One of my kids is learning her alphabet right now. All of the sudden our house is full of the building blocks of language. There are letters on the wall, letters on the bathtub, blocks on the floor, and the alphabet song is in the air. 

So it won’t surprise you that the alphabet has been on my mind a lot these past few days. Our community also comes down to letters. People dedicated to public engagement, social change, entrepreneurship, global issues, and world progress are an amalgam of people and organizations whose initials, together, are shaping the world. So, at the risk of being a victim of a listicle guy, I have compiled the ABCs of changemakers I am watching this year. These are people and institutions I follow, and whose ideas get me thinking of just how much can be done when we look at the world as a community, not a case study.

Anyone who ever learned the “ABC song” knows you always sing it at least twice, so be on the lookout for another round of the ABC changemakers next week.


Apolitical & Lisa Witter

The “A” of this list is the certified B-Corporation Apolitical. Executive Chairman Lisa Witter co-founded Apolitical to share the stories of public servants who are making government work for the people. Working with public servants in the city, state, and local levels, Apolitical aims to help governments address issues varying from inequality and urbanization to climate change and terrorism.  Lisa is, quite probably, the globe’s most interesting person.  She is as loyal to her ideas as she is to the people in her life…follow her and learn from her.  


Georgie Benardete

Georgie Benardete is an investor and entrepreneur who co-founded Orchard Mile, a new online, one-stop shopping platform for top luxury brands from around the globe. Benardete is also a passionate environmentalist, having founded Turkey’s largest green digital platform, volunteered for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, and been recognized by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. As an investor of the venture capital fund Belle Capital USA, Benardete continues to shape the landscape for social good. 


Kat Cole

ICYMI, Kat Cole’s lightning rise to the CEO of Cinnabon by age 35 is well covered – she was even featured on an episode of Undercover Boss. Today she is not only the Group President of FOCUS Brands, but also a member of the UN Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council. 


Diplomatic Courier

Diplomatic Courier has really taken a bold step forward in its reporting and ideas  It is a global affairs media network for leaders in the international relations space. With hundreds of partners in 140 countries and sharing media across multiple platforms, Diplomatic Courier has grown significantly since it began a print quarterly magazine in 2006. Ten years later, the high quality of work it produces should be something to follow in 2016. 


Earth Day Network

Coming off the heels of the Paris Climate Summit, the Earth Day Network – created to broaden the global environmental movement and catalyze activations around the world for its namesake international day – this year will certainly be one to pay attention to. With over 50,000 partners in 196 countries, the Earth Day Network has the momentum to make this Earth Day one for the history books.


Foreign Policy Interrupted

Foreign Policy Interrupted (FPI) is a fellowship program aimed at increasing the representation of women in foreign policy media. Through media trainings and mentoring programs, FPI prepares women 25 and older to break into the media sphere – and they have had success. Follow them in 2016 to learn more.


Global Daily

A news aggregator of stories related to the promotion of the global goals for sustainable development, Global Daily is a valuable resource for those who work in the development and international relations community. Gathering articles, op-eds, videos, photos, and original content in one place, Global Daily should be on everyone’s favorite navigation bar in 2016.


Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Foundation

The mission of the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Foundation, or HOBY for short, is to inspire and develop our global community of youth and volunteers to a life dedicated to leadership, service, and innovation. Through leadership seminars, a weeklong international youth congress, and international service trips, HOBY’s work is worth following.  The stories are inspiring, and the groups of youth are impressive.


The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross

If you’ve met Alec, you know he is fueled by ideas. As the former Senior Advisor for Innovation to the U.S. Secretary of State, Alec Ross has traveled the world exploring the latest in technological, economic, digital, and data innovations from around the world. Ross has gathered these experiences and published The Industries of the Future, a must-read in 2016 for those in business to understand changing global trends as well as for communicators perfecting their art of storytelling. 


James Irungu Mwangi

James Irungu Mwangi is the Executive Director of the Dalberg Group, a global network of businesses promoting social good and sustainable growth. A member of the Global Entrepreneurs Council, Mwangi is helping connect entrepreneurs to the UN to foster international partnerships to further the sustainable development agenda.  From the second I met James, I started learning.  He embodies one of my favorite qualities in a person…he shares contacts for the greater good.  Follow and learn from James. 


Rachel Kyte & Sustainable Energy for All

World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change, Rachel Kyte is the personification of the international community’s fight against climate change. Recently named the Chief Executive Officer of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, Kyte is working with global partners to advance climate action and sustainable energy.  As a communications person, I am always fascinated by how someone can take charge of a room by creating the right message.  Rachel knows how to do this…and she does it in a way that creates allies and fosters ideas.  She doesn’t know me, but I know her.  And I think we all would do well to know her better. 



Why aren’t more people talking about land rights?  Ever since my days at MCC I have seen this as a key issue that deserved greater global attention.  And the UN has made land rights a key issue.  So I was happy to meet Landesa.  As one of the leading land rights organizations in the world, Landesa has 40 years of experience helping to economically empower rural women and men and to improve their nutrition, security, education, and livelihood. Landesa is championing the global goals for sustainable development and their integration into Landesa’s ambitious Land Rights 2030 plan. 


Mansi Choksi

At a recent press fellowship, journalists flocked to listen to Mansi Choksi, an independent journalist covering many topics from gender and politics to crime and pop-culture in both the Middle East and India. Formerly employed with the Times of India, Choksi has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, National Geographic, Foreign Policy, VICE, Slate, and many other top-tier outlets. If this is who the journalists listen to, she is definitely someone to follow. 


