This change-focused list marks the first of three subject-focused 50 Over 50 lists being released this summer.
By Elana Lyn Gross and Lisette Voytko
When Pamela Winn was released from prison in 2013, after serving time for bank fraud, she found herself mourning the loss of time: time for herself, time to build on her career and, above all, time with her family.
“You can always make money back,” she has said, “but you can’t get your time back.”
With this in mind, Winn didn’t waste the time she had in front of her: She founded RestoreHer, an advocacy and reentry nonprofit organization working on behalf of incarcerated women, and particularly those who might be pregnant during their confinement. Winn had been six weeks pregnant when she began her sentence in 2009, but she was shackled, fell and later miscarried. She’s fighting to ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone else and has successfully pushed for anti-shackling legislation in 15 states.
Today, Winn is also one of the 50 listees on the 50 Over 50: Impact list. Produced in partnership with Mika Brzezinski’s Know Your Value initiative, this collection of women over the age of 50 changing the world through politics, education, law and social entrepreneurship marks an expansion of the 50 Over 50 list launched in June. Because the response to this first list was so overwhelmingly positive—and because we’d received so many impressive nominations filled with stories about change that we wanted to share with the world—this impact-focused list marks the first of three subject-focused 50 Over 50 lists being released this summer.
The 50 Over 50: Impact was determined using the scores and insight provided to us from our three rock-star judges: Grameen CEO Andrea Jung; fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg; and Act One founder and one of America’s richest self-made women, Janice Bryant Howroyd. Conversations among Forbes editors helped refine the list, weighing each story, scale of achievement and sector of work. The result: Every person on this list has a pay-it-forward mindset and is working to solve some of society’s biggest issues, including healthcare access for all, food security, rights for the differently-abled and much more.
Not every one of the 50 women on the list started out intending to work in social impact. May Lee had been a broadcast journalist for most of her career and in 2020 founded the Lotus Media House to focus on telling stories about the Asian and Asian American experience. Then Covid hit, and anti-Asian hate crimes began to rise. Lee changed the focus of her content, speaking out against xenophobia and racism. “This wasn’t planned. This wasn’t predicted. But sometimes one is called to do something beyond one’s imagination,” she says. “That’s why I now call myself an ‘accidental activist,’ a label I wear with honor.”
“I’m not doing it for me. I had a passion for moving the dial with philanthropy capital and doing whatever it took.”Debi Brooks, Cofounder & CEO, Michael J. Fox Foundation
Others on the list, like Sharon Lavigne, were born into worlds of activism but found their own voice later in life: The daughter of civil rights activists, Lavigne spent her career as a special education teacher. But in 2018, at the age of 66, Lavigne began a campaign to prevent the construction of a $1.25 billion manufacturing plant in her hometown of St. James Parish, Louisiana. The plant would have generated hundreds of tons of hazardous waste, devastating the local environment and risking the health of nearby residents.
“They let these companies come into our Black and brown neighborhoods when they know this stuff is killing us,” Lavigne told the Guardian last month. “This would have been 2 miles downwind from my house. I wasn’t going to allow any more industry into St. James Parish.”
For other members of the 50 Over 50: Impact, like Michael J. Fox Foundation cofounder and CEO Debi Brooks, a career change to philanthropy was strategic. Brooks likes to say that while many people know the Parkinson’s research foundation was actor Fox’s second act, what they don’t know is that it was her second act, too. Brooks had a successful first career at Goldman Sachs, but toward the end of her 30s, she felt a pull to take what she knew about deploying capital and apply that knowledge to the capital-starved nonprofit space.
Brooks decided to go back to school to get a master’s degree in social work; three years later, she partnered with Fox to launch his foundation. She served as its CEO from 2000–07 and retook the CEO suite this year (in the interim, she was the foundation’s executive vice chair). Now 61, Brooks reports that the foundation recently hit $1 billion in funded Parkinson’s research—including a groundbreaking longitudinal study that is working to identify biomarkers for the disease that could, one day, change and help with early detection.
Brooks knows the world doesn’t know her name as well as it knows the name on the foundation that she’s helped build. But she’s okay with that. “I’m not doing it for me,” she says. “I had a passion for moving the dial with philanthropy capital and doing whatever it took.”
That persistence, and that sense of using wisdom gained in service of a larger cause, unites all the members of the 50 Over 50. You can read the full list of change-makers and the June release here, and watch this space for more: We’ll be releasing our next iteration, showcasing the women over 50 who are artistic and scientific visionaries, in August.
TO VIEW THE FULL FORBES WOMEN 50 OVER 50 LIST, CLICK HERE.