'Tis the season to show appreciation for some curlies who have made a difference in the world through their thoughts and actions. We selected inspired individuals from all walks of life, from all around the globe.
1. Willa Shalit, the daughter of film critic Gene Shalit, launched Fair Winds Trading to sell gorgeous, exotic objects while furthering peace and justice. Shalit has collabrated for the past five years with the women of Rwanda, paying them a sustainable wage for their handwoven baskets, jewelry, textile bags and table linens, which she imports to the United States through Fair Winds. She plans to branch out to Tanzania, Cambodia and Indonesia.
2. Malcolm Gladwell has helped us redefine success and achievement through books like "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference" (2000), "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" (2005), and "Outliers: The Story of Success" (2008). The British-born Canadian journalist and author has been a staff writer with The New Yorker magazine since 1996. His 1999 profile of Ron Popeil won a National Magazine Award, and in 2005 he was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People.
3. Desmond Mpilo Tutu is a South African cleric and activist who rose to worldwide fame during the 1980s as an opponent of apartheid. In 1984, Tutu became the second South African to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Tutu was elected and ordained the first black South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, and primate of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (now the Anglican Church of Southern Africa). Tutu chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and is currently the chairman of The Elders.
4. President-elect Barack Obama, whether he won or lost, changed our perceptions of what is possible. Obama's biography is an impressive one. He is the biracial son of a father from Kenya and a white mother who had him at 18. He was raised in the dynamic, multi-ethnic cultures of Hawaii and Indonesia. He held positions as president of the Harvard Law Review, a community organizer and a U.S. Senator before, at age 46, he won the highest office in the United States. The French junior minister for human rights, Rama Yade, said it well on Nov. 5: "On this morning, we all want to be American so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes."
5. Oprah Winfrey has become a one-woman symbol for ingenuity, hope, success and philanthropy. Born in rural Mississippi to a poor teenage mother, she has gone on to have the highest-rated talk show in the history of television, publish a popular magazine, become an an Academy Award-nominated actress, become a magazine publisher and become one of the most influential woman in the world. She has used her success to help others. Last year, she topped a list of the 30 largest public donations made by celebrities. Her philosophy toward philanthropy is: "Think about what you have to give, not in terms of dollars because I believe that your life is about service. It's about what you came to give the world, to your children, to your family."
6. When he co-founded Google Inc. in 1998, Sergey Brin changed the way we navigate the Internet, and created a new verb in the process. Who among us hasn't "Googled" something or someone? Along with co-founder Larry Page, they together ranked #1 by PC World Magazine (2007) of the “50 Most Important People on the Web.” His family’s roots and educational barriers in the communist state contributed to his current philosophy that information should be available to everyone without limitations. Brin and Page crammed their dormitory room with inexpensive computers and applied Brin’s data mining system to build a superior search engine. The program became popular at Stanford and they suspended their Ph.D studies to start up Google in a rented garage.
7. Dean Kaman, an American entrepreneur and inventor from New Hampshire, has changed the world with his ingenuity. The "Pied Piper of Technology" holds more than 440 U.S. and foreign patents, many of them for innovative medical devices that have expanded the frontiers of health care worldwide. While still a college undergraduate, he invented the first wearable infusion pump, which rapidly gained acceptance from diverse medical specialties such as chemotherapy, neonatology and endocrinology. Kamen was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 2000 by then-President Clinton for inventions that have advanced medical care worldwide. Other Kaman inventions include the Segway and IBOT. He also has an a profound impact on helping others follow in his footsteps. In 1989, he founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) for high school students, providing over 1,000 high schools with the tools needed to learn valuable engineering skills.
8. For 40 years, artist Betye Saar has written searing narratives about race and gender. Saar, who is of African, Irish and American Indian ancestry, deals with discomfort by focusing on stereotypical images and language and not allowing her audience to turn away. In the late 1960s Saar began collecting images of Aunt Jemima, Uncle Tom, Little Black Sambo, and other stereotyped African-American figures from folk culture and advertising. She incorporated them into collages and assemblages, transforming them into provocative statements of political and social protest. "You wouldn’t expect the woman who put a gun in Aunt Jemima’s hands to be a shrinking violet. And Betye Saar, who for 40 years has constructed searing narratives about race and gender — including “Ms. Saar and her work can still muster the mojo," according to a 2006 article in "The New York Times."
9. Nothing short of gender equality will satisfy Anita Defrantz. In 1986, DeFrantz became the first American woman and first African American to serve on the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Her inclusion was considered groundbreaking in an institution that has been dominated by white men and non-athletes. A descendent of slaves, she has received dozens of awards for her work on behalf of athletes and nearly as many medals as an athlete herself. Many have called her the most powerful woman in sports. DeFrantz competed in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal as a rower. She currently serves as president of LA84 Foundation, which was set up to use funds raised by the 1984 L.A. Olympics for youth sports. She once said "Your goal should be out of reach but not out of sight."
10. Mark Zuckerberg has changed the way we connect with our friends. As a Harvard student, the computer programmer and entrepreneur created the online social website Facebook in 2004 with fellow computer science major students and his roommates Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes. He serves as Facebook's CEO. In 2008, Forbes Magazine declared him "the youngest billionaire on earth and possibly the youngest self-made billionaire ever." Facebook, a social networking website, is a free-access website that allows users to connect with friends. "The real accomplishment is to make those connections so versatile and different that they create a social network that not only reflects your life but maybe expands it. Mark Zuckerberg... has done just that," said Time magazine in naming him one of its Top 100 Most Influential People in 2008.