10 of the World’s Most Influential Humanitarians

10 of the World’s Most Influential Humanitarians


The United Nations held the inaugural World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016. Centered on encouraging humanitarianism, philanthropy, and social justice, the meeting convened in Istanbul, Turkey, and roughly 9,000 global leaders assembled for the event. Discussions covered possible solutions to the most prominent issues confronting humankind today, including gender inequality, lack of aid for refugees, and natural disasters.

The results of the World Humanitarian Summit included three drafted documents, each focusing on converting commitments into action. The UN made the proceedings available to the public via a live stream and social media with hopes of motivating as many people as possible to contribute to humanitarian efforts.

In the spirit of promoting goodwill, here is a compilation of 10 of the world’s most inspiring and influential humanitarians.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa
Image courtesy Wikipedia

Sister Mary Teresa, born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, became a nun in 1928, and she taught for several years before starting her mission to serve people living in the depths of poverty. She started the Missionaries of Charity in the slums of Kolkata, India, in a dilapidated building she convinced the city government to donate to her. Subsequently, she founded an orphanage, nursing home, leper colony, and several family health clinics. For her efforts and impact, she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and in 2016, she will be canonized as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi studied law and world religions, and his legal career took him to South Africa. He observed first-hand the various forms of social injustice in the world, and he responded in innovative, non-violent ways, including peaceful boycotts. A recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Gandhi helped India gain independence from the United Kingdom, and has inspired countless philanthropists and humanitarians from all corners of the globe.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Another proponent of non-violent civil disobedience, Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1929. He studied theology, served as a Baptist minister, and acted as a leader in the African American civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s. Regarded for his ability to deliver powerful messages and to unite communities in the cause of civil justice, Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Harriet Tubman

One of the early activists for civil rights, Harriet Tubman was born in the 1820s and was enslaved until 1849, during which time she endured physical and emotional violence. She escaped from slavery into the state of Pennsylvania, and soon thereafter, she started helping her family and friends do the same. Despite ever greater persecution and danger, she helped 70 people escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad.

Oskar Schindler

Oskar Schindler
Image courtesy Seetheholyland.net | Flickr

During the 1930s, Oskar Schindler joined the Nazi party and gathered intelligence for the German army. However, he subsequently leveraged his personal connections and business acumen to obtain an enamelware factory in Poland, where he assembled a staff of Jewish workers. The film Schindler’s List is the story of the 1,200 workers that Schindler protected from Nazi concentration camps and brutality.

Nelson Mandela

The fourth recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize on this list, Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for his leadership in the movement to end apartheid and racial injustice in South Africa. He spent more than 25 years in prison, and once released, he continued to lead the anti-apartheid movement. Through negotiations, advocacy, and diplomacy, he helped end apartheid and introduced the country to a democratic system of government. In 1994, the South African people elected Mandela as the first black president of their nation.

Per Anger

Per Johan Valentin Anger established his career as a Swedish diplomat, and represented his nation in Australia, Canada, and Hungary. The Nazis occupied Hungary while Anger was in Budapest, and he developed a system to create fake passports that identified Jews as Swedes to move them into safe housing. He brought thousands of people to safety and received multiple recognitions for his humanitarian efforts.

Andrew Carnegie

Of Scottish heritage, Andrew Carnegie moved to the United States at age 13 and became a tycoon in the steel industry. His enormous financial success later allowed him to turn his attention to philanthropy. Carnegie supported the growth of the New York Public Library, the creation of Carnegie-Mellon University, and the foundation of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Paul Newman

Paul Newman
Image courtesy Kate Gabrielle | Flickr

Known for his leading film roles and success as a race car driver, Paul Newman was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1925. He started Newman’s Own, a purveyor of food products, in the 1980s and started donating the profits to charities. In addition, he founded the Scott Newman Center to bolster efforts to prevent substance abuse, and launched the Hole in the Wall Camps to provide fun vacations for children facing serious illnesses.

Johns Hopkins

During his lifetime in the 19th century, Johns Hopkins amassed a total of $8 million—$7 million of which he donated. His money funded the opening of a university, hospital, and medical school, each bearing his name. Today, these institutions stand as some of the most prominent in academia and medical research.


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