7 World-Changers We’re Thankful For

Thanksgiving is around the corner, and with it comes time to reflect on the people for whom we’re grateful. This year, we’re thinking about a few leaders who are making a mark on the world through their good work: ending poverty around the globe, empowering women and children through education, providing medical support to those who need it most and more.

Be inspired by these seven servant leaders who have devoted their lives to making the world a better place for others.

Leymah Gbowee
Founder and President, Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa


What began with trauma healing for Liberian civil war victims led to the peace of a nation. Leymah is a Liberian peace activist, who in 2011 received the Nobel Peace Prize for leading Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, a women’s peace movement that helped bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. Now, as founder and president of Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, Leymah is providing education and leadership opportunities to women and children in West Africa. She is also author of Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War.

Leymah on leading yourself…
“Don’t wait for a Gandhi, don’t wait for a King, don’t wait for a Mandela. You are your own Mandela, you are your own Gandhi, you are your own King.”

Jake Wood
Co-Founder and CEO, Team Rubicon

Mother Nature brought natural disasters in places like Houston, Puerto Rico and Miami this year. As the hurricanes hit, Jake and his crew at Team Rubicon took action. The nonprofit is in the business of providing aid when disasters strike by putting the skills of military veterans back to use. When a crisis occurs, Team Rubicon pairs veterans with first responders to quickly deploy emergency response teams. The nonprofit has provided nearly $11 million in volunteer labor since Jake co-founded the organization in 2010 following the earthquake in Haiti. In addition to his work at Team Rubicon, Jake is also author of Take Command – Lessons in Leadership: How to Be a First Responder in Business.

> Jake on what’s needed to succeed when failure is likely…
“Whether in a hostage situation, in the disaster zone, or in the hectic everyday world of work, that magic ingredient that makes the seemingly impossible possible… is relentless execution.”

Dr. Joanne Liu
International President, Doctors Without Borders

In 2014, West Africa was struck with an ebola epidemic—one that grew to become the most widespread outbreak of the disease in history, spreading to many countries around the world. While the epidemic became an international concern, Joanne led global action as the vast network of doctors involved in Doctors Without Borders headed to the frontlines and stopped the disease from spreading. This is just one example of how Joanne and the organization save lives and protect the world from medical crises. In addition to her global service at Doctors Without Borders, Joanne is also associate professor of medicine at the University of Montreal.

> Joanne on the danger of indifference…
“I always say now it’s the indifference that kills patients in the field and different populations. We have to break our indifference [toward] the suffering of people elsewhere.”

Hugh Evans
Founder and CEO, Global Citizen

Hugh is on a mission to end extreme poverty by 2030 through his work as founder and CEO of Global Citizen, a nonprofit advocating for impoverished people around the world. Formerly called the Global Poverty Project, the organization is well-known for its annual Global Citizen Festival in New York City, where it raises billions of dollars in commitments to help millions around the globe. Since it was founded in 2008, Global Citizen has influenced more than 13 million actions made by global leaders and decision-makers that will affect 1.3 billion lives.

> Hugh on taking action…
“People don’t need to become more aware of poverty—they need to know how to end it.”

Nadia Lopez
Principal, Mott Hall Bridges Academy

Nadia’s fame came when the content creator behind Humans of New York stopped one of her students to ask who had the greatest influence in his life. He named his principal at Brooklyn’s Mott Hall Bridges Academy, Nadia, and shared about how she leads him and his peers. Once the post went live, the world wanted to know more about Nadia and how she fostered a growing success rate at a school located in one of the most under-served communities in the U.S. Nadia continues to lead the school and last year co-authored a book, The Bridge to Brilliance: How One Principal in a Tough Community Is Inspiring the World.

> Nadia on leading in education…
“Every child deserves a school where adults sees possibilities, beyond their impossibilities.”

Ben Cooley
CEO, Hope for Justice

Nearly $150 billion is made each year at the hands of forced labor… but Ben is out to change that through his work as CEO of Hope for Justice, a nonprofit operating in the United States, United Kingdom, Norway and Cambodia, that aims to put an end to sex trafficking and modern-day slavery via a three-step plan. First, the organization works closely with police to rescue victims; then it helps the victims rebuild their lives and overcome traumas; and last, it tries to reform the system by training professionals to know what to look for and how to respond to human trafficking. Ben authored the recently released Impossible Is a Dare: Fighting for a World Free From Slavery, of which all proceeds go directly to support the work of Hope for Justice.

> Ben on casting vision…
“One of the key characteristics of a great leader and visionary is to be able to start and finish well—that long obedience in the same direction.”

Nancy Lublin
CEO and Founder, Crisis Text Line

Nancy founded Crisis Text Line in 2013, and since then, the not-for-profit has assisted more than 53 million Americans with free, 24/7 support from trained counselors who listen to and help find solutions for people in crisis. Nancy is the former CEO of DoSomething.org, a global movement for young people to make positive change in the world, author of Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business and co-author of Do Something!: A Handbook for Young Activists.


> Nancy on leading a not-for-profit…
“I don’t run a nonprofit… I run a not-for-profit. We’re a business. The only difference is that instead of selling soap or sneakers, we sell hope and leadership.”

* * *

*Whose leadership are you thankful for? Share your gratitude with them on Twitter using #ThankALeader, and tag us at @Leadercast to recommend them to be considered the next time we spotlight exceptional leaders.


Hayley Panagakis

This blog was written by Hayley Panagakis, a freelance writer, editor and content creator. Connect with her on LinkedIn and visit her website to learn more about her services.

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