Passion speaks to the inner heart, purpose to a mission in the world. Put them together and you get one powerful force for action.

That’s what the six women selected for our 2017 list, The Passionate & Purposeful, show us all. Each has created a thriving, long-lasting organization grounded in purpose and fueled by passion. And through the rich variety of their ventures, they reveal how crucial  the environments we find ourselves in — be it war-weary Baghdad, impoverished villages in Guatemala or prosperous New York City — are in determining what moves us to create organizations of passion and purpose.

This February, we issued a call for applications to join our 2017 list of exceptional, enterprising women. We asked candidates to tell us how passion drove them to launch their venture, and how purpose gave their work meaning larger than themselves. We invited women from around in the world to apply, but required they be in business for at least 3 years, have at least two employees, and focus on their ventures full-time, among other criteria.

Nearly 50 women reached out to tell us their tales, and it was an especially geographically diverse group. We had more applicants from outside of the United States than we have had for any other list we have published.

Zinah Saleh, Ishtar Handmade Soap
Zinah Saleh

The richness of the applicant pool and the universally relatable nature of this year’s theme made for a fascinating window into how different life circumstances and experiences informed which causes lit flames inside each of the six women selected for this year’s list.

Take Iraqi entrepreneur Zinah Saleh, who launched Ishtar Handmade Soap after struggling to find work in post-war Baghdad. She only hires other women — and gives preference to war refugees and others in urgent need of income. In her application, Saleh tells us she believes “in the power of change,” and “that we should not be victims just because we were born in a war zone or a society that prefers men over women.”

Filipa Carreira of Mozambique, founder of research firm FC Consulting, was driven to launch Wamina, an initiative that provides reusable sanitary pads to her countrywomen, after seeing firsthand the struggles women face to simply live and work during their menstrual periods.

Maya Rowencak was inspired to start her New York City-based nonprofit, Maya’s Hope, after a fateful visit to an orphanage in the Philippines. That one trip fueled a desire to help impoverished children abroad that still urges her onward today. “It’s about seeing that these children have value,” she tells us. “I don’t see them as statistics — people always want to know the numbers, but every child has a story, has their own struggles. What inspires me is when I see them succeed.”

Kate Curran was also inspired by global travel to start her Boston-based nonprofit, School the World, which builds schools and playgrounds for children in Guatemala and Honduras, and gives American kids opportunities to help her help less-privileged kids. Curran found her passion and purpose after experiencing personal loss and leaving her high-powered law career — and is now using the skills she acquired in corporate America to build an organization of size and impact.

Kate Curran

Some of our featured women are moved by more personal, traditionally feminine needs. Oreet Jehassi Schwartz of Philadelphia fitness company SharQui launched her business 17 years ago, after her idea for a fitness-driven belly dancing class became a hit. Her work, she says, combines her passion for the dance that’s rooted in her Middle Eastern heritage with her lifelong commitment to health and female body positivity. In her classes, she invites women of all body types, sizes and colors to “shake their beauty.”

And Angela Tsai’s fashion venture, Mamachic, was born out of her travels across America with her Lion King performer husband and two small children. Her nomadic lifestyle led her to see the need for more sustainable, versatile products for on-the-go moms. “I feel passion to help with a cause, to encourage people to live more minimally and thoughtfully,” she says.

No matter where or how passion and purpose has manifested in these women, all have had a real and lasting impact on the people they aim to touch. And their end goal is the same: to make a difference.

To be sure, the women on the list — and indeed, all of our applicants — share some key traits. Most of them founded for-profit outlets for their respective passions, and many had done so within the last 5 years. Also, while applicants cite a range of individuals as their role models, a significant portion point to either famous female influencers like Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart, or to the first shapers of their own worlds: their parents.

But while the commonalities are intriguing, what stands out are the varied ways that these women’s different home and life experiences drove them to both do and be more. It shows that, while passion can come from anywhere, what we do with it is up to us.

Congratulations to our Passionate & Purposeful women, and to all of the applicants on their exciting, inspiring and world-changing work!

Over the next two weeks, we will be sharing profiles that take deeper looks into the lives and work of each woman featured on our list. So please check back! You may also visit our landing page to see the full list.

Banner image by Natalie Gaisser and Nusha Balyan. Badge by Natalie Gaisser.