2019 Global Thinkers

2019
Global Thinkers

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s annual list of the top 100 Global Thinkers.

2019 marks the 10th anniversary of this special edition, so we’ve decided to split the list into 10 categories of 10. The first group comprises thinkers who have had enormous impact on the world in the past decade. The other groups are for people who have been influential in the past year: thinkers and doers 40 and under, as well as those in defense and security, energy and climate, technology, economics and business, science and health, and activism and the arts. We reserved 10 spots to be picked by our readers. And, finally, we have a group of 10 great minds who died in 2018.

The full list of 100 releases 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 10 of the Last 10 Years

Angela Merkel Chancellor of Germany

Barack Obama Former President of the United States of America

Jack Ma Co-founder and executive chairman, Alibaba

The Women of the #MeToo Movement

Christine Lagarde Managing Director, International Monetary Fund

Margrethe Vestager European Commissioner for Competition

Fareed Zakaria Author and TV host

Bill and Melinda Gates Co-chairs, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Jeff Bezos Founder and CEO, Amazon

Check back tomorrow for another thinker.

40 & Under

Jacinda Ardern Prime Minister of New Zealand

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez U.S. Representative from New York

Other thinkers to be announced Jan. 22.

Activism & the Arts

Bobi Wine Singer and politician

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo Reuters journalists

Other thinkers to be announced Jan. 22.

Science & Health

Leana Wen President, Planned Parenthood

Carlo Rovelli Theoretical physicist and writer

Other thinkers to be announced Jan. 22.

Energy & Climate

Amitav Ghosh Writer

Katharine Hayhoe Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University

Other thinkers to be announced Jan. 22.

Technology

Yuval Noah Harari Author and futurist

Kai-Fu Lee Venture capitalist and writer

Mukesh Ambani Chairman and Managing Director, Reliance Industries

Other thinkers to be announced Jan. 22.

Defense & Security

Olga Sánchez Cordero Interior Secretary of Mexico

Eliot Higgins Journalist and founder of Bellingcat

Two early nominees to be announced Jan. 15.

Readers' Choices

Janelle Monáe

Michelle Bachelet United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Two early nominees to be announced Jan. 16.

Economics & Business

Gina Miller Businesswoman and activist

Adam Tooze Professor of history at Columbia University

Chrystia Freeland Foreign Affairs Minister of Canada

Two early nominees to be announced Jan. 17.

The Departed

Jamal Khashoggi 1958-2018 | Journalist

Anthony Bourdain 1956-2018 | Writer and TV host

Two early nominees to be announced Jan. 18.

The Top 10 of the Last 10 Years

Angela Merkel

Chancellor of Germany

Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy
Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy

During her 13 years in office, Angela Merkel has held together the European project through canny pragmatism and force of will. Where other politicians might have buckled, she navigated the hazardous eurozone crisis and stood up for the rights of refugees. Along the way, Merkel also crafted a new strategic role for Germany as the political and moral leader of a fractured West. Now, in the autumn of her political career, the chancellor finds herself buffeted by rising nationalism—raising the question of whether her legacy will be celebrated or discarded.

Barack Obama

Former President of the United States of America

Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy
Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy

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.

Jack Ma

Co-founder and executive chairman, Alibaba

Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy
Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy

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.

The Women of the #MeToo Movement

Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy
Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy

The thousands of people who in 2017 and 2018 dared to discuss their experiences with sexual assault and harassment have ensured that victims can no longer be ignored. This uncoordinated army has brought down titans of media, business, and politics, first in the United States and then around the world. For all the changes wrought by the #MeToo movement, however, the reckoning remains partial, and all the brave testimony—and the backlash it provoked—has revealed just how much still needs to change.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/Foreign Policy illustration
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/Foreign Policy illustration

Christine Lagarde

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.

Jesse Dittmar for Foreign Policy
Jesse Dittmar for Foreign Policy

Margrethe Vestager

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.

Fareed Zakaria

Author and TV host

Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy
Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy

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.

Vincent Capman/Paris Match/Contour by Getty Images
Vincent Capman/Paris Match/Contour by Getty Images

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.

Jeff Bezos

Founder and CEO, Amazon

Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy
Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy

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.

Check back tomorrow for another thinker.

40 & Under

Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister of New Zealand

Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy
Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy

Jacinda Ardern, 38 years old, embodies a progressive political counterexample to the age of Donald Trump, one built on inclusiveness and equal rights. In her short time in office—she became New Zealand’s prime minister in October 2017 and then took a six-week maternity leave starting in June 2018—she has championed social welfare reform and stepped up health and education spending while also embracing New Zealand’s indigenous population by pledging to ensure that the Maori language is taught in all schools by 2025.

Patrick Semansky/AP
Patrick Semansky/AP

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

U.S. Representative from New York

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez channeled the rage triggered by Donald Trump’s presidency into something that was once almost unthinkable in the United States: victory by a 29-year-old Latina democratic socialist over a white male Democratic Party machine politician. Now the youngest woman to ever serve in the U.S. Congress, she stands at the forefront of a newly resurgent progressive movement, whose candidates are winning elections on pledges of universal health care, a federal jobs guarantee, and criminal justice reform.

