1 Helen Clark

Administrator, U.N. Development Program | New Zealand

 

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As New
Zealand’s prime minister, Helen Clark oversaw a decade of economic growth and
won three straight terms in her post after a long career as a Labour Party
legislator and cabinet minister. Less than a year following her departure as
Kiwi prime minister, however, Clark turned to a much larger — and more
challenging — stage: Since 2009, she has led the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), the arm of the United Nations
charged with confronting the world’s worst problems, from global poverty to
corrupt governance to health and environmental crises. Clark, 62, now oversees
the UNDP’s nearly $5 billion
annual budget and more than 8,000 employees operating in 177 countries. Cholera
in Haiti and famine in Somalia may be far from daily life for many New
Zealanders, but Clark appears undaunted. Her top goal as administrator, she
said last fall, is no less than to eradicate extreme poverty around the world.

 

2 Liu Yandong

State councilor | China

 

Although they hold up “half the sky,” as Mao Zedong
famously said, women make up just over 20 percent of the delegates in China’s
national legislature. Former chemist Liu Yandong is the outlier: the only woman
in the Politburo, the 25-member elite decision-making body at the top of the
Communist Party pyramid. Considered a close ally of President Hu Jintao, she
has a good chance of ascending this fall to become one of the small handful in
the Politburo Standing Committee, the true ruling council at the center of the
system. As with everyone in China’s opaque Politburo, little is known about how
Liu’s politics differ from those of her colleagues, though some analysts think
she favors increasing China’s contacts with the outside world; the 66-year-old
Liu has an honorary Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook
and spoke at Yale University in 2009. She would be the first woman in Chinese
history to make it to the Standing Committee.

 

3 Lael Brainard

Treasury undersecretary for international affairs | United States

 

With Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s attention
focused on the U.S. economy, tackling the brush fires of global economic
calamity has often fallen to Lael Brainard. The even-tempered, Harvard-trained
economist was born in 1962 and raised in communist Poland as the daughter of a
U.S. foreign-service officer. She went on to serve on the National Economic
Council during Bill Clinton’s administration, working on the U.S. response to
the Mexican peso and Asian financial crises. During President Barack Obama’s
administration, Brainard has been consumed with Europe’s financial contagion,
shuttling back and forth between Washington and European capitals (while her
husband, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, travels to his portfolio
in Asia) in an effort to convince leaders to prop up failing economies and
prevent further spread. It’s not always the easiest task, given that many
European leaders blame U.S. policies for starting the crisis in the first
place, but Brainard has brought tireless diplomatic energy to the job.

 

4 Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Finance minister | Nigeria

 


In March,
the governments of South Africa, Angola, and Nigeria nominated Ngozi
Okonjo-Iweala, a former World Bank managing director, to succeed Robert
Zoellick as president of the bank. By tradition, the position has been held by
an American chosen by the U.S. government, but Okonjo-Iweala thinks it’s time
for a change. “The balance of power in the world has shifted,” she said
following her nomination, arguing that developing countries “need to be given a
voice in running things.” For the time being, she is more or less running
things in Nigeria, where she is in her second term as finance minister. In her
first term, the Harvard- and MIT-educated
economist received plaudits for negotiating billions of dollars in debt
forgiveness with Nigeria’s international creditors and launching a high-profile
campaign against corruption. This time her task is made all the more difficult
by a campaign of terror by al Qaeda-affiliated Boko Haram militants. Nonetheless,
the 57-year-old Okonjo-Iweala is determined to make Nigeria an attractive place
for international companies, a big challenge of the kind she is known for
tackling.

 

5 Mary Schapiro

Chair, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission | United States

 

As the first woman appointed permanent head of the
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC),
Mary Schapiro was bound to attract attention when President Obama nominated her
in late 2008. Timing alone dictated it: She came to the SEC in the immediate aftermath of the $50 billion Bernard
Madoff scandal and a market crash largely blamed on questionable financial
practices and lax regulation. But the 56-year-old Schapiro, who first held a
seat on the SEC from 1988 to 1994,
is no stranger to contentious politics. She left the SEC in the 1990s to run the largest nongovernmental
regulator of securities firms and spent the next decade going after industry
insiders and critiquing Wall Street excesses. Since returning to the SEC, she has fought to re-establish
public confidence in the commission, overseeing an increase in the number of
cases pursued by the SEC and
arguing for the authority to impose higher financial penalties. She has pledged
to push for structural changes this year to help prevent another Lehman
Brothers-style collapse — a task that will surely be an “uphill battle,” as the Wall Street Journal put it.

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