For insisting on women's power to choose.
As a leader of the world's largest private development organization, Melinda Gates has long impressed development hands by tackling extreme poverty, pioneering vaccinations, and waging a bold campaign with her husband to eradicate polio. Now she's establishing herself as a powerful force in her own right, taking on the Catholic Church for its conservative resistance to contraception. By 2020, she says, the Gates Foundation will make "affordable, lifesaving contraceptive information, services, and supplies" available to 120 million women in the world's poorest countries. According to Gates Foundation-funded research, increasing access to contraception could save the lives of more than 100,000 women each year, slashing maternal mortality by nearly one-third.
Gates, a practicing Catholic, firmly disagrees with the Vatican's longstanding opposition to contraception and argues that improving access to it is vitally important for public health -- and she has personally and more or less single-handedly vowed to "get this back on the global agenda."
"This will be my life's work," she told the Guardian in July. And she has the funds to do it: By 2020, she announced this year, the Gates Foundation will invest $560 million in improving access to birth control, and it plans to raise roughly $4 billion from outside donors. Most will be spent in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where access to contraceptives is not widespread and maternal and infant mortality rates are devastatingly high. Contraceptive use already prevents 272,000 maternal deaths per year, but millions of women around the world still lack access to modern family planning -- precisely the void Gates has taken bold steps to fill.
Reading list: In the Shadow of the Banyan, by Vaddey Ratner; A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver, by Mark Shriver; The Last Hunger Season, by Roger Thurow. Best idea: Three Tanzanian women who innovated an unbreakable security system for their group mobile money account. Worst idea: Women in the developing world not being empowered to determine if and when to have a child. American decline or American renewal? American renewal because of the human promise, innovation, and opportunity that exists in our country. More Europe or less? More Europe, they continue to be leaders in global development aid. To tweet or not to tweet? To tweet and join the global conversation.
For daring to imagine a better everything.
A perennial FP Global Thinker for the enormous scale and ambition of his efforts to finance -- and reimagine -- global health and development, Bill Gates earns a mention this year for investing in … toilets. Don't snicker. It's an urgently worthy cause: 2.5 billion people -- or nearly 40 percent of the world's population -- lack proper bathroom sanitation, leading to the spread of diarrheal diseases that claim the lives of 1.5 million children each year.
To combat it, his Gates Foundation has invested nearly $150 million in programs that improve global sanitation, hosting an engineering competition to develop a "super-toilet" that's inexpensive to build and maintain and that doesn't require a water or sewage system. It's a simple concept but one that Gates, the man whose innovations helped transform personal computing software, says will "revolutionize" sanitation in the developing world as well as in wealthy countries. The winning design, from the California Institute of Technology, uses a solar-powered electrochemical reactor that kills off microorganisms while producing hydrogen and electricity. The foundation hopes to make a pilot version of the system operational by 2014.
Of course, sanitation is just one sideline for Gates. Late last year he became the first private citizen to address a G-20 summit, giving a speech on the future of development that cemented his move from "businessman to statesman," as the Guardian put it. With much of the world looking inward to fix economic messes at home, Gates is filling the development void abroad -- from spearheading an ambitious effort to eradicate polio by 2018, with the foundation giving $150 million to the cause annually, to ramping up his push for food security, including committing $2 billion toward fighting hunger over the next five years. Meanwhile, Gates and Warren Buffett (No. 42), who has committed to giving much of his wealth to the Gates Foundation, persuaded 11 more billionaires to join their two-year-old "Giving Pledge," bringing the tally to an astonishing 92 families who will donate half their wealth to philanthropic causes before they die.