Big Problem Solvers - Individuals

Leonardo da Vinci Self Portrait, Wikimedia Commons

Leonardo da Vinci Self Portrait, Wikimedia Commons

Although individuals rarely solve big problems alone (they have organizations behind them), there are several whose names stand out for the pivotal roles they have played.  Learning about how they are or have approached solving big problems is useful. 

BORLAUG, NORMAN.  Little known but credited with having saved hundreds of millions of lives. His research on crops multiplied global food production and prevented starvation for people across the planet.  He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.  Accounts of his work can be found at: the Nobel Prize and World Food Prize websites, and at The Atlantic, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal

EDISON, THOMAS.  A prolific inventor who transformed industries and the way we live.  Paul Israel’s book Edison: A Life of Invention is a good account.  Also see website

GATES, BILL.  He transformed the computer industry through his software company Microsoft and is now tackling big problems in several fields through his foundation. 

HILLEMAN, MAURICE.  He created several important, widely-used vaccines that have saved countless lives.  Little known despite the immeasurable benefit of his work.  A wonderful account of his work is Paul A. Offit’s book Vaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases

JOBS, STEVE.  He transformed several industries.  A lot has been written on him but one of the most informative work is his biography Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. 

MANDELA, NELSON.  He fought against apartheid in South Africa and was later the country’s President.  Mandela received the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.  There is a lot of useful information at the Nelson Mandela Digital Archive Project

SALK, JONAS.  He developed the polio vaccine that transformed the lives of people everywhere.  Useful sources: Salk Institute, Jonas Salk Center, Jonas Salk Legacy Foundation, and the book Polio: An American Story by David M. Oshinsky. 

NOVOGRATZ, JACQUELINE.  Founder and CEO of the influential social ventture fund Acumen Fund that has invested in enterprises trying to solve big problems in several countries.  She has described her experiences in the book The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World

YUNUS, MUHAMMAD.  His development of micro-finance and founding of the Grameen Bank had a transformative impact on poverty alleviation by providing loans to the very poor.  Along with the Grameen Bank, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.  His memoir Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty written with Alan Jolis is a good account of his work. 

Sources of Information

Information about individuals who have taken on big problems can be found at: