When asked about her personal and professional inspirations, Gretchen Steidle Wallace names neither an A-list celebrity nor a political figure but, rather, an unemployed and barely educated South African woman.

In 2004, when Wallace was researching the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa, she befriended Zolecka Ntuli, a then-25-year-old woman who, despite having no job and virtually no access to funds, had launched a neighborhood support group to combat sexual violence in the area after a 12-year-old girl was assaulted by a group of teenage boys.

“Zolecka didn’t have the skills or the capacity to plan ahead for grants and funding, yet here she was, starting a dialogue about sexual violence against children in a region where [such matters were] still relatively taboo,” Wallace, 37, recalled. “I thought, ‘There must be women all over the world who have similar ideas for change. What if those women had more opportunities and resources?”

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