Bernadette Lim says she seeks to follow the words of Alice Walker—"activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet"—and when you look at Lim's list of achievements, it becomes very clear what she means.
First and foremost, Lim is the founder of Women SPEAK, an international women's empowerment organization based in Los Angeles. It's a non-profit that cultivates mentorship among young women over subjects like positive body image, healthy relationships, media literacy, and leadership. Since its founding in 2014, Women SPEAK has founded more than 20 chapters across the world, serving more than 750 young women. Lim is also currently a Student Research Fulbright Scholar in Pune, India, where she is researching the gender disparities between health-care workers. In 2017, she will attend medical school with a plan to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology.
Of course, Lim's passion for her work—which she describes as lying at the intersection of women's rights, health policy, and medicine—didn't come out of nowhere. Growing up in a family with Filipino and Chinese immigrant heritage helped Lim appreciate the opportunities available to her.
"As I've grown up and helped women of many backgrounds, I know their stories and resilience are not isolated, but rather representative of many underserved women," Lim says. "Just as my family was able to rise above expectations and limitations, so too do I want to enable more women to elevate themselves, their families, and communities."
At the age of 22—Lim graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor's in human evolutionary biology and global health and health policy with cum laude honors just last year—she's already doing that. Lim has already earned a lot of awards for her work (she was included in Glamour's College Women of the Year in 2016 and has also been an invited speaker at the Department of State), but she says her satisfaction comes primarily from the personal feedback she's gotten from women. She's had participants tell her that Woman SPEAK leadership conferences helped them overcome an eating disorder and inspire a mentorship program for first-generation college women, and she has seen university chapters of her organization change campus conversations about sexual assault.
"I am grounded, humbled, and in awe of the vivid stories of inspiration and courage that I hear from participants who partake in the mission of Women SPEAK," Lim says.
Lim plans to serve as an OB/GYN physician in underserved areas in the United States, and says her ideal future involves a blend of health policy and entrepreneurship. Her passion comes at a time when expanding access to reproductive health for low-income women couldn't be more necessary.
"I want to pursue medicine because I seek to serve women at the community level, providing key primary care and reproductive-health services to underserved women who face significant barriers in attaining adequate health care and literacy," Lim says.
Explore the complete list of this year's 30 top thinkers under 30 here.