The leading global thinkers of 2016

FP

the leading global thinkers of 2016

THE CASE FOR OPTIMISM

An ugly strain of populism reared its head in America this year. After months of spewing sexist, racist, homophobic, and xenophobic rhetoric, Donald Trump stunned pollsters—and the citizens whose ballots earned Hillary Clinton the popular vote—by winning the White House. Nativist politics won out, and Americans joined other populations, including Brexit supporters and Colombians who rejected the long-awaited peace deal, in voting against their self-interest. Through democratic means, fear surpassed reason repeatedly in 2016, leaving many wondering who will handle the unprecedented crises that the world faces—the war in Syria, mass migration, climate change—and how.

Yet all is not lost. The Global Thinkers honored here are proof that, as a society’s pillars falter, individuals step in to bear the weight. The honorees demonstrated how private citizens can ease the suffering of others. They subverted traditional power structures to craft solutions to social, economic, and environmental problems. They pledged personal wealth to create a safer, healthier future for all.

The 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2016 are emblematic of our innate desire to confront pessimism rather than surrender to despair, to challenge ugliness rather than resign to failure. In a moment of great uncertainty, they should serve as reminders that humanity has the power to hold leaders to account, to defy corrupt regimes, and to provide one another opportunity and solace when states cannot. They live by the scriptural exhortation that Hillary Clinton quoted in her concession speech, and which all those who believe in progress should take to heart: “Let us not grow weary.”

—The Editors; Photograph by Mauricio Alejo

the decisionmakers

Plowing through political roadblocks, these leaders rejected hand-wringing over the past year. The German chancellor and Canadian prime minister welcomed refugees with swift decisiveness. Just as sure-footed, America’s top lawyer delivered a pledge to beleaguered transgender citizens that the government is on their side. Taiwan’s president would not kowtow to China, while a U.N. secretary-general, fearing a Trumpian dystopia, set a speed record in international lawmaking. In the United States, a woman was finally nominated as a major-party candidate for president, carrying herself with grace amid the electoral muck.

  • HILLARY CLINTON

    DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE FOR U.S. PRESIDENT/CHAPPAQUA, NEW YORK

    For going high when others go low.

  • BAN KI-MOON

    U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL/NEW YORK CITY

    For outrunning Donald Trump to save the planet.

  • ANGELA MERKEL

    CHANCELLOR/GERMANY

    For keeping the doors ajar.

  • LORETTA LYNCH

    U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL/WASHINGTON, D.C.

    For lambasting the new Jim Crow.

  • SUSHMA SWARAJ

    EXTERNAL AFFAIRS MINISTER/INDIA

    For fashioning a novel brand of Twitter diplomacy.

  • JOKO WIDODO

    PRESIDENT/INDONESIA

    For forging a shaky path toward historical reckoning.

  • JUSTIN TRUDEAU

    PRIME MINISTER/CANADA

    For designing a humane refugee policy.

  • NICOLA STURGEON

    LEADER, SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY/UNITED KINGDOM

    For weathering Brexit.

  • TSAI ING-WEN

    PRESIDENT/TAIWAN

    For poking the bear.

  • NAYIB BUKELE

    MAYOR, SAN SALVADOR/EL SALVADOR

    For plotting an urban face-lift.

  • YURIKO KOIKE

    GOVERNOR/TOKYO

    For taking on a political boys’ club.

  • SADIQ KHAN

    MAYOR, LONDON/UNITED KINGDOM

    For safeguarding London’s moral compass.

  • JIN LIQUN

    PRESIDENT, ASIAN INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT BANK/CHINA

    For orchestrating a new power grab.

  • RASMUS HANSSON

    PARLIAMENTARIAN/NORWAY

    For cultivating Oslo’s green bona fides.

  • CAROLYN BENNETT AND MARION BULLER

    MINISTER OF INDIGENOUS AND NORTHERN AFFAIRS AND JUDGE/CANADA

    For probing a history of violence.

