The past year gave everyone a sense of what makes someone a great leader. There were plenty of moments where questionable leadership resulted in mishaps during the COVID-19 pandemic, but as light is now visible at the end of the tunnel, we can now see just who stepped above others in such a tumultuous year.
Fortune released its top 50 world’s greatest leaders list, which has just about everyone on it: from powerful CEOs, politicians, sports stars, and more. It’s the first time a woman has been named top of the list (New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern) and includes more than a dozen CEOs.
“Some of the World’s Greatest Leaders will remain in public life for many years,” Fortune said. “Others, having stepped forward in a moment of need, will return to plowing their fields, like Cincinnatus. This 2021 roster reminds us that we need them all, and they can arise from anywhere among us.”
The 50 greatest leaders in the world
1. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand
– The Prime Minister of New Zealand is considered one of the visionaries of the future. Her efforts shined during the COVID-19 pandemic, where Ardern took drastic measures to control the spread of the virus in New Zealand, resulting in just 26 deaths in New Zealand.
2. mRNA Pioneers
– Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines rely on mRNA, the first of its type. mRNA vaccines help train the body to “recognize and respond to the proteins produced by disease-causing organisms.”
3. Dan Schulman, CEO at PayPal
– The PayPal CEO played a big role in recovery efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
4. Dr. John Nkengasong, Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
– The head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has helped African nations help weather the COVID-19 pandemic, even better than the US.
5. NBA Rescuers
– Three key people — NBA commissioner Adam Silver, Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, and Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul — are credited for their roles during the start of the pandemic and efforts to amplify voices with the Black Lives Matter movement.
6. Jessica Tan, Co-CEO, Executive Director, Ping An Group
– Tan, an MIT graduate and former McKinsey partner, positioned Ping An Group and its Telehealth app as a “vital first line of defense” during the pandemic in China.
7. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
– The head of the Church of England, Welby was “a pioneer at the outset of the pandemic in encouraging services to be moved online.”
8. Stacey Abrams, founder of Fair Fight
– Abrams is credited for laying down the ground work for Democrats in the South, specifically President Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia.
9. Reshorna Fitzpatrick, Pastor, Proceeding World Church, Chicago
Fitzpatrick’s green thumb created “Soup for the Soul,” a program that provides hot meals every Monday.
10. Adar Poonawalla, CEO at Serum Institute of India
– Poonawalla heads the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer.
11. Dolly Parton, singer-songwriter
– Praised her efforts during the pandemic, which included a $1 million donation to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where funds were used to help develop the Moderna vaccine.
12. Mike Sommers and Vicki Hollub, CEO; CEO American Petroleum Institute; Occidental Petroleum
13. Anthony Tan and Hooi Ling Tan, Cofounder and CEO; Cofounder and COO at Grab
– Grab, an ride-share app, transformed its drivers into delivery drivers during the pandemic in an effort to aide recovery during the pandemic.
14. Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance
15. Dr. Aparna Hegde, founder and chairperson at Armman
16. Willie Ray Fairley, restaurateur at Willie Ray’s Q Shack
– Fairley’s hospitality during major disasters in Iowa included delivering free barbecue to neighborhoods devoted by the windstorm last August.
17. Nury Turkel, commissioner, US Commission on International Religious Freedom
18. Kate Bingham, former Head; Managing Partner at UK Vaccine Taskforce; SV Health Investors
19. MacKenzie Scott, Philanthropist
Scott, the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is known for being charitable. She’s donated almost $6 billion, according to Fortune, targeting food banks and historically Black college and universities.
20. Francis X. Suarez, Mayor at City of Miami
21. Xie Zhenhua, Special Envoy on Climate Change in China
22. Tom Brady, quarterback at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
– Will he ever retire? After leaving the New England Patriots, the 43-year-old won the Super Bowl in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this year.
23. Dr. Ala Stanford, Founder at Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium
– The pediatric surgeon helped set up COVID-19 tests in underserved Philadelphia suburbs before turning the operation into a nonprofit to serve Philly’s “most vulnerable and most underserved populations — and to improve the nation’s still lagging vaccine equity.”
24. Timnit Gebru, AI Researcher
25. Tim Scott, US Senator of South Carolina
26. C.C. Wei, CEO at TSMC
27. Craig Jelinek, CEO at Costco Wholesale
– Costco was the first major retailer to require mask wearing in its stores. Jelinek said in February he would raise its lowest hourly wage to $16.
28. Sara Blazevic and Varshini Prakash, Training Director; Executive Director at Sunrise Movement
29. Diana Berrent, founder at Survivor Corps
– She helped set up a community of more than 165,000 people who had the coronavirus.
30. Dr. Ching-Hon Pui, Chair, Oncology Department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
31. Malala Yousafzai, Cofounder at Malala Fund
– Yousafzai led efforts with activists to find creative solutions for children that couldn’t receive proper education during the pandemic.
32. Adena Friedman, President and CEO at Nasdaq
-Friedman is pushing for companies listed on the exchange to diversify and become more transparent.
33. Michael Regan, Administrator at US Environmental Protection Agency
– Regan was named the first Black man to ever lead the EPA in March.
34. C. Nicole Mason, President and CEO at Institute for Women’s Policy Research
35. Reginald Dwayne Betts, founding director at Million Book Project
36. Kenneth Chenault, Chairman and Manager Director at General Catalyst
37. Megan Rapinoe, Professional soccer player
– She makes headlines for heroics on the field but Rapinoe is at the forefront fighting for equal pay for women.
38. Eugene Goodman, Officer at US Capitol Police
– You might remember his heroics during the riots at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
39. Ben and Erin Napier, Cohosts at Home Town
40. Fawzia Koofi, Legislator and Women’s Rights Activist at Afghanistan Parliament
41. Nathalia Rodrigues, Personal finance guru
42. Guy Fieri, Chef at Knuckle Sandwich LLC
43. Aurora James, Founder at 15 Percent Pledge
44. Timothy Renick, Executive Director at National institute for Student Success, Georgia State
45. Epidemiologists of Social Media
46. Naomi Osaka, professional women’s tennis player
– One of the top women’s tennis players in the world, Osaka, 23, used her platform to protest systemic racism and police brutality at the US Open last year, where she wore masks emblazoned with the names of victims of police brutality.
47. Catalin Tolontan, Head of Editorial at Ringier Romania
48. Strive Masiyiwa, Founder and Executive Chairman at Econet Global
49. Demis Hassabis, CEO and cofounder at DeepMind
50. Ashish Jha, Dean at Brown University School of Public Health
Many of the men and women on this list were recognized for the innovative donations and strides they made in response to a global pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and other international crisees. And then there was Tom Brady who won another football game.