Dr. David Nabarro

Dr. David Nabarro has led the coordination of multiple UN health-related tasks forces, including on the Avian and Pandemic Influenza, Global Food Security, Nutrition, and the Ebola response in Western Africa. Most recently, Dr. Nabarro was named the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As he becomes the proponent for the global goals for sustainable development, he is one of the most important global influencers on this list.



Anyone who knows me knows that I have loved the ONE Campaign for a long time.  But it, like any great organization, changes and morphs and evolves.  So if you met ONE a few years back, get to know the issues they are supporting and who they give voice to in a world that needs it.  Co-founded by Bono, ONE is an international campaign working to address extreme poverty and disease. With over 7 million members, the campaign is global. From fighting malaria, AIDS, and tuberculosis to securing $95 billion in debt relief, the ONE’s work has had a significant impact on the global community and across Africa in particular. 2016 should welcome in even more impactful work by ONE.


Peter Sims

If the past is any sort of prologue, CEO, author, and venture capitalist Peter Sims will be continuing his revolution in 2016. What “revolution” you ask? As the Founder of the BLK SHP (black sheep) Foundation, Sims’ team has created a robust community that seeks to empower the creative side in everyone. This past year, Sims worked to make FUSE Corps, “a year long fellowship that places talented entrepreneurial leaders inside mayor’s offices,” help drive some of the most exciting changes in our country. Where Peter goes, so does a wake of positive energy and impatient progress.  What things will he put on our (and the world’s) radar screens this year?  Follow him to find out.



Quorum is a new online platform for legislative analytics for the U.S. government. Only recently founded, Quorum has expanded quickly and has gained important clients interested in finding the members of congress who champion the causes they are passionate about. As it grows, Quorum may not only be able to help international development non-profits find their U.S. government allies, but also find new international partners as well.


Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Refugees are on the minds of the world community.  They should be.  But the issues around this word are complex, urgent and persistent.  So the word “refugee” needs a community of support and action all year…not just when the issue is in the headlines.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – or the UN Refugee Agency – has helped tens of millions of displaced and stateless people around the world since 1950. In a year where tens of millions continue to be displaced from areas as diverse as Syria and Afghanistan to the Central African Republic and Colombia, the UN Refugee Agency is hard at work addressing this critical issue. 


Syria Deeply

Launched in 2012, Syria Deeply provides a dashboard of resources to follow the Syria conflict, including a comprehensive timeline, daily executive summaries, highlighted articles from other news sources, an interactive map of casualties and refugees, and files to help readers understand the history and players in the region.  Syria’s Deeply’s founders have changed the conversation about how we talk about this…and a number of issues.  We haven’t yet realized how much we owe their courageous example.  But we are following them to find out. 


Ted Rubin

Wow, am I glad I met Ted.  In a space where institutions are seeking to fully leverage the power of social media, Ted Rubin is re-emphasizing his Return on Relationship principal to show that social media can be a great facilitator of relationships. At its core, the #RonR movement is about responding to target audiences. In Rubin’s words, “the more responsive you are to your audience, the more responsive they’ll be to you. And that’s where relationships are born.”  Follow Ted.  Listen to him.  Learn from him.  Because he is listening to us.  That’s one of the many things that make him special. 


University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy (CPD)

As its name suggests, the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy (CPD) continues to be a leader in the exchange of ideas for how to improve public diplomacy around the world. With a strong, global network of professionals and avant-garde research on best practices, CPD is bringing people together to better understand cultural relations and public engagement.  Public Diplomacy is a tradecraft that is evolving quickly…and one that is misunderstood by many.  But I salute every day my friends and former colleauges who are engaging in the art of public diplomacy.  They are, in my opinion, among our most important diplomats on earth today. 


Vox.com & Max Fisher

Launched in 2014, Vox.com has become a major success both within the U.S. and internationally as a platform to make the news more understandable and approachable. A former writer and editor at The Atlantic, Max Fisher is the Foreign Editor at Vox.com specializing in the Middle East. He has written on the Syrian Civil War, refugee crisis, and U.S. presidential election, which will all be stories to follow in 2016.  Follow Max.  You will not regret it.  And you’ll start learning just how big your world is.


We First & Simon Mainwaring

There are pioneers who lead with words, and those who blaze the trail.  Simon does both!  We First is a branding organization with a social purpose: to contrast with “Me First” thinking through community-corporate collaboration and interactive storytelling. Founded and led by Simon Mainwaring, a titan in the creative branding field, We First is helping businesses around the world to expand their brands through social good. 



XPRIZE is a non-profit organization that promotes technological advancement for social good. Each XPRIZE must be an equal mix of audacious and achievable, visionary yet practical. Many XPRIZE initiatives have gained wide attention in the media for their ambitious goals, which range from creating a reusable manned spacecraft to developing super-efficient vehicles that could achieve 100 MPGe efficiency. The 2016 contest should be just as exciting! 


The Forum for Young Global Leaders

Grown out of the World Economic Forum, the Forum for Young Global Leaders seeks to develop and connect a diverse set of entrepreneurial individuals to improve the state of the world. All under age 40, the Young Global Leaders enter a five year program during which they collaborate on innovative solutions to global problems, develop their personal and team leadership skills, and create change by acting on the issues they care about, are doing something about, and making part of our global agenda..


Preity Zinta

Preity Zinta is more than just a world-famous Bollywood actress and former model, she is a humanitarian involved in numerous charitable organizations and women’s groups. She was named the Goodwill Ambassador for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS in 2010. Zinta founded PZNZ Media, an Indian film production company, and co-owner of Indian Premier League cricket team Kings XI Punjab. Today she is also a member of the Global Entrepreneurs Council.