Muhammad Yunus was born in Bangladesh and earned his Ph.D. in economics at Vanderbilt University. After returning to Bangladesh to teach, he was inspired by the country’s crushing famine of 1974 to leave academia to help the poor. His revolutionary microcredit concept began by giving out loans totaling twenty-seven dollars to forty-two villagers with no collateral. Microcredit has now spread to more than fifty countries worldwide. With a repayment rate of 98 percent and two million borrowers, Yunus’s $2.5 billion Grameen Bank has expanded into dozens of other projects for empowering the poor, including telecommunications and venture capital.
Starting with one bankrupt UHF television station in Atlanta, Robert Edward (Ted) Turner built a media empire that included TNT, TBS-the first new television network since PBS-and the revolutionary twenty-four-hour Cable News Network (CNN). As the largest private land owner in the United States, Turner works to restore overgrazed ranchland and to reintroduce native plants and bison. The owner of the Atlanta Braves and winner of sailing’s America’s Cup, he established the Goodwill Games in 1986 to improve relations with the then Soviet Union. His family’s Turner Foundation donates $25 million to environmental groups annually, and in 1997 he donated $1 billion to the United Nations.
The foster child of a tribal chief, Nelson Mandela began his opposition to South Africa’s government while attending college. He went on to become a lawyer and joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944. For two decades he led the fight against apartheid’s racist policies, until he was sentenced to life in prison for sabotage in 1964. The long campaign for his release succeeded in 1990 and the newly legalized ANC elected him their president the next year. His negotiations with President F. W. de Klerk, which won them the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, led to South Africa’s first multiracial presidential elections in 1994, which Mandela won. He retired in 1999.
Jimmy Carter served as the thirty-ninth president of the United States from 1977 to 1981. His administration’s accomplishments include the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel and the SALT II treaty with the Soviet Union. After leaving the White House, President Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, founded the Atlanta-based Carter Center, a nonprofit organization that works to promote peace, democracy, and human rights. President Carter also teaches Sunday School and is a deacon at the Maranatha Baptist Church. He builds homes one week each year for Habitat for Humanity and is the author of fourteen books.