25 Inspiring CEOs Who Change Lives Every Single Day

The cutting edge of global positive change.


(yakiniku / shutterstock.com)

Technology and globalization are essential factors in the 21st century business eco-systems, bringing leaders crucial data on poverty, malnutrition, disease, climate and agriculture - to name just a few. And with this data, businesses and other dedicated organizations are coming up with viable solutions to change the world for the better. At the same time, non-profit organizations are changing, traditional business models are changing, and the business and non-profit world are working together to solve issues, test products, and create new innovative solutions.

This list of 25 inspiring CEOs represents the cutting edge of global positive change, introducing leaders who are impacting lives in their jobs, every day.


Neil and three friends launched Warby Parker in 2010. Warby Parker provides high-quality, better-looking prescription eyewear at reasonable prices, while partnering with non-profits like VisionSpring to ensure that for every pair of glasses sold, a pair is distributed to someone in need. Blumenthal was previously the Director of VisionSpring, and brings his nonprofit experience into the commercial sphere.


Prior to her involvement in Acumen, which raises charitable donations to invest in companies, leaders, and ideas that are changing the way the world tackles poverty, Jacqueline founded and directed The Philanthropy Workshop and The Next Generation Leadership programs at the Rockefeller Foundation. She also co-founded Duterimbere, a micro-finance institution in Rwanda.


Barbara Bush is CEO and co-founder of Global Health Corps, an organization that has deployed 322 fellows from 24 citizenships to work in 7 countries, since 2009. Bush has traveled with the UN World Food Programme, focusing on the importance of nutrition in ARV treatment, and is also a member of UNICEF’s Next Generation Steering Committee and the UN Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council.


In 2004, Scott Harrison left New York City for the shores of West Africa. Looking for a change in his life, Harrison ventured out to revive a lost Christian faith with action and asked the question: What would the opposite of my life look like? After signing up for volunteer service aboard a floating hospital with Mercy Ships, Harrison was inspired to start charity:water, a nonprofit that provides clean and safe water to people in developing countries.


Rachael Chong is the founder and CEO of Catchafire, a platform that connects professionals with nonprofits on projects that create positive social impact. Catchafire has become the world’s largest online skills-based volunteer marketplace. In 2012, Rachael was listed in Fast Company’s Most 100 Creative People in Business and received the NYC Venture Fellowship and the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award.


Kohl Crecelius and his team are on a mission to fundamentally change what it means to do business and to do good with Krochet Kids intl., a non-profit which provides employment, education and mentorship to over 150 people in Uganda and Peru. The products created through the program helps to create a sustainable cycle of employment and empowerment.


Margaret Laws has distinguished herself as a catalytic leader in health care, forging cross-sector partnerships that drive positive social impact. At HopeLab, Laws leads a multidisciplinary team combining behavioral science, user-centered design, rigorous research and partnerships with innovators to create technologies and products that help people thrive. She is passionate about bringing together government, nonprofit and private-sector stakeholders interested in advancing the role technology can play in supporting and improving health and well-being, with a particular focus on improving care and outcomes for underserved populations.


Jim Ziolkowski is the best-selling author of Walk in Their Shoes and the founder, president and CEO of buildOn, a nonprofit working solve poverty and illiteracy through education and service. Inspired by his own travels to some of the most impoverished countries in the world and his experiences living in Harlem, Ziolkowski derailed his fast-track career in corporate finance to dedicate his life to buildOn.


Jessica Matthews is the Co-Founder & CEO of Uncharted Play, a for-profit social enterprise dedicated to improving lives through play. Their flagship product is the SOCCKET, an energy harnessing soccer ball. Matthews was named one of the 10 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs by Fortune in 2011, and was invited by US President Barack Obama to the White House to represent small companies for the signing of the America Invents Act.


Michael Ellott is the President and Chief Executive Officer of ONE, a global campaigning and advocacy organization of nearly seven million people, taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Previously, Elliot served as editor of TIME International, Deputy Managing Editor of TIME Magazine, and was a columnist on the global economy for Fortune magazine.


Jeremy Heimans is co-founder and CEO of Purpose, a public benefit corporation for building 21st century movements and ventures that use the power of participation to change the world. Since its launch in 2009, Purpose has launched several major new organizations including All Out, a 1.7 million-strong LGBT rights group, built the world’s first open-source global activism platform, and advised institutions like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the ACLU and Google.


