Over the past two weeks, we’ve been searching far and wide for passionate professionals who are doing big things. Innovators who are shaking up the status quo in their fields. Leaders who are working hard to change the world. People who are doing something that matters.
With your help, we found them: 50 amazing people from all backgrounds, industries, and corners of the world who are doing amazing things in so many ways. And today, we’re sharing their stories with you.
From teenage inventors to world-renowned researchers to people shaking up the business and nonprofit worlds, prepare to be seriously inspired by these fearless minds who are changing the world—for the better.
1. Jake Andraka
The 15-year old won the grand prize of the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for developing an inexpensive way to detect the presence of cancer—an idea that came to him in biology class after a friend died of pancreatic cancer.
2. Angela Benton
As CEO of Black Web Media and the founder of NewME, a startup accelerator for minority and underrepresented entrepreneurs, Benton has become known worldwide as a change maker and voice for minorities in technology.
3. Adam Braun
After meeting a young boy begging on the streets who wanted nothing more than a pencil, Braun founded Pencils of Promise, a nonprofit organization that builds schools and increases access to education for children in the developing world.
4. Daniel Brusilovsky
The 20-year-old entrepreneur founded Teens in Tech Labs to provide resources, conferences, and an incubator to young people interested in tech. Meanwhile, he sold his own company to Skype and recently joined social selling platform Ribbon.
5. Kimberly Bryant
Bryant was always passionate about science and engineering, but felt culturally out of place in her classes: Few classmates look like her. By founding Black Girls Code, she’s hoping to change that norm by encouraging girls and pre-teens of color to enter the field.
6. Homaro Cantu
The world-renowned chef is also known for his company, Cantu Designs, which develops alternative energy technologies that reduce our carbon footprint, and his use of a berry that changes the way food tastes and could dramatically improve health.
7. Cindy Chang
The medical student has “conducted research that’s already changed the way that nutrition supplements are distributed in Africa by the United Nations…and found a cheaper nutritional supplement [that] was just as good as more expensive options,” according to Forbes.
8. Alex Charfen
Forced to declare bankruptcy after the real estate collapse of the ’90s, mortgage broker Charfen founded the Distressed Property Institute, which taught other realtors what he had learned. He now runs The Charfen Institute, which helps small businesses find stability and success.
9. Brian Chesky
The founder and CEO of Airbnb, Chesky’s goal is to transform the way we live and stay. In recent weeks, he’s spent his time fearlessly battling the state of New York to ensure his users can keep using the service they love.
10. Yael Cohen
When Cohen’s mom was diagnosed with cancer, she couldn’t find any community online that expressed the way she was feeling, so she founded one: Fuck Cancer. Now the nonprofit’s CEO and “Chief Cancer Fucker,” she’s seen as the fearless leader of people fighting cancer.
11. Cesar Conde
The NBCUniversal executive has dedicated his career to increasing educational opportunities for the Hispanic community, founding an education nonprofit in 2005 and spearheading a comprehensive education campaign while at Spanish network Univision.
12. Fabien Cousteau
The grandson of famed explorer Jacques Cousteau, Cousteau has spent his life educating the world about endangered marine habitats and ocean conservation through speaking, writing, and filmmaking.
13. Keya Dannenbaum
The founder and CEO of ElectNext, Dannenbaum is aiming to change the way citizens learn about politics and issues and the way thought leaders and experts communicate with their audiences.
14. Leslie Dewan
Named by the MIT Technology Review as one of 35 Innovators Under 35 and to Forbes’ list of 30 Under 30 in Energy, Leslie Dewan “has a plan to power the entire United States, with zero carbon emissions, for the next 100 years while simultaneously getting rid of our mountains of nuclear waste.”
15. Mallika Dutt
Dutt is the founder of global human rights organization Breakthrough, which seeks to challenge violence and discrimination against women through groundbreaking multimedia, social media, and community engagement campaigns.
