15. George Soros
for proving it's not what you make that counts -- it's who you give it to.
Philanthropist | New York
The name George Soros is practically synonymous with philanthropy; the Hungarian-born investor has already donated more than $7 billion of his fortune to charitable causes. But his announcement in September that he was bequeathing $100 million to Human Rights Watch turned heads. It was the largest gift Soros has ever made to a human rights group -- and the largest a human rights group has ever received. The gift is meant to transform Human Rights Watch into an organization that is "genuinely international in scope," as Soros put it. The big idea? That "America has lost the moral high ground for promoting human rights," and it's time to bring the rest of the world into the discussion.
That idea certainly fits with Soros's previous charitable work, much of it through his Open Society Foundations, which promote transparency and citizen empowerment in newly democratic and nondemocratic countries. Soros also plays a hugely important role as a public intellectual on his own turf: the global economy. Most recently, he has warned of a bubble in the gold market, predicted a long road to recovery for the U.S. economy, and been absolutely stinging in his critique of the euro. The currency, he wrote in the New York Review of Books, is "a patently flawed construct" with one central bank and a dozen treasuries. If Europe isn't already taking notes, it should be.
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images