Forbes List of 100 Most Powerful Women Includes Leaders from Nonprofit Sector

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August 24, 2011; Source: Forbes Magazine | Forbes loves lists. This month the magazine enumerates the 100 most powerful women in the world, cheekily describing them as “Women on Top.” Pop star Lady Gaga is the youngest on the list, Queen Elizabeth the oldest; the average age is a boomerish 54. German Chancellor Angela Merkel tops the list, followed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff. Only a handful are specifically designated as hailing from the nonprofit sector, but the list features others with roots in nonprofits. Here are our nonprofit-y selections:

6. Melinda Gates She co-chairs the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropic foundation, giving her outsized influence in the arenas of education and health policy.

8. Michelle Obama Given her role as a key adviser to President Obama, we would have ranked the First Lady of the United States ahead of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (no. 5) on the Forbes list of the world’s most powerful women. Her nonprofit importance is obvious from prominence on the website of the Corporation for National and Community Service: there she is on the CNCS front page with the September 11th National Day of National Service and Remembrance.

9. Christine LaGarde The former French finance minister and current managing director of the International Monetary Fund was elected by IMF member states after her countryman Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned after being charged with sexual assault at a New York hotel in May.

21. Margaret Hamburg Although currently the commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Peggy Hamburg has deep nonprofit roots, not just from her own work in places such as the Nuclear Threat Initiative, but as the daughter of David Hamburg, the former president of the Carnegie Corporation.

30. Josette Sheeran A former journalist and technology executive, Sheeran started her career in government as the U.S. Trade Representative. After a stint at the U.S. State Department, she is now Executive director of the UN World Food Programme.

36. Helene Gayle CEO of CARE USA.

50. Helen Clark The former prime minister of New Zealand is current head of the UN Development Programme.

65. Sri Mulyani Indrawati An economist, Indrawati is the former Indonesian finance minister and now holds one of three managing-director posts at the World Bank.

68. Margaret Chan Hong Kong Health Director during the bird flu and SARS epidemics, Chan is currently director-general of the World Health Organization.

70. Abigail Johnson The daughter of Fidelity Investments founder Ned Johnson, Abby Johnson leads the next generation of a very philanthropically generous and creative family (see: the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund).

71. Judith Rodin The president of the Rockefeller Foundation is not a surprise name on this list, since in 2010, the foundation received a “Just Award” from Blue Avocado for “Narcissism in Philanthropy” due to the “overwhelming and relentless promotion of its president, Judith Rodin.” (Disclosure: I served on the Just Awards panel that year.)

83. Drew Gilpin Faust President of Harvard University.

95. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

We wonder which nonprofit leaders here and abroad Forbes overlooked.—Rick Cohen

  • Cory J. Howat

    I would name Vicki B. Escarra, President and CEO of Feeding America, the nation

  • rick cohen

    Good suggestion, thanks.

  • Tracy-Elizabeth Clay

    I would add Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of TEach For America. Much of the dynamism and innovation that is taking place in education reform today can be directly or indirectly traced back to Teach For America. It is the largest single intervention in public education in the US.

  • B Rochester

    you have got to be kidding me that you would put Michelle Obama ahead of any of these very prominent women on the list. there are so many more deserving women out there than her getting their hands dirty and feeling the sweat.
    if her husband wasn’t President would 1% of us ever heard of her.
    thought Forbes would have done much better.

  • Samuel

    I would also add Nancy Lubin, the CEO of and ever present on twitter. She is overseeing an amazing youth based organization that is shaping what the youth of America will think and do in the future.

  • Ekua Ansah -Eshon

    Sara Damber of Playing for Change a Swedish Charity for children in my view needs listing since her influence with the Corporate World is creating windows of opportunities for a number of very small on the ground Charities in Ghana and elswhere. ATCWAR has benifited emencely in media coverage by VIASAT ONE in Ghana, bringing 2nd Chance Night School for Teen Mothers into focus Bravo Sara. 😆

  • Ekua Ansah -Eshon

    🙁 FORBES:Ask those of us in the Global South and we will tell you who is making an impact where it pinches most.

  • J Steve

    Most powerfull is what the list represents – not most deserving