Other thinkers to be announced Jan. 22.

Activism & the Arts

Riccardo Vecchio Imprints illustration for Foreign Policy
Riccardo Vecchio Imprints illustration for Foreign Policy

Bobi Wine

Singer and politician

Uganda’s firebrand singer-turned-politician grew up poor in Kampala. Today, he represents a section of the city as a member of parliament. Bobi Wine, born Robert Kyagulanyi, has rallied Uganda’s youth by arguing against a proposed social media tax and fighting for the dignity of the poor. Ugandan soldiers attempted to silence Wine in August 2018, first beating him brutally and then bringing him to trial for treason in a military court, although he is a civilian. Wine recovered, picked up attention in the international media, and his “people power” campaign continues, undeterred.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo

Reuters journalists

Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy
Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy

2018 was a grim year for the freedom and safety of journalists around the world. In one of the year’s landmark cases, the reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were jailed for their investigation into the ongoing violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar. Their reporting from the country’s Rakhine state provided hard evidence that government forces had killed 10 Rohingya men. Prosecutors charged them with a violation of the country’s Official Secrets Act for being in possession of documents that the police gave them shortly before their arrest. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are now set to serve seven years in prison for daring to tell the truth. They are not alone. As of Dec. 1, 2018, at least 251 journalists across the globe were imprisoned in connection to their work, according to the Committee to Project Journalists. Dozens of others were killed. This widespread crackdown on the press shows no signs of subsiding.

Other thinkers to be announced Jan. 22.

Science & Health

Riccardo Vecchio Imprints illustration for Foreign Policy
Riccardo Vecchio Imprints illustration for Foreign Policy

Leana Wen

President, Planned Parenthood

At a time when conservative critics are pushing to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, Leana Wen—named in September 2018 to run the leading provider of reproductive health services in the United States—has a big fight ahead of her. Her track record suggests that she is up to the challenge. As health commissioner of Baltimore, Wen won a lawsuit that resulted in a judge ordering the Trump administration to restore $5 million in grant funding for pregnancy prevention programs.

Carlo Rovelli

Theoretical physicist and writer

Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy
Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy

Carlo Rovelli’s professional colleagues rarely prioritize writing for lay readers, but the Italian theoretical physicist has done just that. In 2018, he changed the way we understood time with his book The Order of Time. In it, Rovelli argues that time doesn’t flow forward, like a river. Instead, he contends, humans constantly project a more multifaceted sense of time. Both space and time are therefore malleable. It’s mind-melting stuff, but if Rovelli has his way, the world will be wrangling with this complexity.

Other thinkers to be announced Jan. 22.

Energy & Climate

Amitav Ghosh

Writer

Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy
Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy

Amitav Ghosh is best known for his intricate works of historical fiction, often set in or around his native India. But his 2016 book, The Great Derangement, is a searing piece of nonfiction that questions why writers and artists consistently fail to use environmental disasters as centerpieces in their stories. Ghosh blames these omissions for the lack of public will to confront climate change—a point he tirelessly reiterates in speeches around the world.

Lexey Swall
Lexey Swall

Katharine Hayhoe

Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University

Throughout her career, Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian and atmospheric scientist, has found ways to connect scripture with the data behind global warming. In doing so, she has bridged gaps among scientists, policymakers, and religious communities and continues to gain accolades for her fight against climate change. Given America’s growing political polarization, her work is more important today than ever before.

Other thinkers to be announced Jan. 22.

Technology

Yuval Noah Harari

Author and futurist

Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy
Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy

In his 2011 best-seller, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari argues that humans have been successful as a species because of our ability to believe in collective shared fictions, such as money. Since then, the interdisciplinary historian has turned to bold proposals for a frightening new world—such as how we might respond ethically to self-driving cars and the need for a new Manhattan Project to address looming environmental crises.

Kai-Fu Lee

Venture capitalist and writer

Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy
Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy

Known for his early innovations in speech recognition, this veteran of Apple, Microsoft, and Google—and the founder of the venture capital fund Sinovation Ventures—asserts that artificial intelligence and humankind can coexist but only if we fundamentally change our concept of work. In his 2018 book, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, Kai-Fu Lee also argues that, thanks to its supercharged start-up culture, China will surge ahead of the United States in the great tech race.

Riccardo Vecchio Imprints illustration for Foreign Policy
Riccardo Vecchio Imprints illustration for Foreign Policy

Mukesh Ambani

Chairman and Managing Director, Reliance Industries

With a fortune of $44.3 billion, Mukesh Ambani displaced Jack Ma in 2018 as Asia’s richest man. Ambani’s fortune comes from his holdings in the oil, gas, and retail sectors, but he’s likely to make his biggest impact on India through his new telecom venture Jio. By offering cellular data and voice free for the first six months after Jio’s launch, Ambani got more than 100 million Indians to sign up—accelerating a smartphone internet revolution in the world’s largest democracy. The next stage of Ambani’s plan is to use the digital airwaves to sell content and lifestyle products, eventually competing with Google and Facebook.

