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Time’s 100 most influential people

Dr. Florangel R Braid

TIME’s special issue on the lives and ideas of the world’s most influential people is a fascinating read in the sense that while some of the names are predictable as they are very much in the public eye (Condoleezza Rice, Bill and Melinda Gates, President George W. Bush, George W. Bush Sr., Bill and Hillary Clinton, Pope Benedict XVI, Oprah Winfrey), a good many are not as prominent in terms of media exposure. 

In terms of role models, I have selected the following because of their relevance to our present society today.

The first one is the King of Bhutan who was once the world’s youngest king when he came to power in 1972. The writeup says that he rules his people more in the spirit of Buddha. Now 50, he believes that nations be measured by "gross national happiness" as he had observed that the rich are not always happy while the happy generally consider themselves rich. In 1998, he gave up absolute power and last year, he sent a new draft constitution that allowed for his impeachment. He further announced that he would step down two years from now and that his country would hold its first national democratic elections. As the Time writer said, if most politicians are suspect because they seem so eager to grab power and so reluctant to surrender it, what does one make of a leader who voluntarily gives up his position, as if placing his people’s needs before his own?

The second one is Jim Yong Kim, chief of both the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Division of Social Medicine at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Ten years ago at age 36, while working in the slums of Peru, he and his colleagues proved the experts wrong when he was able to treat an epidemic of drug-resistant TB. He then led a campaign that forced down the prices of necessary drugs about 90 percent. Working for the World Health Organization in 2003, Kim created a campaign to increase the number of AIDS patients treated to 3 million by 2005, and although the goal was not reached, more than 1 million new patients were being treated and total in Africa had increased eightfold.

The third is Vikram Akula, 37, founder of SKS Microfinance who uses advanced technology like smart cards to make venture capital available to more of the 800 people in India who live on less than a day. To date, he had dispensed million to 221,000 clients who find the cash-free system more efficient and safer.

The fourth is Ma Jun who wrote "China’s Water Crisis" which is the country’s first great environmental call to arms. A journalist turned environmental advocate, Ma continues to raise the alarm about what is believed to be the potentially catastrophic consequences of heedless, unsustainable growth. He thinks that his advocacy has resulted in greater awareness of environmental rights and the rights of people as citizens. For such a major problem, people have a right to know and have their voices heard. He believes that China has to learn faster and leapfrog the problems created in the West.

Finally, there is Angelina Jolie who has captured our admiration for her beauty, talent and compassion for the marginalized. As goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina, 30, spends a great deal of time in the developing world, visiting refugee camps, speaking and listening to the men, women, and children she is working to help. Mark Malloch Brown, deputy secretary-general of the UN describes her advocacy style thus: "That blending of the activist and the performer, not on the set but in the African bush, reflects her determination to stick with a subject, immerse herself in it, make it part of her life — and then bring her public with her. It is celebrity advocacy at its most effective, most intelligent and most sincere."

If we look around the country today, we can easily spot men and women whose innate abilities, training, talent and charisma can match the five I have chosen. What is perhaps lacking at this stage, is the will, the heart, the determination, and courage to succeed. Time Magazine, through this annual search for people who had made a difference in society, have contributed by showing us what is possible. 


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