The 30 Most Influential People in the World

From politicians to activists and innovators to celebrities, these are the people who left a mark on the world.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

The most influential people in the world: Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey, Greta Thunberg and Bill Gates

Who have you looked up to that has played an integral role in your career? This person could be a superstar athlete, a politician who influenced society, or an activist who has challenged the establishment one way or another.

In today’s world, it might seem like nobody is genuine anymore, and that everything is corrupt. However, with a little bit of digging (at home or abroad), you can find people with remarkable achievements trying to better the planet. After all, we all need a good old success story once in a while to elevate our spirits, particularly in this day and age.

We’ve compiled a list of 30 of the most influential people in the world. If you’re curious about who they are, read on!

1. Michelle Obama

Influential Michelle Obama SpeakingGage Skidmore (flickr)

Michelle Obama, the first African American First Lady in US history, is one of the most powerful and celebrated women today.

A lawyer by profession and the best-selling author of Becoming [paid link], she is not only a role model for women around the globe but has also proven how she can stand tall when faced with racial discrimination and stereotyping. Her next book, The Light We Carry, is due for release in November 2022, in which she talks about “navigating an increasingly stressful world”.

She’s a strong advocate of human rights and female empowerment, and is primarily focused on encouraging young people to complete their education past high school through her Reach Higher initiative.

2. Imran Khan

Imran Khan at World Economic ForumWorld Economic Forum (flickr)

The most famous cricketer of all time, and the captain of the Pakistan cricket team that won the 1992 Cricket World Cup, Imran Khan has proven to be a savior for his home country. He was the Prime Minister of Pakistan from 2018 until he was removed from office in April 2022 following a motion of no confidence motion. However, during his time in office, he built a world-class cancer hospital in Lahore and a top-notch university in the North-West Frontier Province.

Khan is not only a famous athlete but also a hope for the younger generation as they all work towards the dream of making a better Pakistan.

3. Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg making influential speechAnthony Quintano (flickr)

Mark Zuckerberg is the founder and CEO of Meta (previously Facebook), which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. It was Zuckerberg’s breakthrough idea that has changed the way people connect, with Facebook having already surpassed 1 billion registered users and currently sits at approximately 2.93 billion monthly users. Instagram, meanwhile, is the sixth-ranked photo-sharing app and has 2 billion active monthly users.

As one of the richest people in the world, Zuckerberg is well known for his philanthropy after pledging to give 99% of his shares in Facebook in the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. He and his wife, Priscilla, announced an investment of $3 billion to help towards curing the world’s diseases, too.

4. Zhang Kejian

Zhang KejianIAEA Imagebank (flickr)

Zhang Kejian is the Director of the China National Space Administration. He has played a critical role in several successful orbital launches made by China in 2018. His Chang’e 4 rover landed on the far side of the moon in 2019, and this was the first-ever touchdown by China in the lunar hemisphere. He has many other plans for China and is committed to making it an important player in this area.

5. Greta Thunberg

Environmentalist and Influencer Greta ThunbergEuropean Parliament (flickr)

Greta Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist, gained significant international recognition in her quest to promote the crisis that humanity is facing due to climate change. She is only 19 years old, but Thunberg has dared to criticize world leaders for their lack of action when addressing the climate crisis. She even made a surprise appearance at Glastonbury 2022, where she warned that the world faces “total natural catastrophe” unless people take action against climate change.

She has already received numerous honors and awards, including the honorary Fellowship of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, inclusion in Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women list, and two nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.

6. Robert Mueller

Influential FBI Director Robert Mueller U.S. Embassy Tallinn, Estonia (flickr)

Robert Mueller is an American lawyer and governmental official, who served as the director of the FBI from 2001 to 2013. He has also served as a Marine Corps officer during the Vietnam War and has received a Bronze Star for heroism and a Purple Heart.

Mueller was appointed as special counsel overseeing an investigation into allegations of Russian interference during the 2016 Presidential elections. His report, submitted in March 2019, caused quite a stir in the political realm in America. Following his report, he retired from the “special counsel”, and the office was shut down.

7. LeBron James

Superstar basketball player LeBron James Ian D

LeBron James, an American professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers, is considered to be one of the greatest basketball players in NBA history. His key achievements include three NBA championships, four NBA Most Valuable Player awards, three Finals Most Valuable Player Awards and two Olympic gold medals. In 2022, he agreed to a $97.1 million extension with the LA Lakers — a record-breaking deal.

He is loved and admired by millions of people and has seen great success on the basketball court, as well as in business, in Hollywood and media. In fact, in 2021, he starred in the new Space Jam movie.

8. Nancy Pelosi

Influential politician Nancy PelosiGage Skidmore (flickr)

Nancy Pelosi was appointed as the Speaker of the US House of Representatives in 2019. She was also the House Speaker from 2007 to 2011, and is the only woman in the history of the US to hold this position. She is also the highest-ranking woman elected official in US history, and is currently second in the presidential line of succession, after Vice President Kamala Harris.

9. Xi Jinping

Influential person Xi JinpingUN Geneva (flickr)

Xi Jinping is, since 2013, the President of the People’s Republic of China. He is one of the most prominent figures in China and has received the title of leadership core from the Communist Party of China in 2016. President Xi is mostly known for getting a grip on the COVID-19 pandemic and getting into a landmark trade agreement with the US.

10. Spike Lee

Influential person Spike LeeMichael Lloyd (flickr)

Spike Lee is an American actor, director, producer, screenwriter and professor. In his illustrious career, Lee has produced 35 films, and has been an influential voice in the war against racism, poverty, crime and other political issues. He has received an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, a BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, two Emmy Awards, two Peabody Awards, and the Cannes Grand Prix.

Several of his films have also been inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry.

11. Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern making influential speechNevada Halbert (flickr)

Jacinda Ardern is the 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand and the Leader of the Labour Party. She is a social democrat with a progressive vision and has been praised for her leadership skills and her handling of major challenges, including the Christchurch mosque shooting and the COVID-19 pandemic in New Zealand.

12. Pope Francis

Highly influential Pope Francis sittingCatholic Church England and Wales (flickr)

Pope Francis is the head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City. He is the first Jesuit pope, and he is also the first Pope born outside Europe. He has garnered great respect for his kindness, humility, international vision, inclusiveness and commitment to interfaith dialogue.

13. Lady Gaga

Influential pop star Lady Gagaproacguy1 (flickr)

Lady Gaga, born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, is a singer, songwriter, record producer, actress and businesswoman. Her five studio albums debuted atop the US Billboard 200 chart, and her album Born This Way sold more than 1 million copies in a single week. She was the first woman to win an Oscar, Grammy, BAFTA and Golden Globe within one year. Lady Gaga is also one of the highest-paid celebrities in the world.

14. Loujain al-Hathloul

Powerful Arab Woman Loujain Al HathloulPOMED (flickr)

Loujain al-Hathloul is a women’s rights activist from Saudi Arabia. She was arrested for defying the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia and has also been arrested on the charge of attempts to destabilize the Saudi kingdom. In 2015, she appeared on the list of the Top Most 100 Powerful Arab Women and received the 2018 PEN America/Barbey Freedom to Write award.

15. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Highly Influential politician Alexandria Ocasio Corteznrkbeta (flickr)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a member of the Democratic Party and came into the limelight when she won the primary election in 2018 after defeating long-time congressman Joe Crowley. This was seen as the biggest upset in the midterm election primaries. Alexandria is also the youngest woman to serve in the US Congress.

16. Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuWorld Economic Forum (flickr)

Benjamin Netanyahu has been the Prime Minister of Israel since 2009, making him the longest-serving Prime Minister in Israeli history. He was also the head of state from 1996 to 1999. Despite being a controversial figure that has been under investigation for corruption, his leadership has impacted Israel’s growth significantly.

17. Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan

Influential crown prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyandesignman78 (Wikimedia)

Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. He is also the Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and was named the most powerful Arab ruler by The New York Times, while he has also been called one of the most powerful men on Earth. He was also featured in the list of the 100 most influential people of 2019 by Time magazine.

18. Donald Trump

Influential Former US President Donald TrumpGage Skidmore (flickr)

Former US President Donald Trump has used a completely different approach as the leader of one of the most powerful economies in the world. In his first term in the White House, he has pushed for fairer trade agreements with China, Canada, Europe and Mexico, and initiated peace efforts with North Korea. His controversial presidency has led to him being one of the most talked-about leaders in recent history.

19. Rami Malek

American actor and producer Rami MalekWalt Disney Television (flickr)

Rami Malek is an American actor and producer. He has received an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor. It’s worth noting that he was the first actor with Egyptian heritage to win the Academy Award for Best Actor and to garner such recognition.

20. BTS

Popular South Korean boy band Bangtan BoysBulletProof7BTS (Wikimedia)

BTS, also known as the Bangtan Boys, is a seven-member South Korean boy band that was formed in 2010. The group was the first to have an album sell a million copies in South Korea. By 2017, it penetrated the international music market.

BTS was the first to receive a certification from the Recording Industry Association of America and was also the first Korean act to top the Billboard 200. They are also the fastest group since the Beatles to earn four number one albums in less than two years.

The group has sold more than 20 million albums on the Gaon Music Chart and is the best-selling music band in the history of South Korea. The group has received the Top Social Artist award three years in a row and is also in the list of Time’s Next Generation Leaders.

21. Barack Obama

 inspirational former US President Barack ObamaCenter for American Progress Action Fund (Wikimedia)

Barack Obama is an inspiration to many. In 2008, he was the first African American President to be appointed in US history, and his term was renewed in 2012 due to his popularity with the US people.

His presidency was marked by major legislation on healthcare reform, economic recovery from recession, and financial regulation reform. He was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between nations.

Throughout his presidency, he gave great speeches to the masses but, in private, was quite reserved and was quite an introverted leader.

22. Bill Gates

Influential person Bill GatesKuhlmann /MSC (Wikimedia)

Bill Gates is an American computer programmer, philanthropist and business magnate. He’s best known as the founder of Microsoft Corporation and is also the cofounder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

He has been ranked as one of the most influential people in history by various media outlets, including Time magazine and Forbes, and has been the richest person in the world for 18 out of the past 23 years. He’s also one of the world’s most famous geniuses — literally.

23. Tim Cook

Innovative Apple CEO Tim CookACC District (flickr)

Tim Cook, best known as CEO of Apple, took over after the passing of Steve Jobs. Cook is well-known for his innovation, and he inspires this trait among others, too. He has been with Apple for more than 20 years and has been a key player in the company’s success.

Tim attended Auburn University where he studied industrial engineering and graduated with honors in 1982. His upbringing is one of the reasons people are so inspired and influenced by him, as he worked hard to get to where he is today.

24. Oprah Winfrey

Powerful person Oprah WinfreyNewhouseSU (flickr)

Oprah Winfrey is next on the list with a true rags-to-riches story. She was born to a teenage mother but grew up with her grandmother on a farm, where she suffered through poverty and abuse from male relatives.

At 19, she became the youngest (and first) Black female news anchor for a news station in Nashville, and from there signed a contract to host her own daytime television talk show. And, as they say, the rest is history.

She later began The Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation and devotes her efforts to global education efforts and empowering women. Her philanthropy has raised millions for charitable causes.

25. Zendaya

Influential person ZendayaGage Skidmore (flickr)

Best known for her role as Michelle in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Zendaya has been named one of the most influential people in the world in 2022.

She began her career as a singer and breakdancer, before starting her TV career on Disney Channel’s Shake it Up. She went on to star in the award-winning musical The Greatest Showman, where her song with Zac Efron reached the top 20 in the singles charts.

Zendaya is passionate about supporting campaigns that raise awareness about underserved communities and underprivileged schools. She partnered with the Verizon Foundation in 2017 for their #WeNeedMore initiative, which aims to bring technology access and learning opportunities to children, as well as encourage children into careers in STEM.

26. Volodymyr Zelensky

Influential Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky (Wikimedia)

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky won widespread support because of his anti-corruption ideas, and his global acclaim increased during the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Tens of millions of people have watched and shared Zelensky’s videos online, as he truly harnessed the power of social media to bring light to the atrocities being committed in his country. Harvard Political Review named him “the first truly online wartime leader”, as he bypassed traditional methods to reach out to a worldwide audience for help.

His moving speeches have rallied the world to help the Ukraine cause, and for this reason, he’s an inspiration to many.

27. Rafael Nadal

Influential Spanish tennis champion Rafael Nadal playing tennisbrett marlow (flickr)

Spanish tennis champion Rafael Nadal is ranked world number 3 in 2022, and has won a record-breaking 22 Grand Slam men’s singles titles to date. As part of the Big Three (including Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic), the left-handed player is well known for his philanthropy, and opened the Fundación Rafa Nadal in 2008. The aim of the foundation is to focus on social work and development aid for youths. His foundation has also worked in the Anantapur Educational Center project.

His influence spreads far, and he continues to encourage young children to pursue a career in sport.

28. Adele

Influential singer and songwriter Adele smilingKristopher Harris (Wikimedia)

Adele graduated from the infamous BRIT school in 2006 and signed a record deal that led to the creation of her debut album, 19 — which gave her two UK Top 5 singles: “Chasing Pavements” and “Make You Feel My Love”.

Adele regularly performs at charity concerts and is a major contributor to MusiCares, which is an organization founded by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for musicians that need support. She also donates autographed items to raise money and continues to attract fans in their droves — and we can definitely see why! She’s a down-to-earth and welcoming Tottenham girl that brings goosebumps when she sings.

29. Kris Jenner

Kris Jenner Nicole Alexander (Wikimedia)

Kris Jenner, the momager for the Kardashian family, was nominated as one of the most influential people in the world by her friend and producer Ryan Seacrest. Ryan said: “When I was first introduced to Kris Jenner, she possessed everything you would envy in a person: charisma, confidence, and warmth”.

With a strong matriarchal persona, she continues to influence the new generation who flock to watch Keeping up with the Kardashians in their droves. I’m sure we could all take a leaf out of her book when it comes to business.

30. Sarah Jessica Parker

Iconic Sarah Jessica Parker speakingALA The American Library Association (flickr)

Now, I’m not sure about you, but I first knew Sarah Jessica Parker from her role in Hocus Pocus, but many know her from her iconic role as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City. Her character was widely popular, and she influenced many young minds. From her fashion work and choices to her work in production, she has many talents that inspire those around her.

I think it’s her glamour and her fearlessness that provokes such a reaction from people. She doesn’t seem afraid to be who she wants to be, and that’s wonderful.

Final thoughts

Which of these entrants do you think has the best success stories? A girl from the Bronx who rose to political stardom or an Asian boy band that is as much of a juggernaut as Justin Bieber?

In this chaotic world, it can be difficult to find a bright spot in all the darkness. Many people may be too cynical to be influenced by somebody else’s success, contending that the world doesn’t make them like they used to.

A lot of people may disagree with the politics and choices of some of these folks, but their success can be examples of either overcoming all odds or making a dent. Whatever their life story may be, they will go down in history for their influence on society.

Who else do you think should be on this list? Let us know in the comments section below.

Originally published on July 25, 2020. Updated by Hayley Ramsey.