The 2010s have been nothing short of world-changing. Ten years ago Facebook was barely starting to gain traction over Myspace and most of us were carrying flip phones.
But more than that it has been a decade filled with deep societal change with huge progress made in things such as equal rights, mental health, and spiritual awareness.
Don’t get me wrong, we still have so much work to do but that doesn’t mean we should discredit the amount of incredible things that have been accomplished in this past decade and the people who made them possible.
There have been so many incredibly influential and inspiring people that have changed our lives and shaped the world over the last ten years. So let’s take the time to highlight some of the most inspiring people and the marks they have left on us.
Now, you may not know everyone on this list and to that I say, heck yes! This is your chance to look back on some amazingly powerful things that have happened and get to know the incredible people who made it so!
Here are the most inspiring people of the 2010s
20. Malala Yousafzais
Malala gained massive worldwide fame at the beginning of the decade for being an 11-year-old girl secretly communicating with BBC reporters about life in Pakistan under Taliban rule. Throughout her early teen years, Malala became a symbol of strength for the women of Pakistan and the world as she fought to keep education available for women.
Even after she was shot at the age of fourteen and nearly died her voice could not be silenced. Because of her efforts, Pakistan passed equal education legislation and hope was given to thousands of women.
It is important to note that Malala is still a college student at Cambridge University, now in her early twenties– her best is yet to come!
19. William H. McRaven
As a Navy Seal and one of the main leaders in Operation Neptune, which eventually led to the death of Osama bin Laden, Admiral McRaven has an impressive resume. But, to me at least, one of the most inspiring things about him is that through all of that– and the honors he received because of it– he’s never forgot the importance of having a community to rely on.
On top of that, McRaven is a huge advocate and reminder that one person has the power to change the world.
18. Elizabeth Smart
This one is a tearjerker. Everyone remembers the story of Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapping, but since gaining her freedom, she has done everything in her power to ensure we remember the story of what happened afterwards as well.
Elizabeth’s dedication to overcoming the trauma of her nine months in captivity and live a happy life is so powerful and truly illustrates the major changes in conversation that have occurred in the last decade. This has been a decade of people learning how to overcome trauma and then talking about it.
Elizabeth not only decided to live a life where her captors would never have power over her again but she also dedicated herself to her happiness and her dreams. She now runs multiple non-profits dedicated to helping kidnapping survivors and child victims of sexual abuse.
Elizabeth’s voice is powerful and, though shaped by her past, she is not defined by it. She truly took one of the worst possible things to happen to someone and made it a blessing to others.
17. Maggie Doyne
Maggie Doyne’s story is so inspirational because it doesn’t sweep the globe like others on this list. In fact, the modesty of her story is what makes it so inspiring.
On a trip to India during a gap year, Maggie met a little girl who changed her life forever. The little girl was working hard each day, breaking stones into gravel to earn money for her family, but always still had a smile on her face when she greeted Maggie each day.
Overwhelmed with the need to help, Maggie funded the girl’s education. Because, though she knew she couldn’t help all 8 million children living in poverty like the little girl, she could help at least one. And then that one became ten. And ten became 100.
Using her savings from her babysitting jobs, Maggie purchased land and built an orphanage in Nepal dedicated to educating women and girls. She has changed the lives of so many by starting with just one. Your mission can start small and grow to something that changes the world of countless people. Follow your heart and Maggie’s lead.
16. Lisa Nichols
From failing speech and english class, to being an abuse survivor raising a baby alone with nothing, to multi millionaire, Lisa Nichols is one of those people who wouldn’t let the world ignore her.
She is a prime example of turning pain into passion. Lisa is not just inspiring as a person– she is captivating.
Being an abuse survivor myself and also becoming a mother at a young age, Lisa’s story has always spoken to me on a deep level. We hear rags to riches stories all the time but seeing the rise of this powerhouse of a woman is something else entirely.
Lisa’s company also helps people learn how to make what they say count– that is one way to change the world in a hurry.
15. Claire Wineland
Claire Wineland was such a beautiful person and her energy was contagious. She had Cystic Fibrosis, a sickness that is currently incurable. But did she let that slow her drive? Oh heck no.
Claire advocated that people who are sick or disabled shouldn’t be pitied. She was proof that it is perfectly possible and okay to be absolutely happy with life even if you are sick.
Claire died in 2018 at the young age of 21, but in her short life she empowered so many people to view not just sickness but life itself differently. Claire even worked on Hollywood productions to shed light on Cystic Fibrosis and what it is like to live with.
Her efforts will live on for years to come and her message is undying. Life is what you make it. You get to choose your happiness.
14. Chance the Rapper
Chance the Rapper has not only redefined what is possible within the music industry but also what is possible within an inner city.
The independent rapper and producer’s 2016 album Coloring Book was awarded three different Grammy Awards, becoming the first streaming-only album in history to do so.