As CEO of Opportunity International, Vicki Escarra sets strategic priorities, facilitates relationships with global partners and leads the organization’s efforts to empower people— particularly women—to work their way out of poverty, strengthen their families and improve their communities. Before joining Opportunity International, Escarra spent six years as president and chief executive officer of Feeding America, the US’s largest domestic hunger relief organization. Among other achievements, she led the organization through an extensive reorganization and rebranding from America’s Second Harvest to Feeding America which increased donations 300 percent and doubled the number of people the organization serves.


Jensine (Yen-See Nah) Larsen is an award-winning social media entrepreneur, international journalist and speaker. At age 28 she founded World Pulse – an action media network powered by women. Today 50,000 women from 190 countries are connecting through World Pulse and producing a multiplier effect of change. Women previously unknown by the global public are having their stories picked up from World Pulse by the BBC, CNN, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, the UN, the Huffington Post and beyond. In addition, by networking through World Pulse’s website grassroots women leaders are finding job opportunities, starting new programs and businesses, launching women’s cybercafés, and finding international speaking opportunities that are changing their lives and lifting their communities.


Steve Davis founded the international nonprofit PATH out of a life-long commitment to human rights and global development. The organization leads global health innovation, saving lives and improving life-expectancy around the developing world. Davis has employed the same passion as a leader and strategist for a range of private and nonprofit companies and international organizations, including as CEO of internet pioneer and global digital media firm Corbis, director of social innovation for McKinsey & Company, and interim CEO of the Infectious Disease Research Institute.


Jean Case is an actively engaged philanthropist who, together with her husband Steve Case, created the Case Foundation in 1997. Case spent her early days at the Case Foundation doing a deep-dive into philanthropy and seeking the best ways she could make a difference. After having success with some early initiatives (and learning some really valuable lessons!) she realized that she and Steve could make the biggest impact by centering the Foundation around many of the same entrepreneurial approaches they cultivated throughout their business careers. As Case would be quick to tell you, a good investment is a good investment — even if the way you measure a return changes somewhat as you move across sectors. The Case Foundation has long believed it is better to focus its efforts on a small number of “big ideas” – focusing on a handful of swing-for-the-fences ideas that have transformative potential.  


Martin Edlund is a founding member and CEO of Malaria No More. During his tenure at the organization, he has implemented high-profile engagement campaigns, complemented by cutting edge mobile, social, and e-commerce platforms as Chief Marketing Officer. Edlund also lived and worked in West Africa as Malaria No More’s Director of New Programs, where he helped launch innovative net distribution and education campaigns with country leadership and local partners in Senegal, Cameroon, and Chad. Prior to joining MNM, Martin was a journalist for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New Republic and Slate, among other publications, and a political consultant in Washington, D.C., specializing in online campaign strategies.


Lauren Bush Lauren is the Founder and CEO of FEED, a social business whose mission is to “Create Good Products That Help FEED the World.” In 2004, Lauren became the Honorary Student Spokesperson for the UN World Food Programme. During this time, she traveled to various countries and learned about the issues of hunger and poverty. Lauren was inspired to create a consumer product that would engage people in the seemingly overwhelming fight to end world hunger. In 2005, she envisioned the idea for FEED by designing the initial FEED 1 bag which, when purchased, feeds one child in school for one year. In 2007, FEED was founded. Every product sold has a measurable donation attached to it. FEED has been able to donate over $6 million and provide nearly 60 million school meals globally through the United Nations World Food Programme and Feeding America. FEED has also supported nutrition programs around the world, providing vitamin supplements to over 3.5 million children through UNICEF.



Matt Mahan is responsible for the strategic and operational leadership of Causes.com, the world’s largest platform for social good with over 180 million registered users, 20,000 nonprofit and corporate partners, and 500,000 grassroots action campaigns. Matt served as Causes’ Chief Operating Officer from 2011-2012 and prior to that ran business development for the company, overseeing nonprofit and corporate partnerships and creating its first revenue products. Matt has been featured as a panelist and speaker at leading conferences, including the United Nations Economic and Social Council Youth Forum, Social Capital (SOCAP), Net Impact, Nexus Global Youth Summit, Stanford’s Social Media On Purpose, and Social Media Day. He is a frequent presenter on college campuses, including Harvard, Wharton, Boston College and Duke, and delivered the keynote address at the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Nonprofit Conference.


