Welcome to Foreign Policy’s annual list of the 100 top Global Thinkers.
The group below comprises 7 thinkers who have had enormous impact on the world in the past decade.
The full list of 100 will be released on Tuesday, Jan. 22—the day our Global Thinkers special edition magazine goes online and into subscriber mailboxes. Until then, we’ll be revealing names from each category every day. Check back in as the list grows (and see if you can guess the names before they are announced).
THE TOP 7 OF THE LAST 10 YEARS
Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House showed what an intellectual can and cannot achieve in the world’s most powerful office. His much-maligned but deeply deliberative approach to decision-making helped steer the global economy through its worst crisis since the Great Depression. His renewed emphasis on diplomacy secured a nuclear agreement with Iran, a global compact on climate change, and a fresh arms reduction treaty with Russia. To be sure, Obama’s presidency had many flaws—most notably its failure to adequately address the Syrian civil war. But the importance of Obama’s accomplishments, and of the eloquence and dignity with which he went about his day-to-day work, grows more evident every time his successor holds a press conference or types a tweet.
CO-FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN, ALIBABA
Few people can claim to have transformed an entire society. Jack Ma can make a credible case. Alibaba, the e-commerce company he founded in 1999, has enabled businesses to reach once inaccessible consumers, bringing a generation of Chinese citizens into contact with domestic and international markets and helping to fuel China’s breakneck growth. Through its innovations in supply chain logistics and its leading role in Chinese research on artificial intelligence, Ma’s Alibaba symbolizes how a company can give an entire generation access to online business opportunities—and help turn a once poor country into a superpower.
MANAGING DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND
Since taking over the International Monetary Fund’s top job in 2011, Christine Lagarde has spent her time in office dispensing tough love. The strict conditions she attached to bailouts for countries such as Greece and Ukraine haven’t won her many friends but have helped calm international markets during a turbulent decade. In an era when skepticism toward international institutions is growing, Lagarde has time and again proved the importance of the fund’s role as a lender of last resort, even while trying to retool it as a champion of progressive policies on climate change and inequality. Her aim: to prevent crises before they happen.
EUROPEAN COMMISSIONER FOR COMPETITION
By levying massive fines against Google, Apple, Facebook, and the like, Margrethe Vestager has positioned herself as the world’s leading antitrust regulator. Her work at the European Commission has never been more important. With U.S. officials reluctant to punish American tech giants for their abuse of customer data, monopolistic tactics, and shady tax dealings, Vestager has taken a lonely stand for digital transparency and consumer rights—helping to launch a movement for reform that is now taking off in Europe.
AUTHOR AND TV HOST
One of the most influential foreign-policy analysts for almost two decades, Fareed Zakaria has proved prescient on subjects including the decline of U.S. power, the rise of the rest, and the spread of illiberal democracy. As the U.S. media continues to grow more insular, his CNN show, Fareed Zakaria GPS, now in its 11th year, remains a rare haven of smart takes on world affairs. The Indian-born Zakaria’s success offers hope that readers and viewers still want intelligent coverage of global events—even if fewer and fewer outlets are willing to provide it.
Bill and Melinda Gates
CO-CHAIRS, BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION
The scale of Bill and Melinda Gates’s philanthropy is simply astounding. Since its creation in 2000, the couple’s eponymous foundation has paid out some $46 billion to its grantees and inspired legions of other ultra-rich citizens to donate their wealth to charitable causes. Though criticized for its lack of transparency and outsize influence over global health spending, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has stepped in to provide funding for public health initiatives around the world at a time when the gap between rich and poor is growing ever larger and governments’ foreign aid budgets are shrinking.
FOUNDER AND CEO, AMAZON
What started out as an online bookstore in 1994 now touches just about every aspect of commerce, revolutionizing how people around the world browse and shop for all kinds of products. Today, Amazon is one of the world’s five biggest companies in terms of market capitalization, and its stock valuation has turned Jeff Bezos into the richest man in modern history. Bezos plans to use the money to expand Amazon’s reach, develop more innovations like the voice-activated virtual assistant Alexa, and conduct research into artificial intelligence and cloud computing. He has also made forays into space travel and mass media: Since buying the Washington Post in 2013, Bezos has pumped big money into the paper, helping to turn it into a key chronicler of the Trump administration.