To those who knew her as a child growing up in prosperous Newport Beach, California, it could not have come as a surprise that Nancy Barry would grow up to be president of Women's World Banking (WWB), a nonprofit organization that makes small loans ($10 to $10,000) to poor women worldwide. Barry could often be found tagging along with her uncle, a priest, who worked with César Chávez on the migrant farm workers' issues of the day. And once, when the family took a vacation to Acapulco, Mexico, Barry darted off to visit the public hospitals. "There was a very strong spirit within my family of social purpose," she says. Today, armed with degrees from Stanford and Harvard and a résumé topped by a decade-long stint as a senior executive at the World Bank, Barry remains firmly focused on those at the bottom. Big commercial banks "can really screw up" when it comes to lending tiny amounts of money, she says, which is where WWB's so-called microfinance loans come in. For the recipients, most of whom have no credit history and put up no collateral, the money is transformative. A woman in Kenya went from being a farmer to becoming one of her country's main exporters of roses. A Bosnian woman who was barely making enough to feed her family now owns three food shops. The impact of these loans (to some 18 million women around the world) was so great that the United Nations declared 2005 the Year of Microcredit. "What we do is about changing the way the world works," says Barry, 56. "It's revolutionary."
*The name of this award was originally the Impact Award. In 2008, the awards were renamed as the Inspire Awards.