 

the challengers

Like a coat of many colors, these individuals showed that agitation takes myriad forms. A runner broke Olympic protocol to stage a solo protest. A bureaucrat searched for solutions to religious radicalization in France’s prisons. In Saudi Arabia, a woman registered to run for office; in the Philippines, a transgender woman won an election. If starting a political party premised on self-determination in Hong Kong is daring, and facing down a homophobic Catholic cardinal is brave, then kindling a nationwide movement against Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe with a Facebook video is downright revolutionary.

the innovators

What if specially engineered shoes could fend off mosquitoes or a tractor-sharing App could put money in Nigerian farmers’ pockets? These are just two of the questions innovators were bold enough to ask—and answer—this year. They taught a new generation of robots to perform millions of tasks. they mixed carbon dioxide and sunshine to make cheap, clean fuel. And in just 15 hours, they fashioned a device that can convert printed words to Braille. Collectively, these thinkers asked one fundamental question: What does the world need next?

the artists

Finding beauty in the jarring, the weird, and the radical is what defines these thinkers. An architect’s body of work promoted economic equality alongside award-winning aesthetics. A muralist honored trash collectors by scribbling on the walls of their slum. A choreographer spoke to queer African experiences through Russian ballet. A new-media maven used 3-D printing to heal cultural scars inflicted by

the Islamic State, while a samba star cast a spotlight on Brazil’s social and economic struggles. Hatred, violence, and poverty may be enduring ills, but artistic pushback is eternal.

  • RIZWAN AHMED AND HIMANSHU SURI

    RAPPERS/UNITED KINGDOM AND NEW YORK CITY

    For protesting xenophobia with verse.

  • MOREHSHIN ALLAHYARI

    ARTIST/OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA

    For saving heritage on a Zip drive.

  • ALEJANDRO ARAVENA

    ARCHITECT/CHILE

    For drafting the blueprints of social change.

  • ANOHNI

    SINGER/NEW YORK CITY

    For injecting new rhythms into politics.

  • EL SEED

    MURALIST/UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

    For tearing down walls by painting them.

  • IVO VAN HOVE

    THEATER DIRECTOR/NETHERLANDS

    For unmasking fear from the stage.

  • VANESSA LUCAS-SMITH

    CELLIST/UNITED KINGDOM

    For composing songs of displacement.

  • DADA MASILO

    CHOREOGRAPHER/SOUTH AFRICA

    For spotlighting diversity in dance.

  • WALID RAAD

    CONCEPTUAL ARTIST/NEW YORK CITY

    For blurring the line between fact and fiction.

  • ELZA SOARES

    SAMBA SINGER/BRAZIL

    For defying social odds.

  • WARSAN SHIRE

    POET/UNITED KINGDOM

    For flavoring Lemonade with fervor.

the advocates

Beyond protecting and defending, these individuals empowered. They gave underrepresented minorities a foothold in Silicon Valley and refugees one in the Olympics. They showcased diverse immigrant fare on France’s culinary scene. They identified unlikely channels—in Guinean beauty salons and on Sesame Street—for building healthier, more tolerant societies. In cases when they could not empower, these people fought with words, demanding justice for victims of the Islamic State’s sexual violence and for Americans who simply want a glass of clean drinking water.

the chroniclers

These thinkers’ narratives gripped emotions and moved ideological mountains, documenting the daily tribulations of immigrants in the United Kingdom, the queer subcultures of the Arab world, and environmental degradation in the Niger Delta. While one deployed outlandish verse to challenge an unjust German statute, others unsettled audiences with chilling nuclear-age films. Whether with an Orwellian take on authoritarianism in Egypt or poetic reinventions of the English language through the lens of alienation, they all broke conventions. Yet they produced work that felt relevant, accessible, and urgent.

the moguls

These thinkers put their money where their morality is. Facebook’s first president dedicated $250 million to curing cancer; not to be outdone, the website’s founder and his physician spouse stepped up with $3 billion geared toward wiping out disease—all of it—in the next century. Other generous global citizens put capital in the hands of African-American and Latino entrepreneurs, connecting them to high-growth markets; gave Arab women a vital forum in an Oprah-style talk show; boosted Aboriginal Australians’ visibility in TV comedies and dramas; and spread educational excellence to rural villages in India.

the stewards

Doing laundry: That is how one thinker responded to the refugee crisis in Greece and the waste it creates. The result was a program that provides new arrivals with clothing and local workers with employment. Other stewards planted themselves between precious resources and seemingly unstoppable industrial forces—from a North Dakota pipeline to a Honduran dam to a Chinese river. Others turned pollution into art. In some cases, these thinkers paid a high price for their actions. Collectively, they were the sort of preservationists the world desperately needs.

the healers

In many ways, the health gap is only widening as medicine advances. New drugs, treatments, and facilities are often available only for the few with money and access, not the many in need. The individuals in this category want to close the chasm. A white-helmeted army of volunteers protect civilians in Syria. Western doctors connect instantly with peers and underserved patients in distant nations. A young researcher demonstrating a groundbreaking method of defeating antibiotic resistance may be less sexy than Grindr providing health information to at-risk queer populations from Lebanon to California—both, though, are powerful expressions of love.

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