16. Danielle Fong
The 25-year-old founder of LightSail Energy is working on what experts call game-changing and greentech’s holy grail: an economical way to store wind and solar power so that clean energy can compete with fossil fuels.
17. Eric Greitens
Eric Greitens is a Navy SEAL and CEO of The Mission Continues, which offers fellowships to veterans who want to work in nonprofits. A speaker on leading with strength and compassion through adverse circumstances, Greitens’ goal is to change how the U.S. views its veterans.
18. Shaila Ittycheria
As a Microsoft executive, Ittycheria noticed that graduates lacked the skills necessary for the workplace and didn’t have experience that illustrated their potential. So she founded Enstitute, “the first national apprenticeship program for 21st century careers in business, technology, design, and entrepreneurship.”
19. Leila Janah
A social entrepreneur dedicated to social justice worldwide, Janah is the founder and CEO of Samasource, a nonprofit that helps impoverished people find digital work, and Samahope, a crowdfunding site for medical treatments in developing countries.
20. David Jay
The fashion photographer is the creator of The SCAR Project, a collection of strikingly real photos of breast cancer survivors (that Facebook has threatened to ban). His newest project, The Unknown Soldier Project, showcases veterans who have been injured in combat.
21. Natalie Jesionka
As a lecturer, reporter, advocate, founder of the PRIZM Project, a global network that equips young women to be powerful voices for human rights, and founder of ethical travel magazine Shatter the Looking Glass, Jesionka has dedicated her life to educating others about global human rights.
22. Fawzia Koofi
Left out to die in the sun as a baby, the lawmaker and women’s rights activist became the first female deputy speaker of the Afghan Parliament. She is running for President of Afghanistan in 2014.
23. Cathy Lanier
A junior high school dropout and mother at the age of 15, Lanier overcame her early adversity and rose to become the Chief of Police of Washington, DC. She was the first woman to be appointed to the position.
24. Nancy Lublin
In 1995, Lublin created Dress for Success with the help of a $5,000 inheritance. Now, she’s the CEO and “Chief Old Person” of DoSomething.org, a platform that inspires and empowers young people to take action on something they care about.
25. Ashwin Mahesh
Astronomer-turned-social technologist Mahesh helps citizens shape their cities for the better. “He combines business, politics, pragmatism, and social vision in improbable ways… If you ever think a problem is intractable, you just have to look at Ash’s work to be inspired,” says Wired.
26. Emily May
May, who’s been named a Woman Making History by the Women’s Media Center and a “Hero Among Us” by People, co-founded digital platform Hollaback! in 2005 to give women and LGBTQ folks an empowered response to street harassment.
27. Susan McPherson
A corporate social responsibility expert, “McPherson has spent her career focusing on the intersection between business and social good, pushing corporations to dramatically enhance their responsibility to their communities, employees, and the broader world,” says one nominator.
28. Aimee Mullins
The actress, Paralympic athlete, and model was born with a medical condition that required amputation of both of her lower legs. Now, she is an advocate and prominent speaker on prosthetic innovation.
29. Alaa Murabit
Once put on Libya’s list of most wanted women, Murabit is the president and founder of the Voice of Libyan Women, an organization created in the wake of the 2011 Libyan uprising to advocate for the rights of women.
30. Josh Nesbit
He thought he would be a doctor, but Nesbit was inspired by a trip abroad and co-founded Medic Mobile, a nonprofit that seeks to improve health in underserved communities by connecting people with medical professionals using mobile technology.
31. Binta Niambi Brown
The corporate lawyer, startup advisor, and “power fundraiser” has focused her talents on advancing the cause of women and girls, the arts, and reduced legal barriers to innovation and emerging business models. She also runs a significant global pro bono practice focused on human rights advocacy.
32. Diana Nyad
The legendary swimmer, world record holder, and “toughest athlete in the world,” Nyad became the first person to ever complete the swim from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage. She regularly swims to raise money for charities and is a lauded motivational speaker.