Nina Nashif is the Founder and CEO of Healthbox, bringing with her 15 years of experience working within entrepreneurship and healthcare management. Healthbox is a platform to stimulate early-stage innovation, enabling entrepreneurial success while creating a collaborative global ecosystem to build positive change in the healthcare industry. As founder and CEO of Healthbox, Nashif was named a 2013 Chicago TechWeek 100 as well as 2013 “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum, an honor awarded to individuals sparking economic development and change around the world. She also spoke at TEDMED 2013.


Andreas Raptopoulos is the founder and CEO of Matternet, a Silicon Valley startup building networks of flying drones to carry essential goods to otherwise inaccessible areas. Matternet uses lightweight, electric unmanned flying vehicles capable of carrying 2kg packages between low cost ground stations. Matternet networks will be set up in places with poor road infrastructure in the developing world to enable the delivery of vaccines, medicine or diagnostics; in places affected by natural disasters for first response; and in congested cities in the developing, emerging and eventually the developed world for transportation of small goods.


Gene Gurkoff is the founder of Charity Miles, a free iPhone/Android app that encourages users to earn money for charity from corporate sponsors when they walk, run or bike. Since launching in June 2014, over 100,000 people have walked, run and biked enough Charity Miles to go from earth to the moon and back three times, collectively earning over $400,000 for charity. Charity Miles has been widely recognized as a top fitness app and has won several awards, including the SXSW Dewey Winburne Award for Social Good and the SXSW People’s Choice Award for the entire 2013 SXSW Interactive Festival. Gurkoff has personally run 38 marathons and six Ironman triathlons to raise money and awareness for Parkinson’s research in honor of his grandfather.


David Miliband is the President of the International Rescue Committee, which responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people to survive and rebuild their lives. Founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein, the IRC offers lifesaving care and life-changing assistance to refugees forced to flee from war or disaster. Miliband has had a distinguished political career in the United Kingdom over the last 15 years and resigned as Member of Parliament for South Shields on March 27, 2013. From 2007 to 2010, he served as the youngest UK Foreign Secretary in three decades, driving advancements in human rights and representing the United Kingdom throughout the world. As Secretary of State for the Environment he pioneered the world’s first legally binding emissions reduction requirements.


Andrea Tamburini joined Action Against Hunger in 2010 as the Head of Programme for Pakistan and Nigeria, and was appointed Director of Operations in June 2011 and then CEO in July 2014. He served on the front lines of global humanitarian initiatives since 2000, consulting with the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and its Policy Development and Studies Branch. He has been a Visiting Professor and is a current lecturer with Fordham University’s International Institute of Humanitarian Affairs, a program which he helped to design. He began his career in the humanitarian sector in Kosovo at the close of the conflict in the Balkans, with subsequent field post including India, Vietnam, the West Bank and Gaza, Iraq, Jordan, Darfur and Lebanon.


Leila Janah is the Founder and CEO of Sama Group, a non-profit business that connects marginalized women and youth to dignified work via the Internet. Janah is an award-winning social entrepreneur, serving as a Visiting Scholar with the Stanford Program on Global Justice and Australian National University’s Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics prior to Sama Group. She was a founding Director of Incentives for Global Health, an initiative to increase R&D spending on diseases of the poor, and a management consultant at Katzenbach Partners (now Booz & Co.). She has also worked at the World Bank and as a travel writer for Let’s Go in Mozambique, Brazil, and Borneo.


Humanitarian and internationally-renowned development advocate Hugh Evans is the CEO of the Global Poverty Project, an international education and advocacy organization working towards the end of extreme poverty by 2030. Evans founded the Oaktree Foundation and was a leader in the Australian Make Poverty History campaign, holds a law and science degree and has completed a Masters in International Relations at the University of Cambridge, UK. In August 2012 the Global Poverty Project launched the Global Citizen Festival — a free ticketed charity music event featuring the Black Keys, Foo Fighters and Neil Young. Coinciding with the UN General Assembly meeting in September the Global Citizen Festival was held on the Great Lawn of New York City’s Central Park. Those wanting to attend the event had to take action and become active in the movement to end extreme poverty in order to be awarded a ticket. At the Global Citizen Festival, $1.3 billion in new commitments were made to help end extreme poverty with a major focus being put on the eradication of polio.