Chance has also been an activist since childhood and his nonprofit SocialWorks actively works to give inner city kids constructive and positive things to do and also to end gun violence within Chicago.
In fact, during memorial day weekend 2014 SocialWorks ran the #SaveChicago campaign with the goal of stopping gun violence for the entire weekend– and it worked.
For 48 hours there was not one shooting in the city of Chicago. That is nothing short of incredible.
13. The Stoneman Douglas High School Survivors
I am almost speechless when I think about the amount of strength these young people possess. It is no secret that America has a seriously problem: children are being shot and killed in their schools.
The Stoneman Douglas High shooting survivors were brave enough to say, enough. Though their school was shot up and their friends died, these amazing teens didn’t allow sadness to consume them. Instead they immediately rose up and made their voices heard. They met with lawmakers and spoke on every TV network. They let their tears be seen and demanded change even when it was hard.
Even when everyone would have understood if they didn’t want to talk about it, they stepped up to reveal the horrors that took place in their school, and they made sure that everyone could hear them.
12. Brene Brown
This decade has been so incredible in regards to the advancements made in mental health and mindset research and application. And leading the charge, is the amazing Brene Brown.
Brene, a professor and psychologist, has dedicated her life to the study of the most human and painful emotions. Her work is not only groundbreaking and impactful but also has been widely recognized. In my opinion, the best thing about her philosophies and studies and books is the ability it gives us to feel normal. That all the things we experience truly are universal.
She has shone a beautiful light on the experience of being human and has started a conversation about the importance of feeling that cannot be ignored.
11. Steve Jobs
Though Steve Jobs passed away in 2011, even in his brief work this decade, he accomplished so much.
He didn’t just make computers or phone’s– he redefined what they meant and what they could do. Whenever I think of Steve’s journey I always am reminded of Simon Sinek’s Tedx talk about people buying why you do something not what you are selling. Steve infused his “why” into every Apple product.
His legacy lives on in the way we interact with the world on a day to day basis. His company gave us words that are now in the dictionary and he truly helped to connect the world through his vision and his company’s tech. Talk about an influential and inspiring legacy.
10. Tarana Burke and the #MeToo Movement
#MeToo became a topic of household conversation over the last three years– at long last. Back in 2006, Tarana started using the term “Me Too” to raise awareness for sexual assault survivors but it wasn’t until the brave silence-breakers came forward against Harvey Weinstein and what he did to them that it really became a movement.
It felt as if the #MeToo movement caught the world on fire overnight and, as a survivor of assault, it meant so much to me and thousands of others like me. The #MeToo movement truly put the problem of sexual harassment and assault on the front page of every paper.
It became a global internet movement but it trickled into the record-breaking Women’s March. And, honestly, I get really emotional when thinking about it. The power of having a community of people you don’t even know who understand the pain you have gone through and are to stand together to stop that pain from happening to others is sincerely one of the most amazing feelings.
I am proud to live in a time that honors the voices that were once forced to be silenced. Tarana and all the silence-breakers were even named Time Magazine’s People of the Year in 2017 for speaking their truth and demanding justice for us all.
Beyonce hasn’t just changed the music industry, she has remade it into something that works for her. Re-imagining the way music can be release, she held nothing back in 2013 when she dropped her self-titled album overnight with no announcement and with zero plans to have any of the songs appear on the radio. And she still shot to the top of the charts and broke all sorts of records.
On top of that, Beyonce is truly an incredible role model for young people everywhere. She has supported the rights of women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people. She has also actively participated in many different charities and projects including Ban Bossy, aimed at helping young girls gain leadership skills. Beyonce is outspoken about being a feminist and the power of women and girls to change the world– and she lives it.
8. Jon Stewart
Alright, I must be honest, Jon Stewart is one of my favorite people ever. His work on The Daily Show transformed the way we believed we had to get our news. He made watching current events fun and making things fun makes them incredibly more impactful. During his stint on the show he changed the face of television and politics and created deeply meaningful social change.
Jon is even credited with being the deciding factor of a bill granting money and support to 9/11 first-responders, which passed three days after he featured a group of first-responders on his show. He has been actively fighting for first-responders even after leaving the Daily Show and still speaks out often on the need to honor their heroism.
Also, just this year, Jon and his wife purchased a 45 acre farm and has made it a sanctuary and rehabilitation facility for animals that have been abused. He has dedicated both his career and personal life to amplifying the voices of those who don’t have a platform.
7. Nahko Bear
Nahko and Medicine for the People’s music is a medicine that can heal your soul in a way you never could have ever imagined. Nahko had a very different and unique childhood and his capacity for forgiveness and eagerness to grow as a person is translated into music that documents that journey.
Nahko was adopted as a baby and grew up homeschooled in a suburb of Portland where he developed his love for music. As a teenager he longed to find his Native American roots and set out to find his birth parents. Not only did he find his birth mother and siblings, but he learned that he was conceived in a rape and that his biological father had been killed a few years after the incident.