33. Ed O’Bannon
The retired NBA player is leading an unprecedented class action lawsuit against the NCAA over the organization’s use of former student images, which could drastically change the way players are compensated.
34. Caitria O’Neill
When a tornado hit her hometown, O’Neill, like most, didn’t know much about disaster relief recovery. But the experience inspired her to found Recovers.org, an “easy-to-use software that empowers communities to prepare together, mitigate risk, and locally match resources with needs.”
35. Jonah Peretti
Peretti (also a co-founder of The Huffington Post) launched Buzzfeed in 2006 as an experimental lab. Since then, the site has exploded into “the media company for the social age,” transforming how people read and share media.
36. Hosain Rahman
The founder and CEO of Jawbone, the company that brought us JAMBOX and the Jawbone mobile health and wellness system, Rahman is regularly seen as a key leader in the future of product design and wearable computing.
37. Mark Ramadan
Determined to give the world a better ketchup, Ramadan has gone up against “the last food monopoly,” Heinz, with his line of gourmet condiments, Sir Kensington’s. The brand is now sold in Whole Foods, Williams-Sonoma, and more.
38. Jessica Richman
Serial entrepreneur Richman is now the founder of uBiome, a company that helps people investigate their personal microbiome (healthy bacteria) to learn more about their health. The company raised $350,000 in the largest citizen science crowdfunding campaign ever.
39. Allyson Robinson
A human rights activist specializing in LGBT rights, Robinson served as the first executive director of OutServe-SLDN, a network of LGBT actively serving military personnel. In assuming that role, she also became first transgender person to head a national LGBT rights organization with a non-explicit transgender focus.
40. Alec Ross
Ross served as Senior Advisor for Innovation under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, leading the agency’s efforts to uncover technology solutions for healthcare, poverty, and human rights challenges, and is currently writing a book on the future of globalization.
41. Laura Schewel
An expert in sustainable transportation, Schewel wanted to learn how people moved though cities. So, she founded a company, convinced cellular providers to sell it their data, and aggregates those signals into usable data that can help transform city planning.
42. Premal Shah
While working at PayPal, Shah was fascinated by microfinance and the developing world and eventually left to help fund leading microfinance organization Kiva. Shah is seen as a leading social entrepreneur and has been recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
43. Nate Silver
A fearless and incredible mind, Silver is a statistician who analyzes sports games and elections and is best known for correctly predicting 49 of the 50 state outcomes in the 2008 election. This year, he and his blog FiveThirtyEight left The New York Times and joined ESPN.
44. Hilda Solis
When Hilda Solis was in high school, her career counselor told her she wasn’t “college material” and that she should become a secretary. Turns out, she did: The U.S. Secretary of Labor. After leaving the role in January, she has been involved in state and local politics in California.
45. Laura Stachel
After witnessing deplorable birthing conditions in Nigeria, the doctor and founder of WE CARE Solar created a “solar suitcase” to help healthcare workers deliver babies safely in developing countries.
46. Halle Tecco
Concerned that tech, not health, was getting the newest generation of brilliant minds, Tecco founded healthcare startup incubator Rock Health. She’s been named as one of CNN’s 12 entrepreneurs reinventing healthcare.
47. Sebastian Thrun
Named one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, Stanford Artificial Intelligence professor Thrun founded Google X (home to the self-driving car and Google Glass) and Udacity, a platform that aims to democratize higher education.
48. Tammy Tibbetts
While still in college, Tibbetts founded She’s the First, an organization that sponsors girls’ education in developing nations and gives them the chance to become the first in their families to graduate from secondary school.
49. Kristen Titus
As the Executive Director of Girls Who Code, Titus leads the organization’s work to close the gender gap in technology and engineering by equipping young women with the skills and resources to pursue academic and career opportunities in computing fields.
50. Brian Wong
One of the youngest people in the world to receive venture capital funding, Wong is currently the founder and CEO of Kiip, a mobile rewards network that is redefining mobile advertising to simultaneously benefit users, developers, and advertisers.