Last spring, more than 3,000 women with great ideas applied for the first-ever O-White House Leadership Project contest. The winners got to attend an inspiration-packed three-day program, with coaching by some of the top women trailblazers in the country. Here, the projects that are making a difference:
Name: Raolat Abdulai
Hometown: Clarksville, Maryland
Project Idea: A multi-institution, student-run free clinic that serves underserved Washington, D.C., communities
Sound bite: "I have always been passionate about issues in health disparities. When I came to America in 1987 from Nigeria, my father was a taxicab driver and my mother a babysitter, and we had no health insurance. ... I'm on my way to becoming the first physician in our family and want most of all to help people who have nowhere to turn."
Name: Nadine Bean
Hometown: West Chester, Pennsylvania
Project Idea: A plan for social work students to help rebuild the spirit of New Orleans' beleaguered Lower 9th Ward
Sound bite: "People understand donating to reconstruct houses. It's tangible: If they give this much money, we can rewire a home or put drywall up. What isn’t tangible, and what I have been having challenges with, are the emotional and social support services, which are every bit as vital to rebuilding the community."
Name: Déborah Berebichez
Hometown: New York City
Project Idea: The Science of Everyday Life, a video series encouraging young women to learn more about science and technology in a fun and engaging manner
Sound bite: "I grew up in a conservative community in Mexico where women were not encouraged to study science or math. I was told, 'You’ll never get married. No man wants a wife who’s smarter than her.' I fought to pursue my dreams and got my PhD in physics at Stanford. ... I want to ignite a passion for learning in women across the world."
Name: Dawn Billings
Hometown: Mableton, Georgia
Project Idea: The CAPABLE Learning System™, a toy/educational tool that aids parents in teaching their children social and emotional skills
Sound bite: "I was born to complete poverty, and graduating from high school was a really big deal in my family. ... My grandmother came to see me and said, 'Dawn, you’ve been in school longer than anyone I ever knew. You have a learning disability or something?' And I said, 'No Grandma, I have a 4.0.' And she said, 'Honey, in this family 4 out of 10 ain’t bad.'"
Name: Roslind Blasingame-Buford
Project Idea: BUILDing Futures, a Chicago-based college prep and career readiness program for high-risk inner city youth
Sound bite: "I should be a statistic. I grew up in a single-parent household in an underprivileged community and got into trouble with gangs and drugs. But thanks to family and influential mentors at community-based programs, I beat the odds. I believe—no, I know—that if provided the proper tools, support, and encouragement, at-risk youth can succeed."
Name: Christine Breck
Project Idea: Texas Wall Street Women, a peer network of women in finance committed to developing professionally and to volunteering in the community
Sound bite: "In almost any other area, women help each other. But we get into the finance industry, and that part of our brain falls out. Tom Meredith, former CFO at Dell, calls it the 'mean girl syndrome.' If we want to do well in this business, we have to get over that and lift each other up."
Name: Amy Callis
Hometown: Oakland, California
Project Idea: The Darfur Stoves Project, producing efficient portable cookers for refugee women so they don't have to leave their camps in search of wood, risking rape
Sound bite: "Through projects like this, Darfur refugees know that the world has not forgotten them. It's an important message of hope for a people so demoralized by the crisis they have had to endure. And donating toward a stove is a very tangible way for the everyday person to take a stand and be a global citizen. ... The stove is a good intervention right now, until the best one: peace in Darfur."
Name: Autumn Caviness
Hometown: Grand Prairie, Texas
Project Idea: A radio show titled Young America to inspire youth in urban communities
Sound bite: "In the urban community we aren't exposed to many examples of success. I want to share stories of individuals with amazing occupations, to show that success comes in many forms—not just on the basketball court or in the hood as a 'street pharmacist.'"
Name: Janeen Comenote
Project Idea: The National Urban Indian Family Coalition, a national network of organizations that gives city-dwelling Native Americans a voice
Sound bite: "Native American culture is matriarchal—women are so powerful and respected. It's not a secret that behind every great male Indian leader is a woman advising him. Looking at Women Rule! through the lens of my core cultural values, I had an aha! moment: I realized that what I take absolutely for granted in my community—the role of women—doesn't necessarily translate into the larger world."
Name: Michelle Cote
Hometown: West Hartford, Connecticut
Project Idea: The Purpose Project, a book-based tool to help inspire and equip a new generation of social leaders
Sound bite: "Taking the time out to focus on my individual professional growth through Women Rule! was a huge luxury for me. When you're caught up in everyday life, it's hard to find time to reflect on what you do well and what you need to improve upon. I found the information presented so helpful that after the conference I typed up my notes and shared them with all of the ambitious, professional women I know."
Photos: Ben Goldstein