2017 was a watershed year for gender and human rights ... sort of. Landmark legislation aimed to control the migration and advancement of some of the world's poorest peoples, and an unthinkable tally of abuses has helped galvanize the call for more humane governance across the globe.
Still, the world has made progress. Businesses once again played a critical role in addressing not just the rights of people, but the environment on which they depend.
But the outpouring of admissions from celebrities that they too, had endured discrimination (and oftentimes, harassment) has opened the door to frank and surprising discussions about the way women have been treated in Hollywood. What hasn't been surprising, is that it's fueled discussions in other venues as well.
And it's led to business proposals, like Maria Contreras-Sweet's $275 million bid to buy the troubled Weinstein Company. Her proposal for the film company includes a 51 percent female board and four financial backers.
It took years to accomplish, but the ice cream maker, along with the nonprofit Migrant Justice, struck a deal with Vermont dairy farms to provide better pay and living conditions. Ben & Jerry's is footing some of the bill for this, proving that companies can improve working conditions within their supply chains just by speaking out.
The concept of lending a small amount of money to an aspiring entrepreneur has done well in a number of underdeveloped communities in India, Ethiopia and Latin America. It's worked because nonprofits generally aren't out to make a lot of money; rather, they simply want to keep the fund going.
But the business model has been successful enough to the point that this year, VISA donated $20 million to the Women's World Banking. The money will go toward promoting funding and banking products to women entrepreneurs in underserved regions.
While some researchers have expressed concerns about a big business with a large balance sheet taking up a cause that benefits from low overhead strategies, VISA's support offers further recognition that small business owners can make a valuable contribution to developing communities and bigger businesses can help open those doors. The challenge is how to keep those small business aspirations affordable for all.
Ming, a theoretical neuroscientist and co-founder of the educational technology company Socos, has a long list of research and development credits to her name. But when it comes to intuitively understanding the implications of gender discrimination, she has an advantage: she knows from personal experience what it is like to be a man in today's workplace.
As a transgender scientist, she's been on both sides of the experience and has been able to poignantly describe what differences she observed after transitioning to a woman.
It is not usually the kind of data that researchers are able to add to their findings, but then, Ming isn't the usual scientist. She's already broken through barriers in a number of areas of research: data mining, predictive diabetes management and cognitive neuroscience, to name a few.
Perhaps her greatest contribution is being able to remind us that it is humanity -- not just numbers -- that define the implication of our success.
This year, the U.S. saw populations displaced by record flooding, entire towns leveled by freak wild fires and communities that are still battling, decades on, for relocation assistance to higher ground.
As a nation and as a planet, we've come to gradually accept the weight of the expression, climate change refugees: to be a refugee, you must have a planet that can serve as a refuge.
That very topic has inspired another realization, one that is often under fire these days: That science does indeed have value, both in the decisions we make in our communities and the governments we elect. The March for Science rallies on Earth Day fueled a genuine interest to protect the very mechanisms by which we predict and mitigate climate change.
Finally, we were also reminded that to have a sustainable environment, we must have sustainable communities. Organizations including Cool Effect, which finds ways to blend carbon offsetting programs with improving the conditions of communities in developing countries, have taught us that in the end, those two aspirations are one and the same. Ensuring human rights of those less fortunate helps keep ecosystems resilient and valued. Restoring what we borrowed from Mother Nature gives us another resource for tomorrow's enduring communities.
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.