50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World

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image by Gluekit / www.gluekit.com

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. On paper and in person his visage exudes optimism, righteous ambition, and immeasurable humility. Which is why, as we searched for an iconic figure to represent this, our second annual list of visionaries, his name immediately jumped to mind. That’s because the visionaries we were drawn to made the cut not for being revolutionary inventors, innovative environmentalists, vociferous outcasts, or intrepid reformers–although you’ll find all of these enviable character types on the following pages–but for the unwavering, inexhaustible sense of purpose they bring to their work.

Labors of peace, love, and justice are rarely recognized by our celebrity-obsessed media, and by extension most of us. Quiet resolve does not fill tents at the circus. Principle doesn’t make for a sexy photo. Selflessness, unless it is exhibited by heroes in the heat of a crisis, is often presented as weakness. Yet it is only the strongest among us who can stay true to a vision.

This section is a tribute to that resolve. Here’s hoping it inspires your dreams.

Christian Bök

Experimental Poet
This poet isn’t content with words on a page–he prefers to work under mind-bending constraints that truly stretch his linguistic limits.

Dave Zirin

Sports Columnist
In his “Edge of Sports” column and other multimedia outlets, Zirin brings a progressive eye to the world of athletics. He’s the thinking fan’s sportswriter, using our various fields of battle as a sociological lens.

Noah Baker Merrill

Cofounder, Direct Aid Iraq
This humanitarian activist won’t let Americans forget Iraq. Even (and especially) as the country and its people fade from U.S. headlines, Baker Merrill builds bridges of friendship and restitution.

Wafaa El-Sadr

Founder, International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs
When Wafaa El-Sadr first encountered people suffering from AIDS in 1982, there were fewer than 5,000 known cases of the disease. In just a few years, the annual rate of infection would hit 130,000. If there was a ground floor for the epidemic, El-Sadr was on it.

Parvez Sharma

Sharma traveled a broad swath of the Islamic world to film A Jihad for Love, a first-of-its-kind documentary about gay and lesbian Muslims who are struggling to reconcile their faith with their sexuality.

Mark Kastel

Cofounder, Cornucopia Institute
When you buy organic, you want to trust the label. Kastel and his small but dogged Cornucopia crew make sure that organic food producers are walking their talk by snooping around their barnyards and their balance sheets.

David Oaks

Director, MindFreedom International
People who suffer from mental and emotional problems often have few personal advocates, let alone political or cultural influence. Oaks’ group, MindFreedom International, stands up for them by campaigning against forced medication, abuse of rights, and the media biases that really get these “psychiatric survivors” down.

Maya Enista

CEO, Mobilize.org
Maya Enista wants to create an AARP for the millennial generation, helping people people see millennials as having more value than just helping with your social networking.

Richard Nash

Founder, Cursor
This indie book publishing icon is turning the entire industry on its head in his bold new venture. And guess what–you, dear readers, are the stars of the show.

Mark Gorton


The Open Planning Project
The goal of urban planning should be to serve people, not machines, and Gorton’s leading the charge to inspire people to kick automobile dependency and take back the streets!

Raj Patel


Stuffed and Starved

In Stuffed and Starved, Patel smartly unpacked the myriad problems with our corporate agriculture and food system, but his interests–and opinions–go even broader in his new book, The Value of Nothing: His sharp social critique extends to economic justice issues like class, wealth, and poverty.

Julie Cajune

American Indian Education Advocate
As part of Montana’s groundbreaking initiative, Cajune provides educators with the tools they need to close the cultural awareness chasm and bring American Indian histories to the masses.

Tyrone Boucher and Dean Spade

Cocreators, Enough
This whip-smart, social-justice-minded pair has created a welcoming forum for the most taboo of subjects: wealth, class, and what it feels like, day-to-day, to resist capitalism.

John Wilbanks

Executive Director, Science Commons
This philosopher-turned-engineer heads up Science Commons, a group that works to spur innovation and discovery by making scientific research and resources easier to share.

Partha Dasgupta

Dasgupta saw what gross domestic product (GDP) wasn’t measuring–the state of a country’s environmental resources, education, and human welfare–so he came up with a new system. And his “inclusive wealth” concept is starting to catch on.

Daniel Kish

Cofounder and Executive Director, World Access for the Blind
By teaching FlashSonar navigation and emphasizing self-direction, this nonprofit’s bold approach to managing blindness proves there are no limits to what can be done without sight.

Julia “Judy” Bonds

Codirector, Coal River Mountain Watch
Bonds is a matriarch to the movement against mountaintop removal, the coal mining practice that is literally flattening parts of Appalachia. In her work with Coal River Mountain Watch, she engages in direct activism against “King Coal” and teaches others how to do the same.

Lance Ledbetter

Founder, Dust-to-Digital
Ledbetter’s record label has been resurrecting 78s and re­releasing the work of unheralded American folk, blues, and jazz musicians since 2003.

Jonathan Kuniholm

Prosthetics Engineer
Since he lost his arm serving in Iraq, this graduate student and research assistant hopes to revolutionize the prosthetics industry by bringing open source design to the masses.

Kristian Olson

Program Leader, Global Health Initiative
Kristian Olson, program leader of the Global Health Initiative (GHI), fights neonatal death in low-income areas of the world using low-cost resuscitators and incubators made from old car parts.

Cory Doctorow

Copyright Activist
A figurehead for “copyfighters” everywhere, Doctorow is on a crusade against a corporate monopoly on patent law. He thinks replication feeds a culture of creativity and might even be programmed into our DNA; it should be encouraged, not criminalized.