Feeling a pull and trusting in spirit, he ended up meeting with the man who killed his father and forgave both men in the act of doing so. He is vulnerable with his music and his life. His ability to own his flaws and growth is incredibly inspiring.
Personally, Nahko reminded me of my magic in a time when I didn’t know if I would ever find it again, and is part of the reason that I now help people discover and learn to use their intuitive magic without fear. Fear is part of life, but that doesn’t mean your magical gifts should remain hidden as a result of it.
6. Sinead Burke
Sinead is such an inspiring person in so many different ways. As a little person she has fought incredibly hard since 2012 to ensure that people with disabilities get included in the fashion industry. And it is working.
She currently runs a company that specializes in creating fashion for people with varying different disabilities. Last year she became the first every little person to be invited to the Met Gala and she has been featured on the cover of Vogue.
How did this all start? Well that is simple: she started a blog that called out the fashion industry for being exclusive and ableist. Though some people may think that the fashion industry is a weird place to be fighting so hard for equal representation, to Sinead, this is not a fashion issue, it’s a confidence issue. It’s also a visibility issue.
It is time for all people to be able to access things that make them feel more confident and, more importantly, it is so essential for all people to be represented in the industries that matter to them.
5. Father Gregory Boyle
Pops, as the people he has helped call him, is truly the epitome of what means to make a difference in the world.
Seeing how the prison system failed former gang members by making it nearly impossible for them to assimilate back into society, Father Boyle decided he was going to change the experience for the former prisoners. So, he started Homeboy industries, which has now expanded to be the largest gang rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.
Father Boyle approaches Project Homeboy with eagerness and a massive dedication to help. Thanks to his work, the people in Project Homeboy have a 70% chance of never returning to prison– way up from the 30% that is the national average.
Not only does his project find work for ex cons and gang members, it also offers them a positive community that helps them see the world in a different way.
In the last ten years, RuPaul has truly revolutionized the public attitude towards self-love and drag and brought light to a massive amount of LGBTQ+ issues in mainstream media.
In the past decade the acceptance and an understanding of the LGBTQ+ community is more the norm than ever and RuPaul’s presence in the media– and his hit show, RuPaul’s Drag Race— has been a huge contributor to that.
After 30 years in the industry, he now also holds the record for the most Emmys for a Reality TV Show Host ever. His radical self-love and dedication to normalizing and embracing our differences is deeply inspiring and incredibly impactful to thousands of people every day.
3. Daryl Davis
Daryl Davis is the poster child for the power of communication over violence and discrimination.
Daryl has made it his mission as an African-American man to befriend as many members of the KKK as possible. In the time that he has been doing this he has been responsible, either directly or indirectly, for over 200 people leaving the hate group.
Many of the members who have been inspired by him to turn their lives around remain close with him to this day. He has even gone as far as being in their weddings and appointing a former member to be his daughter’s godfather.
It is Daryl’s philosophy that conversation can change the world. He states that when two people are talking, they aren’t fighting– and that ignorance breeds fear. If we can educate people on the things they fear, it makes it far more difficult for them to be afraid.
2. Greta Thunberg
Just this week Greta was officially named Time Magazine’s youngest ever Person of the Year and, wow, does she deserve it.
I don’t know what you were doing at 16 years old, but if you’re anything like me, it probably had something to do with avoiding having everyone’s eyes on you. Greta on the other hand, is doing the exact opposite.
She quickly went from being a lone protester boycotting school in order to raise awareness about climate change to leading a global movement. That movement has included such things as addressing world leaders at the United Nations to working with fellow children activists, Earth Guardians, to bring forth a lawsuit against the US government demanding they take real action to stop the climate crisis.
On top of that, she has Asperger’s and isn’t afraid to talk about it, which is such an empowering and inspirational thing to see. Greta is normalizing disabilities and talking about things that can no longer be swept under the rug. I can’t wait to see all the things that this incredible young woman will change in the next decade.
1. Pushpa Basnet
A Nepali activist and all-around wonderful human, Pushpa Basnet is making a difference– one child at a time.
For the last decade, Pushpa has founded and run a special daycare and education center for the children of convicts in Nepal. Even after her school was destroyed in 2015 by the earthquake, she continued her work and rebuilt it from the ground up. She is truly giving these children a future that would have been taken from them had she not been there.
Her work has garnered her not one but two CNN Hero awards in the past ten years. Her dedication to her mission can inspire us all to live according to our values and beliefs, and to be the change we want to see in the world.
To the 2010s… and beyond!
In order to create a better tomorrow, we must be the people who inspire others to change, to grow, to come together. Whether it starts with helping one child learn to read or leading a global movement, your voice matters.
We are at the start of a new decade. You have a choice: let your energy be heard, be used for a better world, or remain stuck in a past that can no longer serve us.
The world is changing and as long as there are people like those on this list in the world, I believe that we are headed in an amazing direction. Who will you inspire?