Sara Blakely of Spanx Sara Blakely of Spanx Sara Blakely of Spanx has pledged to give half her wealth to charity. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

9 of the world's most inspiring female entrepreneurs

These women are making an impact in the boardroom and in the philanthropic sector.

The boardroom is not a boys’ club anymore. According to a 2012 report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, more than 126 million women were starting or running new businesses in 67 countries. Many of the world’s most successful companies are now run by women, including the nine accomplished entrepreneurs profiled here.


Sara Blakely

Sara Blakely

They might not like to talk about their underwear, but women all over the world have Sara Blakely to thank for their svelte shapes. In 2000, Blakely invested $5,000 – her life savings – in developing a better brand of pantyhose. Now the company she founded, Spanx, sells more than 200 items of figure-smoothing shapewear a year, amounting to $250 million in annual sales and making Blakely the youngest self-made female billionaire in history. She has pledged to donate at least half her wealth to charity, with an emphasis on women’s causes.


Yang Lan

Chairperson of Sun Media Group Yang Lan

She’s not an athlete, but she carried the torch and hosted the closing ceremonies at the 2008 Olympics in her native Beijing – that’s how important Yang Lan is in China. The nation’s top TV host and interviewer, 46, is also a mogul whose Sun Media empire encompasses television, newspaper and magazine publishing and the Internet with a net worth of $6.6 billion. She serves as the Global Ambassador for the Special Olympics and is the first UNICEF Ambassador in China.


Shari Arison

Shari Arison

At the helm of Arison Investments – whose holdings include Carnival Cruise Lines, real estate and water technology companies, and Israel’s largest bank – is Shari Arison, founder of International Good Deeds Day, whose $4.9 billion net worth makes her one of the richest women in the Middle East. Born in New York in 1957, and raised there and in Israel, Arison inherited the company from her late father. She has since grown its holdings while also growing the philanthropic arm of the Arison Group, The Ted Arison Family Foundation, which fosters education, volunteerism and environmentally conscious business practices.


Tory Burch

Tory Burch

It all started with a shoe, a ballet flat with a distinctive T medallion logo. In 2005, Oprah Winfrey declared Burch “the next big thing in fashion.” Nine years later, the designer is a billionaire with a lifestyle line that includes clothing, accessories, cosmetics and a fragrance that’s sold worldwide at department stores and shops and more than 120 Tory Burch boutiques. In 2009, Burch, 47, a committed philanthropist, launched the Tory Burch Foundation to empower women via mentoring, small business loans and education.


Arlene Dickinson

Arlene Dickinson

The South African-born CEO of Calgary’s Venture Communications, which she transformed from a start-up to a company grossing $45 million annually, Arlene Dickinson, 57, is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Canada. A best-selling author and in-demand speaker, she launched Arlene Dickinson Enterprises to fund small businesses in 2012. Since 2007, she has been a “Dragon,” one of the deep-pocketed investors on the television show “Dragon’s Den,” the Canadian version of “Shark Tank.”


Martha Lane Fox

Martha Lane Fox

Martha Lane Fox made her fortune as the co-founder of the travel and gift site Lastminute.com, which sold to Sabre Holdings for $969 million in 2005. Today, with a personal fortune of $500 million, the Oxford-born baroness, 41, sits on the boards of Mydeco.com, Channel 4 and Marks & Spencer, and is the youngest female member of the House of Lords. In 2012, Lane Fox launched Go On UK, a charity promoting digital skills for small businesses. Her other charitable work includes advocating on behalf of various women’s rights, social justice, poverty and AIDS nonprofits.


Orit Hashay

Orit Hashay

At the forefront of the new wave of Israeli tech startups, Orit Hashey has been working in the sector for more than a decade, having founded the wedding-planning site mit4mit.com, the business review site Ramkol.co.il, and Brayola, which helps women find the perfect bra. “I love to solve real problems that women face, making the world a happier place,” says Hashay, whose latest venture is Vetrinas, a virtual portal that lets shoppers window-shop high-end retailers online. In 2012, the entrepreneurial Hashay was named one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women in Israel.


Cher Wang

Cher Wang

Having founded tech corporation HTC in 1997, Cher Wang turned the company into one of the largest smartphone and tablet makers in the world, with 20 percent of the global market. With an estimated net worth of $6.8 billion, the Taiwan-born, UC Berkeley-educated Wang, 55, has used her wealth to fund research at her alma mater and provide free or low-cost college educations for needy students in China. 


Shahnaz Husain

Shahnaz Husain

When she was young, Shahnaz Husain experimented with mixing her own natural makeup and – after training in cosmetology in London, Paris and New York – opened a salon in her Delhi home. Today, she owns the largest natural cosmetics and Ayurevdic salon company in India, Shahnaz Herbals Inc., with more than 400 franchises across the world in 138 countries, offering hundreds of chemical-free, eco-friendly products that are not tested on animals. She gives back by supporting vocational beauty training for the underprivileged and those with visual, speech and hearing impairments.


Photo credits: Sara Blakely: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images; Yang Lan: Jemal Countess/Getty Images; Shari Arison: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images; Tory Burch: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images; Arlene Dickinson: Peter Bregg/Getty Images; Martha Lane Fox: Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images; Orit Hashay: Yaniv Golan/Flickr; Cher Wang: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images; Shahnaz Husain: John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images.

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