David Bacon

Documentary Photographer and Journalist
Bacon has made a life of documenting the important, inspiring struggles that rarely make the news, bringing to life the stories of undocumented workers, labor activists, and foreclosed homeowners.

Patricia van Nispen tot Sevenaer

Executive Director, ILA Microjustice for All
Billions of people around the globe lack basic legal protection and representation. Van Nispen tot Sevenaer’s innovative Microjustice model is turning the tide, one person at a time.

Sarah Schulman


Ties That Bind

In Ties That Bind (see review, p. 91), this lesbian social critic urges progressives to confront homophobia within their families. Only then will we be as gay-friendly as we think we are.

Tom Regan


The Case for Animal Rights

The philosophical leader of the animal rights movement helped construct a legal framework around the issue–and whatever your stand, he’ll make you rethink it.

René Girard

Emeritus Professor, Stanford University
According to this French-born intellectual’s mimetic theory, imitation is the root of human culture. More Americans ought to mimic the Europeans who rightly celebrate Girard as a brilliant, original thinker.

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson



Disabled people attract stares–and this social critic posits that the attention sometimes transforms a would-be stigma into empowerment.

Will Allen

Founder and CEO, Growing Power
This MacArthur genius’s nonprofit Growing Power is pioneering ways to feed fresh food to those who live in the “food deserts” of our inner cities.

Enrique Peñalosa

Urban Planner
The mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, put the city on the map for its innovative transportation policy. Now he’s a consultant, and his big ideas about livable cities are in demand.

Sarah Haskins

This social critic’s “Target Women” segments on Current TV do the nearly impossible: They make feminist critiques informative and darkly funny. For skewering society’s hang-ups and mocking celebrity culture, she deserves a reward–like, say, equal treatment.

Scott Harrison

Founder, charity: water
Harrison is a former nightclub owner and party hound who decided to do something for others. His group charity: water has provided clean water to more than half a million people in Africa, Asia, and Central America.

Rana Husseini


Murder in the Name of Honor

As a journalist, Husseini shed light on honor killings in her native Jordan. As an activist, she works to end them.

Dune Lankard

Founder, Eyak Preservation Council
A native Eyak Athabaskan from Alaska, Lankard became an environmental activist after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Standing up to opponents, some from his own community, he’s a brave and powerful voice among greens.

Hiroshi Sunairi

Founder, Tree Project
Taking seeds from trees that survived the Hiroshima atomic bomb blast, this artist-cum-entrepreneur has encouraged people to plant them all over the world. By creating beauty from devastation, the creator cultivates peace.

Goretti Kyomuhendo

Founding Member, FEMRITE
The first female Ugandan author awarded a grant from the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, the accomplished author of Waiting was on the ground floor of this dynamic association for indigenous female writers.

Nawal Nour

African Women’s Health Center
During her ob/gyn residency, the Sudanese native and MacArthur genius developed a center for African women who have been circumcised. She continues to run that reproductive health care organization in Boston.

Kim Bobo

Executive Director, Interfaith Worker Justice
A longtime spiritual activist, the author of Wage Theft in America is on a crusade to mobilize people of faith in the battle over fair pay, benefits, and equal treatment for low-wage workers.

Wendy Brawer

Founder, Green Map Systems
By highlighting a community’s green features–compost drop sites, green space, community gardens–Brawer’s maps become tools for environmental and community activists, pointing the way to sustainability.

Brian Conley

Founder, Alive in Baghdad
This videographer, who first traveled to Iraq in 2005, collaborates with local journalists to document daily life under siege. Conley has since expanded his “brand” to Syria and Mexico.

Jigar Shah

Energy Innovator
As the founder of SunEdison, Shah pioneered a new finance model for solar power. He’s now set his sights “beyond the carbon economy” by heading a climate-change initiative, the Carbon War Room.

Virginia Gardiner

Industrial Designer
The London-based Dwell contributor and inventor continues to improve on her LooWatt, a portable, green toilet that captures odor and turns waste into fuel.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Media Activist
The radical feminist and artist is gearing up for A Queer Black MobileHomeComing, a traveling “intergenerational community documentation and education project” that challenges our culture’s heteronormativity.

Tiny a.k.a. Lisa Gray-Garcia



Tapping her life experiences in the Bay Area, this self-proclaimed “poverty scholar” uses a grassroots magazine–as well as her performance art project welfareQUEENS–to tell those street stories the mainstream rarely cares to hear.

Diana Balmori

Founder, Balmori Associates
This architect built a reputation designing green roofs, which she calls the “fifth facade” of buildings. Balmori’s visions keep growing more ambitious, melding futurism with sustainability.

Brewster Kahle

Cofounder, Internet Archive
Thanks to this digital librarian’s nonprofit, researchers, historians, and scholars have permanent access to reams of essential historical data. And he’s just getting started.

Bob Stein

Founder, Institute for the Future of the Book
A digital pioneer who introduced the CD-ROM, Stein is now turning his attention to the ways social networking can turn publishing into an interactive give-and-take between readers and authors.

Sumaya Kazi

Founder, CulturalConnect
This South Asian American entrepreneur created an online media company responsible for five weekly e-magazines that spotlight young professionals of color making their mark.

Robert Bullard

Environmental Justice Advocate
One of the first activists to insert race and class into the environmental debate, this too-often underappreciated author has written 15 essential books, including Race, Place, and Environmental Justice After Hurricane Katrina.

Jeff Chang


Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

No writer covers the intersection of hip-hop and politics better than Chang–and he’s got the Obama administration’s ear regarding U.S. arts policy.

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.