TIME magazine released its annual list of the most influential people in the world yesterday. The list is broken into the categories of titans, artists, pioneers, icons, and leaders. Last year, Omotola was listed as an Icon. This year, Okonjo Iweala is the Nigerian woman on the list as a leader, along with seven other important and inspiring African or African-American women. Be motivated!
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – Guardian of Nigeria’s public funds
I first met economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala when she was campaigning for Nigerian debt relief. We’d been fighting our way through capitals around the world trying to get Cold War–era debts canceled for the poorest, most heavily indebted countries.
During her first term as Finance Minister of Nigeria, Ngozi arrived at her desk to find a weighty $ 30 billion owed. With oil prices on the rise, she stopped having to plead with her creditors and bought a massive chunk of her own debt so she could cancel it herself. As if to make a point. She became a legend at that moment.
Humor and joy spill out of her, which can belie the fact that she’s got one of the toughest jobs on the planet — how to ensure that the tens of billions of dollars earned each year in oil receipts go into productive usages, like agriculture, infrastructure, health, and education.
Ngozi has made corruption her enemy and stability her goal. She is fiercely intelligent; everyone wants her to work with them. I couldn’t be prouder to work for her.
Kerry Washington – The actor who projects strength amid scandal
Occasionally, in American pop culture, an icon emerges who captivates us and provides a vivid snapshot of who we are and the changing times in which we live. In her role as Olivia Pope, Scandal’s unflappable political fixer, Kerry Washington, has used her grace and vibrant magnetism to transcend age, race, and gender and to provide a new mainstream media lens through which to view modern womanhood and professional excellence.
Setting aside the “scandalous” melodrama necessary to sustain a fictional series so titled, Kerry has offered up a fresh new archetype for what it means to lead while combining courage and compassion, strength and vulnerability, passion, steely discipline, and unfailing loyalty. It is a role that makes full use of her distinctive talent for drawing in audiences with such authenticity that we often forget she is acting.
Kerry’s work with the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities since 2009 has also been a source of deep inspiration, using arts education to close achievement gaps and ignite passion among young people.
In a world that too often tells little girls to choose between womanhood and success, between femininity and a seat at the head of the table, both onscreen and off, Kerry Washington embodies the promise that lives in all our young people to shape their own destinies and succeed as “gladiators” for the causes in which they believe.
Beyoncé – She’s the boss
Beyoncé doesn’t just sit at the table. She builds a better one. Today, she sits at the head of the boardroom table at Parkwood Entertainment.
In December, she took the world by surprise when she released a new album, complete with videos, and announced it on Facebook and Instagram. Beyoncé shattered music industry rules — and sales records.
One song includes words by novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much.'” Beyoncé has insisted that girls “run the world” and declared, “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss.” She raises her voice both on- and offstage to urge women to be independent and lead.
In the past year, Beyoncé has sold out the Mrs. Carter Show World Tour while being a full-time mother. Her secret: hard work, honesty, and authenticity. And her answer to the question, What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Appears to be “Watch me. I’m about to do it.” Then she adds, “You can, too.”
Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe – She gives hope to young women scarred by war
In Gulu, Uganda, Sister Rosemary has made it her mission to provide within an orphanage a home, a shelter for women and girls whose lives have been shattered by violence, rape, and sexual exploitation.
At the Saint Monica Girls’ Tailoring Center she runs, those women can become themselves again, thanks to the security and comfort they feel — a tremendous accomplishment in a country still fragile from years of civil war. But what truly fascinates the people who have the privilege to meet with Sister Rosemary — as I did when I narrated a film about her, Sewing Hope — is her magnetic and contagious energy.
For girls who were forcibly enlisted as child soldiers, Sister Rosemary has the power to rekindle a bright light in eyes long gone blank. For women with unwanted children born out of conflict, she allows them to become loving mothers at last.
The traumas she heals are unfathomable, but the reach of her love is boundless.
Thuli Madonsela – South Africa’s fearless public advocate
Thuli Madonsela is an inspirational example of what African public officers need to be. Her work on constitutional reform, land reform, and the struggle for the protection of human rights and equality speaks for itself. As South Africa’s public protector, with her ability to speak truth to power and to address corruption in high places, Madonsela has been outstanding.
To speak about corruption in high places is often subversive and always embarrassing. The machinery of the state can be called upon to intimidate or even destroy and eliminate whistle-blowers. It, therefore, requires extraordinary courage and patriotism to do what Thuli Madonsela has done. Yet in standing up for the truth as she sees it, she has assured herself a place in the history of modern South Africa and among the tiny but growing band of African public servants giving us hope for the future of our continent.
Serena Williams – The champion who won’t give up
I first met Serena over a decade ago in Miami when I joined the Heat. Since then, I’ve watched her grow and dominate in her sport, overcoming adversity to win title after title. There is no doubt that she has made an incredible impact on the world of tennis, but it’s her determination to never give up that has always resonated with me.
Serena is a friend, but I also look up to her as a fellow athlete. I respect her relentless work ethic, focus, drive, and discipline. I understand what it’s like to sustain injuries and the fight it takes to come back from them. I admire her ability to fight and how she has defied the odds with sheer determination and heart.
Serena is a warrior on the court. Their aggressive and competitive nature combined with passion, drive, and skill make her a formidable and fierce opponent. Off the court, she is a sweetheart, a bright light with an infectious spirit. She is extremely humble and cherishes her family and life.
Serena does not take her abilities for granted. She deserves all of her success because she is one of the most hardworking and disciplined people I know. She is a world-class athlete and a true champion in every sense of the word. Serena is on a mission — and how amazing that we all get to witness it.
Ory Okolloh – The activist who helps Africans exercise their power
How much does someone who gets lucky owe those who are left behind?
Ory Okolloh, who was routinely thrown out of school in Kenya because her parents couldn’t pay the fee, got a Harvard Law degree and a job offer from a D.C. law firm.
But instead of building a comfortable life, she went back to Africa to build a more accountable, transparent world for millions. She helped create Ushahidi, an online service for crowd-mapping data — whether it’s incidences of corruption in Kenya, survivors of the hurricane in Haiti, or traffic problems in Washington.
That caught the attention of Google and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar. As director of investments for Omidyar’s government transparency initiative in Africa, Ory makes it her mission not to give aid but to support African entrepreneurs and citizens in building their own societies. To the extent that Ory’s integrity and courage reflect Africa’s society, we should all stand up and cheer.
Ertharin Cousin – A Chicagoan who helps feed the world
As a young girl growing up in a lower-income neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, Ertharin Cousin understood from an early age the importance of a family’s ability to put food on the table. That innate conscience and connection with the plight of others continue to fuel her sense of mission. Today, she is responsible for bringing food to more than 100 million people around the world every year as head of the U.N.’s World Food Programme. Her goal is nothing short of eradicating global hunger in our lifetimes, creating a world where no child or adult knows the feeling of an empty stomach. Having been fortunate enough to know her since our service in the Clinton White House, I know that global hunger has met its match.
See full list here.