THE WORLD’S FIERCEST FEMALE LEADERS
Fortune has released its annual list of the World’s Greatest Leaders. This year, the list is record-breaking and stands out for a very special reason- nearly 50% of the spots (23 in total!) were awarded to women! That’s a big jump from last year’s ranking, which included only 15 women. This year, the list celebrates women in government, business, activism, non-profit, and even the military. Read about these 23 exceptional women after the jump!
#49 Clare Rewcastle Brown, Editor and Founder of the Sarawak
Through her website Sarawak Report, London-based journalist Brown has become an irritant in the corridors of power in Malaysia. Her exposés on state investment fund 1MDB—publicizing the alleged siphoning of $700 million into the pockets of Prime Minister Najib Razak—have made her a hero and a villain in the country, depending on whom you ask. The government has tried to arrest her for “activities detrimental to Parliamentary democracy” and has banned her website, a move that prompted advocacy group Reporters Without Borders to unblock access and help get her revelations out.
#45 Mina Guli, CEO of Thirst
While some climate-related threats can seem abstract, water scarcity is visceral and immediate, palpable in the crunch of drought-ravaged crops or the sting of a parched throat. Guli, an Australian corporate-lawyer-turned-activist, started Thirst to educate consumers about water conservation, but this year the 45-year-old upped the ante, running 40 marathons across seven deserts on seven continents—in just seven weeks—while collecting conservation pledges online. On March 22, World Water Day, she completed her 1,048-mile journey. “Never seen a better example yet of #gobigorgohome,” tweeted a fan in Hong Kong.
#41 Melinda Gates and Susan Desmond-Hellmann, Co-Chair and CEO of the Gates Foundation
For the past 15 years, the Gates Foundation has leveraged its $44.3 billion endowment to attempt to eradicate diseases like malaria in the developing world. Under new CEO Desmond-Hellmann, a former Genentech product chief, the foundation could become an even bigger player in global health. Last year the foundation financed a prototype of a plant that converts human feces into drinkable water; meanwhile, a $1.5 billion commitment to vaccination organization Gavi will ensure that an additional 300 million children will be vaccinated by 2020.
No. 39: Amina Mohammed, Minister of Environment, Nigeria
As special adviser on post-2015 development planning to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Mohammed had to rally 193 countries to endorse the same objectives for the next 15 years. Acting as the point person for the Sustainable Development Goals, she helped bridge the divide between developing countries and First World nations, and by September all member states signed on to 17 goals related to wiping out poverty and tackling climate change. Now Nigeria’s Environment Minister, Mohammed is trying to make renewables a bigger factor in the oil-producing country’s energy strategy.
No. 38: Gina Raimondo, Governor of Rhode Island
America’s smallest state just tackled one of the country’s biggest fiscal problems. Countless state and local governments struggle with underfinanced pension plans, and Rhode Island’s was one of the worst before 2014. That’s when Gina Raimondo, then state treasurer, engineered an overhaul that slashed cost-of-living increases and pointed the system toward solvency. Public-sector unions fulminated and sued, but voters rewarded Raimondo by electing her governor. In 2015 she negotiated legal settlements that preserved her pension reforms, inspiring hope in cash-strapped statehouses everywhere.
No. 36: Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF
The former French Finance Minister fought to keep the eurozone together in her first term as managing director of the International Monetary Fund, an accomplishment that helped her earn (unopposed) another five-year term. She faces comparable challenges today, among them avoiding a debt crisis in emerging markets, keeping China committed to the path of market reforms, and persuading Congress to honor the reforms the U.S. agreed to in the wake of the 2008 crisis. That may still leave her some time for another cause she favors: boosting female workforce participation in the developing world
No. 34: Kristen Griest and Shaye Haver, U.S. Army Rangers
When Griest, a platoon leader, and Haver, an Apache helicopter pilot, enrolled in the Army’s notoriously grueling Ranger School, they were simply soldiers. When they graduated in August—the first women ever to do so—they were icons. What got them through the brutal regimen of runs, marches, and other mental and physical trials? “I was thinking really of future generations of women—that I would like them to have the opportunity,” said Griest. Their accomplishment, astounding in its own right, transformed the debate about women in warfare, proving that women can perform on the battlefield as ably as men. And that undoubtedly buttressed the Pentagon’s December decision to open all combat positions to women—without exceptions.
No. 33: Rosie Batty, Founder of the Luke Batty Foundation
On Feb. 12, 2014, 11-year-old Luke Batty was killed with a cricket bat by his own father, who was then shot and killed by police. The next day, Luke’s mother, Rosie, stood in front of television cameras and calmly said, “Family violence happens to everybody.” Thus began a nationwide road trip that has seen Batty selflessly put domestic violence on the Australian agenda in a country where one in five women has experienced sexual violence after age 15. “She moved forward the issue by a decade or more,” says Jeremy Lasek, whose government organization named Batty the Australian of the Year for 2015.
No. 28: Chai Jing, Freelance journalist in China
Smog is a daily phenomenon in every major Chinese city. But until former CCTV reporter Chai Jing released the powerful documentary Under the Dome last year on the causes of gray skies—failed government policies, feckless regulators, corruption—and their effects, including skyrocketing cancer rates, shorter life-spans, and childhood illnesses, China’s middle class had mostly taken it with a shrug. Chai’s 104-minute documentary drew 200 million views online in a week before government censors took it down. It created a groundswell of concern and anger that continues today.
