them all as agents of change and we want them to be able to identify problems in their own communities, and eventually be able to rally people around that issue to create systems change," says Rana.
Inspiring agency within others is what every Woman of Worth Honoree strives to achieve. And, thankfully, the next generation seems more than ready to be that change, and take on whatever challenges come their way.
For more on the Women of Worth campaign, check out the video below: