Throughout history, there have been people whose ideas, actions and discoveries inspired positive change that has been felt across the world.
Here are ten people who have made a lasting impact on the world as we know it.
Mahatma Gandhi – Indian freedom fighter and leader
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Mahatma Gandhi was the primary leader of India’s independence movement.
He is considered to be the architect of peaceful protest, achieving his means through organised boycotts against British institutions in the form of nonviolent civil disobedience.
Gandhi’s teachings and philosophies inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world and he became a beacon of hope for oppressed and marginalised people.
His influence extended to important leaders and political movements including Martin Luther King, who drew from the writings of Gandhi in the development of his own theories about nonviolence.
Gandhi has been referred to unofficially as the Father of the Nation in India.
Marie Curie – Polish-born French physicist and chemist
“Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.”
Marie Curie conducted pioneering research on radioactivity and made huge contributions to the fight against cancer.
With her husband Pierre Curie, her efforts led to the discovery of polonium, radium and the further development of x-rays.
Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only woman to win the award in two different fields – her first in Physics in 1903 with husband Pierre and physicist Henri Becquerel, and again in 1911 for Chemistry.
Several educational and research institutions bear the Curie name and the Curie Institutes in Paris and Warsaw remain major centres of medical research to this day.
William Shakespeare – English playwright and actor
“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
During his lifetime, William Shakespeare wrote approximately 38 plays, 154 sonnets and two long narrative poems.
His works covered various genres including comedy, romance, tragedy and history and captured the complete range of human emotion and conflict.
Shakespeare’s works went on to inspire hundreds of renowned writers including Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and Agatha Christie and his highly popular plays are constantly studied and re-interpreted.
Shakespeare is one of the most famous contributors to the world of literature and is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language.
Eleanor Roosevelt – American politician, diplomat and activist
“You must do the things you think you cannot do.”
Former First Lady of the United States Eleanor Roosevelt was a great humanitarian who dedicated much of her life to fighting for political and social change.
She changed the role of the first lady through her active participation in politics. During her husband’s presidency, she gave press conferences and spoke out for human rights, children’s causes and women’s issues.
She also focussed on helping the country’s poor, stood against racial discrimination and, during World War II, travelled abroad to visit U.S. troops.
After her husband’s death, she served at the United Nations, focusing on human rights and women’s issues.
President Harry S. Truman later called her the “First Lady of the World” in tribute to her human rights achievements.
Tim Berners-Lee – English computer scientist
“You affect the world by what you browse.”
Tim Berners-Lee is best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web and is Director of the World Wide Web Consortium, which oversees the web’s continued development.
He helped launch the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), which seeks to make internet access more affordable so that access is broadened in the developing world.
Berners-Lee has also spoken out in favour of net neutrality and is an advocate of the idea that it is a kind of human network right.
He has been on record stating that internet service providers should neither control nor monitor customers’ browsing activities without their expressed consent.
He is also one of two key figures behind data.gov.uk, a UK Government project to open up almost all data acquired for official purposes for free re-use.
Susan B Anthony – American social reformer and feminist
“There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.”
Susan B Anthony was a suffragist, abolitionist, author and speaker who was president of the National America Woman Suffrage Association.
She co-founded the Women’s Loyal National League – which called for the abolition of slavery – and the American Equal Rights Association, which campaigned for equal rights for both women and African Americans.
The Nineteenth Amendment, which guaranteed the right of women to vote, was popularly known as the Anthony Amendment and was passed in 1920.
Following this, the National America Woman Suffrage Association was transformed into the League of Women Voters, which is still an active force in U.S. politics.
Winston Churchill – British statesmen and former Prime Minister
“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955, Churchill was also an officer in the British Army, a historian, a writer and an artist.
As Prime Minister, Churchill rallied the British people during WWII and led his country from the brink of defeat to victory.
During this time he also introduced key reforms including the first minimum wage, improved working conditions in the mines and established standards for housing.
He won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the United States.
Queen Victoria – British Monarch
“We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat; they do not exist.”
Queen Victoria ruled over the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20th June 1837 until her death on 22nd January 1901.
She was the longest reigning monarch in UK history before this title was taken by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015.
Her reign of 63 years and seven months is known as the Victorian era and is associated with Britain’s great age of industrial expansion, economic progress and, especially, empire.
Around the world, places and memorials are dedicated to her and in 1856, the Victoria Cross was introduced to reward acts of valour during the Crimean War.
It remains the highest British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand award for bravery.
Nelson Mandela – South African civil rights activist and President
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Nelson Mandela was an anti-apartheid revolutionary who served as the first President of an anti-apartheid South Africa from 1994 to 1999.
He became actively involved in the movement at a young age and for 20 years directed a campaign of peaceful, non-violent defiance against the South African government and its racist policies.
In 1994, Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalised racism and fostering racial reconciliation.
In 1993, Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to dismantle South Africa’s apartheid system. His birthday (July 18th) was declared Mandela Day to celebrate his legacy and promote global peace.
Rosa Parks – African American civil rights activist
“Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.”
Rosa Parks played a huge role in implementing efforts to end segregation in America.
Her refusal to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama spurred a city-wide boycott.
This led to a lift of the law requiring segregation on public buses in Montgomery and, eventually, a nationwide effort to end segregation on public facilities.
Parks organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr who gained national prominence in the civil rights movement.
Parks also received national recognition, including the NAACP’s 1979 Spingarn Medal – the highest award.
The United States Congress called her “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement”.