No. 27: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, Co-Founders of Black Lives Matter
Modern social movements often fizzle after their moment in the national news (Occupy Wall Street comes to mind), but Black Lives Matter has steadily gained momentum since its founding in 2013. The Black Lives Matter network has grown to 28 local chapters, all fighting injustices like police brutality and racial profiling. Last year the movement inspired college students to take up the mantle with some successes (the system president and chancellor of the University of Missouri resigned over outcry that they had failed to address campus racism) and pushed presidential candidates to address the country’s systemic racial problems— an issue would-be nominees would have preferred to sidestep.
No. 25: Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress nominee
In February, President Obama nominated Hayden to lead the Library of Congress. If confirmed, she will be the first woman and the first African American to do so—and fresh leadership for a 216-year-old institution in sore need of a technological upgrade. Hayden knows plenty about sustaining a library as a relevant and inclusive institution. In Baltimore, where she has run the Enoch Pratt Free Library system for 23 years, she has modernized early and often. When violence erupted near one branch last April, Hayden kept it open—a safe, trusted space for community members.
No. 24: Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts USA
When Chávez, the first person of color to head the scouts, took the helm in 2011, the 104-year-old institution seemed to be creeping toward anachronism. Not anymore. Chávez has added new badges in fields like financial literacy and STEM education. You can now buy Girl Scout cookies online. And Chávez has teamed with the likes of Sheryl Sandberg (on a campaign to encourage leadership among girls), First Lady Michelle Obama (who recorded a scouts recruitment video), and even Chris Rock, who collected more than $65,000 during the Oscars in donations and sales of Thin Mints and Tagalongs.
No. 20: Reshma Saujani, Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code
In a TED talk in February, which has since accrued more than 800,000 views, Saujani stressed teaching girls to be brave rather than perfect. She’s well-qualified to preach that message: It took the former Wall Street attorney three tries to get into Yale Law School. Girls Who Code, which aims to get more women into computer science, is seeing plenty of early success: By the end of 2016, more than 40,000 girls will have gone through its training and internship programs. This summer, Girls Who Code will dole out $1 million in scholarships (classes are already free, but scholarships pay for transportation and other costs).
No. 17: Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina
While the most successful Republican pol builds a following by stirring resentment, Haley is proving that Trumpism isn’t the only way. South Carolina’s Indian-American governor was among the earliest in her party to call out the GOP presidential front-runner, warning against “the siren call of the angriest voices”—in a nationally televised State of the Union response, no less. Last summer, following the massacre of nine African Americans in a Charleston church, Haley engineered the removal of the Confederate flag from state capitol grounds, setting off a movement across the South to pack away the charged symbol.
No. 9: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
To say it is unlikely for a Supreme Court Justice to become a cultural icon is an understatement. But that’s exactly what has happened to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Thanks to a 2015 book that in turn expanded on a law student’s fan site on Tumblr, she is now known on the Internet, on T-shirts, and to young women everywhere as “Notorious RBG.” Deservedly praised for her intellect, skill, resilience, and strong voice on everything from voting to women’s rights…she serves as an example for us all in her ability to connect in the service of a mission more significant than one’s self-interest.
No. 10: Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh
As the only female leader among the Organization of Islamic Cooperation member states, Hasina has deftly navigated the competing demands of Islamic tradition and women’s rights. She has committed Bangladesh, the nation with the world’s fourth-largest Muslim population, to securing legal protections for women and helping them attain more education, financial freedom, and political power. About 30% of adult women in Bangladesh now have at least a secondary education—and the nation scores better on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index than any other South Asian country.
No. 7: Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
Figueres became the United Nations climate-change chief in 2010, tasked with nothing less than halting the potentially catastrophic effects of global warming. For six years she worked to convince governments that a binding agreement on limiting carbon emissions and slowing fossil fuel-led growth was in the world’s best interest. Figueres’s efforts culminated in December at the Paris climate conference, where 195 countries signed a deal committing them to limit worldwide temperature increases to no more than 2° C above pre-industrial levels, a critical if hard-to-attain benchmark.
No. 3: Aung San Suu Kyi, Leader of the National League for Democracy
Suu Kyi, the daughter of one of the founding heroes of the country’s post–World War II independence movement, returned to Myanmar from exile in 1988 to oppose the junta that had taken power in the early 1960s. She co-founded the National League for Democracy and steadfastly renounced violence, even as the military subjected her to house arrest for nearly 20 years. Her personal sacrifice gradually rallied global opinion around her cause, the more so after she won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Worn down by isolation and sanctions, the regime eventually agreed to allow free elections, which the NPD won in a landslide last November.
No. 2: Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
Angela Merkel has dominated Europe’s politics for a decade now. She is the only Continental leader whose term in office predates the 2008 financial crisis, a winner of three general elections who has also seen off countless intra-party rivals. But last year, after a decade of hard-nosed and decidedly cautious pragmatism, she became a conviction politician: She put charity and compassion ahead of Realpolitik by welcoming more than 1 million hard-pressed migrants and refugees to Germany.