Supermodel's tragedy seeds global philanthropy

April 21, 2014: 8:30 AM ET

If real power is what you do beyond your platform, Petra Nemcova has attained real power.

FORTUNE -- Petra Nemcova's success is a little different from yours and mine—she's a supermodel who appeared on the cover of the 2003 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, among other well-known magazines. In 2004, Nemcova's life changed when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck Thailand, where she and her fiance were on vacation. He got swept away—his body was found months later—while the Czech-born supermodel clung to the top of a palm tree for eight hours and somehow lived to tell her story.

And so she did last week at Fortune's Most Powerful Women dinner in New York City, when she sat on stage with me to talk about Happy Hearts Fund, a charity born out of tragedy. A decade after the tsunami, Nemcova, now 34, has raised $16 million with the support of Estee Lauder's (EL) Clinique brand, jeweler Chopard, Microsoft (MSFT), SAP (SAP) and United Airlines (UAL) to help children in areas impacted by natural disasters. Here she talks about building 85 disaster-proof schools in seven countries, and that is just the beginning of her mission...

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