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December 13, 2021

Nothing illustrates the dynamics of this list better than the change at the very top. For only the third time in the 18 years we’ve compiled this ranking, German chancellor Angela Merkel is not No. 1. With her imminent retirement from public office comes a chance to find a new number one: this year, that honor goes to billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. She’s the third richest woman in the world, but it’s her unfettered access to that money—and her determination to donate it in a way that is meaningful and revolutionary—that puts her above the competition. Just behind her at No. 2 is U.S. vice president Kamala Harris, who moves up one spot now that she’s been sworn into office, swapping places with Christine Lagarde, the president of the European Central Bank who is now No. 3.

All of these women represent the driving thesis behind the compilation of the list: it’s not just enough to have money, or a position of power. A person must be doing something with their fortune, voice or public platform. Consider Rosalind Brewer, the former chief operating officer of Starbucks who took the helm of Walgreens in March and is currently the only Black woman running an S&P 500 company. A longtime champion of diversity in the workplace, Brewer rose 15 spots to No. 17. Or BioNTech cofounder and immunologist Özlem Türeci, who is one of 20 newcomers this year. She makes her debut on the list at No. 48 not simply because she cofounded a biotech company, but also because of her role in leading the company’s development of the mRNA Covid vaccine, in partnership with global pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer.

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