Other thinkers to be announced Jan. 22.

Defense & Security

Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images
Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

Olga Sánchez Cordero

Interior Secretary of Mexico

Olga Sánchez Cordero is one of the most influential voices in President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s cabinet and has promised to find new ways to reduce the high death toll of Mexico’s drug war. She is on the front lines of the new government’s plans to decriminalize drugs, sideline the military from day-to-day law enforcement, and offer amnesty to nonviolent offenders. A former supreme court justice who has supported limits on presidential power, Sánchez Cordero is the first woman to serve as her country’s interior secretary.

Claudia Leisinger for Foreign Policy
Claudia Leisinger for Foreign Policy

Eliot Higgins

Journalist and founder of Bellingcat

Eliot Higgins has shown that a laptop with access to social media, YouTube, and Google Maps can reveal more about far-flung wars than government intelligence agencies can. And it all began with Bellingcat, a website he launched in 2014 through a successful Kickstarter campaign. After breakthrough revelations from battlefields in Ukraine and Syria, Higgins used open-source intelligence in 2018 to track down the identities of two Russian operatives who allegedly poisoned the former spy Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom.

Two early nominees to be announced Jan. 15.

Readers' Choices

Janelle Monáe

Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy
Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy

An award-winning musician, model, and actress, Janelle Monáe consistently busts stereotypes as a queer black woman in the United States. And while her career has been in full swing for more than a decade, the 2018 release of Monáe’s album Dirty Computer—along with her film of the same name—shows the artist overcoming shame, fear, and feelings of disempowerment with the sheer force of her creativity.

Michelle Bachelet

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy
Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy

The former Chilean president assumed her new role at the United Nations in September 2018 and immediately called out Myanmar for its atrocities against the Rohingya. Michelle Bachelet has an important job under normal circumstances, but her role is even more crucial given how basic human rights are coming under severe threat in so many parts of the world today.

Two early nominees to be announced Jan. 16.

Economics & Business

Gina Miller in London on Nov. 29, 2016. (Dylan Martinez/Reuters)
Gina Miller in London on Nov. 29, 2016. (Dylan Martinez/Reuters)

Gina Miller

Businesswoman and activist

Few people can claim to have fought a government in court and won. Gina Miller can: In 2016, she successfully challenged the British government’s right to implement Brexit without a vote in Parliament. The Brexit process has since continued, but this Guyanese-British businesswoman isn’t giving up: Miller has raised funds to back electoral candidates opposed to a hard Brexit. She also stood up to intense online abuse, racism, and death threats and emerged with a 2018 memoir, fittingly titled Rise: Life Lessons in Speaking Out, Standing Tall & Leading the Way.

Adam Tooze

Professor of history at Columbia University

Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy
Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy

Adam Tooze wants you to know that the markets are not immune to the rise of populism and other political developments. In his 2018 book, Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the WorldTooze argues that the global economy is shaped by geopolitics, connecting banking and debt crises to annexations, referendums, and elections. “What we face is not repetition but mutation and metastasis,” he writes of the global recession. 

Chrystia Freeland

Foreign Affairs Minister of Canada

Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy
Lauren Tamaki illustration for Foreign Policy

In 2013, Chrystia Freeland left a successful career in journalism to enter Canadian politics. The gamble paid off: Within two years, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named her minister of international trade and then of foreign affairs. As one of Canada’s leading voices on the world stage, Freeland has emerged as a key defender of a liberal, rules-based international system, speaking out for fair trade policies and against human rights violations. In 2018, Foreign Policy named Freeland Diplomat of the Year.

Two early nominees to be announced Jan. 17.

The Departed

Jamal Khashoggi

1958-2018 | Journalist

khashoggi-illo

Jamal Khashoggi’s Washington Post columns were grounded in a central hope for his native Saudi Arabia: a future marked by greater freedom. Khashoggi came of age as an Islamist but later embraced democratic reforms. He exposed the corruption at the heart of the Saudi government and advocated for political change across the Arab world. A onetime confidant of the Saudi royal court, Khashoggi was killed, allegedly by operatives linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in October 2018 while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Anthony Bourdain

1956-2018 | Writer and TV host

bourdain-illo

Anthony Bourdain’s love of food became the lens through which he understood the world. A chef-turned-memoirist-turned-CNN host, Bourdain traveled widely and relentlessly, eating whatever was put in front of him and interviewing the people who had made it. His genuine interest in ordinary people informed his journalism, which elevated the stories of marginalized people and their cuisines. That concern for everyday men and women also informed his politics. “Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands,” he wrote in 2001.

Two early nominees to be announced Jan. 18.