By the time I was 8 I had heard the story a dozen times. My grandfather didn’t want to spend the money to buy my grandmother a sewing machine, and he argued bitterly against it. But one autumn day, she went ahead—without permission—and bought it anyway.

She went on to become an accomplished seamstress. She sewed wedding dresses for a company from Boston and did alterations for women in the next town over, where folks still had some money. Making dresses and shirts from cotton calico grain bags, she kept her kids (and the neighbors’ kids) in clothing.

As it turned out, my grandmother’s bold move saved the family: this was the fall of 1929, and the day my grandmother emptied their bank account to buy her sewing machine was the same day the banks crashed.

Living on a small farm in western Massachusetts, she and my grandfather grew much of their own food, so they would not have starved. But without an income, they would not have been able to buy coal for the furnace or kept the basics of the farm running.

Without my grandmother’s sewing machine, and her efforts, they would not have survived.

Hers is not an isolated story; women have been taking fiscal and personal responsibility for their families in moments of crisis from the beginning of time. What is different today is that, as they are gaining a majority share of global wealth for the first time in history, women are redefining how we prioritize spending as a society.

I see this happening in the world of network marketing, too, where more and more women are using their economic power to invest in causes they care about.

My friend Priscilla Harrison is a top producer in her network marketing company. Last year she entered a local “Dancing with the Stars” competition to raise funds for her favorite charity, Operation Smile ( Months of hard practice later, Priscilla took first place—and raised enough money to fund eighty-eight smile surgeries, changing the lives of those eighty-eight children forever.

Ann Duncan and Susan Marx are both former Dell executives who now pour their time and energy, when they are not busy building their network marketing business, into a non-profit Ann created called Impact Giving ( Impact Giving has a goal of joining 1,000 women together to donate $1,000 each per year to a variety of projects. In their first year the group gave over $90,000 to causes domestically and abroad.

Countless women within the network marketing community are creating a powerful legacy of giving, forming coalitions to use their money, energy and passion to better the lives of others.

Isn’t that the essence of leadership at its best?

ANA GABRIEL MANN is a former university professor
and a top producer in her network marketing company.