Stories about women working toward a bigger purpose, building something that will outlive them, are surfacing frequently. These are altogether contemporary legacies, on a scale without precedent or model. The stories are ongoing and evolving, so the full impact is still largely under the radar. Here are snapshots of four women who put their commitments to work and found the rich fulfillment that yields.

Pushing boundaries. In the early 1990s, at age 36, Mae C. Jemison, who had already earned both chemical engineering and medical degrees, was the first black woman astronaut to blast into space. She served as the Endeavour team’s science specialist. Today, Jemison runs her own medical technology research firms, based in Dallas. Her heart and the private foundation she named for her mother, remain committed to scientific literacy. Among other projects, for more than a decade, Jemison has organized and largely funded The Earth We Share, an annual science camp for youngsters 12 to 16. The kids come from Bermuda, Hong Kong, Ghana, worldwide, to work on solutions to global problems in teams led by noted scientists. “We sent air tickets to a mother and her daughter in rural India,” says Jemison. “No one in her village could believe that she was coming to meet Nobel scientists.”

Her view: “You can live on less money and probably get more, but you can’t manufacture time. I try to make choices by thinking that if this were the last day I were alive, would I be happy about what I did that day.”

Being heard. Faith Ralston runs an executive coaching consultancy in Minneapolis, and has developed a leadership training program for women called “Play to Your Strengths.” The idea surfaced in a networking group with five other women when Ralston stumbled upon a technique that seemed to unleash energy and women’s inner voices. Basically, the group threw topics at each other and asked each to speak to those. “Our eyes lit up whenever something was important to us,” says Ralston. “It’s a way to trick the brain.” She began leading these workshops for free for various women’s groups, encouraging the participants to form their own “Circles” to maintain the support. With a few partners, Ralston launched the nonprofit Awesome Women, which offers workshop dinners that help women “to speak up and move toward what they want in life, home or work.” The event also provides a network for joining Circles that will maintain the support.

“Saying it out loud and hearing what you said back from other people, reinforces the belief that you can actually do it,” says Ralston.

Breaking silence. It began quietly. A friend sent Heidi Reavis a New York Times piece about a childbirth injury suffered by millions of girls in Africa. The girls are married and pregnant at very young ages and, because their bodies are still too small to deliver full-term babies, their insides are ripped out during labor. They end up with a condition known as obstetric fistula, irreparably damaged and usually abandoned by their families. “It was a moment in our lives,” says Reavis, an employment lawyer. She and filmmaker husband Steve Engel, “had the money and felt a moral imperative.” After four years of production and a personal investment of nearly $1 million, the couple produced A Walk To Beautiful, a feature-length documentary about three girls who find their way to the Ethiopian clinic and the only doctor that can heal them with surgery. “The time and attention and funding of the film has required more personal sacrifice than we expected,” says Reavis. “But when I look back, I know the money was used for something enduring. It gives the girls a voice.”

“A Walk To Beautiful” won top honors as a Best Feature Documentary from the International Documentary Association.

Honoring the forgotten. “I have to say it took me several years not to be embarrassed by my wealth,” says Elizabeth Colton, who inherited money from a family business. She echoes the journey many women of wealth take before taking charge of the money. Today, based in San Francisco, Colton founded the International Museum of Women, an online and expanding project that offers events, exhibitions and seminars about women’s contributions and history.

“I was inspired to launch the museum because of my daughter,” says Colton. “I wanted her to have a place where she could see the value of women.”