Walker Intro Photo

Welcome to our seventh annual special issue featuring FP's 100 Leading Global Thinkers.

Advocates Artists Challengers Chroniclers Decision-Makers Healers Innovators Moguls Stewards

Welcome to our seventh annual special issue featuring FP's 100 Leading Global Thinkers.

If the events of last year — from the rise of the Islamic State to Russia's invasion of Ukraine — harbingered the fracturing of the world, then 2015 showed that some wounds can in fact be healed. Historic agreements with Iran, Cuba, and Greece all emerged from months, even decades, of hard-fought, spirited negotiations. Common ground, whether political, economic, or moral, ultimately bested the power of indifference. Other stories showed that public opinion, no matter how seemingly intransigent, can change: In both the United States and heavily Catholic Ireland, for instance, same-sex marriage is now legal. Yet despite this headway, the work of curing what ails the world is not done. This year's Global Thinkers represent how the struggle — from Raqqa to Washington, Athens to Kabul — continues. While some of them are impediments, many more have generated ideas that could promise humankind a better future.

Getting to yes is rarely easy. This year, however, diplomats and politicians came together to open long-closed doors in Iran and Cuba, bring Greece back from the precipice of collapse (for now, at least), and address a refugee crisis of epic proportions. Other Global Thinkers made headlines for forging a feminist foreign policy, tackling climate change despite a poor country’s economic limitations, and seeking to place science at the heart of national development. For good or evil, this cohort held some of the world’s most important keys.

No belief was too deep-seated, no institution too entrenched, and no cause too daunting for these Global Thinkers to tackle in the name of effecting change. Some of them targeted corruption in organizations so powerful they were previously thought to be untouchable. One gave his life to protect ancient history. Another united long-fractured Arab political parties in Israel. And several threw wrenches into the plans of dictators, oligarchs, and other powerful interests by demanding or designing government reform. Each of these thinkers, in other words, proved that even sacred cows can be toppled.

Innovators photo


An iPhone app that serves as eyes for the blind. A book with pages that clean dirty water. A device that turns a smartphone into a microscope capable of diagnosing tropical diseases. A process for growing new bones in a lab using human stem cells. A digital index that grades businesses on their support for gender equality. The groundbreaking work from this group of Global Thinkers serves as a snapshot of the leaps forward that technology took in 2015 — and of the good this progress can do for global health, human rights, security, and more.

Advocates photo


These Global Thinkers stood in solidarity with some of the world’s most vulnerable populations, from transgender individuals to victims of sexual abuse, ethnic minorities to civilians caught in the crosshairs of war. They used social media to build unprecedented political movements, offered safe spaces for discussion in societies that restrict free speech, and educated publics about taboo subjects. Some were bullied for their work. One survived an assassination attempt; another was not so lucky. But no matter the risks involved, for these advocates the fight for justice was necessary.

Artists photo


Across a range of media — rap, opera, sculpture, filmmaking, and more — these Global Thinkers are bound by the belief that art serves a higher purpose. They have challenged the Islamic State with verses, staged apocalyptic scenes to warn of the dangers of pollution, bent the constraints of theatrical genres to illuminate new creative pathways, and built a distorted theme park that scrutinized the failures of Western culture. If all the world’s a stage, these individuals have trained spotlights on pressing issues and viewpoints that demand more of the global audience’s attention.

Many of these Global Thinkers racked up firsts: developing some of the first tools to combat Ebola, devising the first successful method to keep transplant hearts viable without putting them on ice, and replicating human organs so that, for the first time, animals might not be needed for medical testing. Other Global Thinkers, meanwhile, went back to basics — or even ancient history: digging in the dirt to find new antibiotics, for instance, and working to revive the woolly mammoth. Yet they were all on a shared quest to protect and improve the world’s health.

Stewards photo


From the Vatican’s pulpit to Australia’s Aboriginal communities, the halls of the United Nations to the rice fields of Vietnam, these Global Thinkers wielded influence across diverse locales in hopes of cleaning up the planet. They deregulated fuel prices in a major oil-producing state, banished cars in a city of more than 2 million people, filmed a seminal exposé on China’s stifling air pollution, and even used pop-music celebrity to promote solar power in Africa. Their platforms may have varied, but their message was the same: The world must stop dithering on climate change — before it’s too late.

Chroniclers photo


These Global Thinkers showed that there aren’t two sides to every story — there are many. Plumbing the depths of conflict, inequality, and vice around the globe, they documented the terrors of living under the Islamic State, peeled back tropes used to narrate Mexico’s drug violence, and gave voices to individuals silenced for being gay or transgender. Several even shook away earthly constraints, seeking the origins of life and all that sustains it on a comet’s surface and at the solar system’s fringes. Some of their stories sparked protests, debates, even reform. Others, however, simply inspired awe.

Moguls photo


Even corporate titans known for single-mindedly protecting their bottom lines can sometimes do the right thing — especially with a nudge from a visionary thinker. The business leaders who comprise this category made it easier for parents to take time off from their careers after having children, enabled cheap mobile access for India’s poor, invested in female-founded start-ups (of which there are woefully few in the world), and sought to remove deep-rooted gender and racial biases in hiring. Together, they showed that progress is possible, whether in corner offices or on factory floors.

2015 global thinker statistics

2015 Global Thinker Statistics

Each year, Foreign Policy identifies its 100 Leading Global Thinkers — and while there are 100 slots, there are far more individuals who actually populate the list. (125, to be exact.) This is because we identify teams when efforts are collaborative and often group people who, independent of each other, work toward a common goal.

In 2015, the Global Thinkers are particularly diverse: Just as the globe’s intractable problems aren’t confined neatly to the realms of politics and policy, neither are the individuals imagining innovative solutions. These thinkers are artists and activists, medical experts and entrepreneurs, scientists and pop singers — and they hail from nearly every continent. And, for the first time ever, the list includes more women than men.

Below is a breakdown of the Leading Global Thinkers of 2015.

Global Thinkers by Birthplace

  • Gender

  • Age

  • Professions

Of the 2015 Leading Global Thinkers, 10 ages, 4 birthplaces, and 1 gender could not be confirmed and therefore are not included in the above graphics. The stats also do not include the 3 Global Thinkers that are honored as a group.