International Women’s Day: A spotlight on some of the women who inspire us

Today is International Women’s Day, and we wanted to use this opportunity to recognise and celebrate some of the women who have inspired us, and encourage you to do the same.

If there is someone specific you would like to celebrate why not give them a shout out on Twitter or by commenting below? Tag @nccpe so we can share your thoughts!

When we think of people who have inspired us, our minds often turn first to women who we know personally, in our lives and our work, and then to those whose names are well known. So here are just some of the people the NCCPE team have been celebrating with family, friends and colleagues:

Sherry Arnstein, who developed the participatory Ladder of Citizen Participation, a helpful exploration of how power plays out in partnership. Her work is often quoted in engagement work, so if you haven’t come across it yet, you have a real treat in store.

Michelle Obama, who translated her work as a corporate lawyer to support social justice, and used her role as first lady to champion access to quality food for all children. Find out more at

Ann-Gel Palermo who led Campus Community Partnerships for Health, recognising the value of community engagement, and training and equipping community members to participate in committees and change how the system worked.

Martha Farrell, whose work at Participatory Research in India, and to champion equality for women, has challenged approaches across the world. She has left a legacy of transformation, celebrated in the Martha Farrell Memorial Fellowship and Award for Excellence in Women’s Empowerment.

Noor Inayat Khan, a writer turned WW2 radio operator. Although committed to non-violence, she worked as a spy to help the allies in Paris. Find out more on Noor Inayat Khan’s Wikipedia page.

Greta Thunberg, an environmental activist who is driving action against climate change, and has led students across the world to call for change. Find out more: Great Thunberg, Time Person of the Year 2019.

Dolly Parton, the world-renowned singer-songwriter and long-term humanitarian, who most recently has funded research into the COVID-19 vaccination

Vanessa Nakate, an environmental activist who, as well as founding several initiatives to address the climate crisis including Youth for Future Africa is working to increase diversity in environmental activism. Find our more about Vanessa Nakate.   

Recognising pioneering public engagement work

We would also like to use this opportunity to recognise the pioneering work led by women whose expertise lies in engagement, and in facilitating and supporting others to collectively make change in the world.

Since the early days of the Beacons for Public Engagement, we have been humbled and inspired by the remarkable women who engage, not because it is popular in academia or because there is a policy directive they are seeking to serve, but because it is fundamental to who they are.

Sitting together as a team and reflecting on Women’s day we came up with an impossibly long list of colleagues inside and outside the university sector who we would love to celebrate. Women who have fought tirelessly for culture change within higher education. Women who have inspired and supported researchers to embed engagement into their practice. Women who have repeatedly sought to call out injustice and inequality. Women who have stood alongside community partners during the pandemic. Colleagues who have spoken up and created space to support mental wellbeing.

The blog is short, but the list of people and work that is transforming the world around us for the better is long and ever-growing. We encourage you to join us by letting us know who has inspired you, and by sharing your appreciation with those women - in a phone call, email, or even by sending a card. In these tough times it is nice to let others know that you appreciate them.

This year’s International Women’s Day campaign theme is #ChoosetoChallenge. A challenged world is an alert world and, individually, we're all responsible for our own thoughts and actions - all day, every day. Visit the
International Women’s Day website to learn more, raise your hand and use #ChoosetoChallenge to show your commitment to challenging inequality, and helping to forge an inclusive world.


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