Here at Self-Made, we talk a lot about people who have become financially successful by working hard to build a business or a lasting career. But there is so much more to life than making money. How we treat one another as human beings holds just as much- if not more – value than monetary success.
Since 1895, The Nobel Peace Prize has been given to people who made a major impact on humanity. These 30 people have had a lasting legacy years after they are gone. They will continue to be admired for their lifelong efforts for peace as a result.
1. Mother Teresa
One of the most famous Nobel Prize recipients is Mother Teresa. You may also know her as Saint Teresa if you happen to belong to the Roman Catholic Church. She created Missionaries of Charity, which is a sisterhood of other nuns. They are devoted to aiding those who need the most help in Calcutta, India.
Teresa and her sisters built homes for orphans, hospitals for lepers, and the terminally ill. The story of her kindness and generosity spread around the world, and she inspired other people to love and care for one another. In 1979, she was given the award, and by 2013 she was officially canonized as a saint due to her timeless body of work.
Only eight months after he became President of the United States, Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Prize. This was due to his efforts to garner peace with the Muslim world. After becoming President, he immediately set out to pull troops out of Iraq. The motivation for his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize was because of his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
In addition to his peaceful negotiations, he also advocated for a nuclear-free world. Even before he became President, and in the time since he left the office, Obama has still been pushing for peace. During a speech, he once said, “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”
At just 17 years old, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She grew up in Pakistan, where her father instilled a love of education in her from an early age. When the Taliban instilled sharia law in Pakistan, women were therefore no longer allowed to work or go to school.
As a teenager, Malala started writing a blog for BBC Urdu writing about what life is like under Taliban occupation, and advocating for a girl’s right to receive an education. On her way to school, a group of terrorists stopped her bus because they were looking for her. The asked for her by name and shot her in the face. She miraculously survived. After she was released from the hospital, her face was permanently disfigured due to the attack, but this was not enough to stop her. Malala continues to fight for female rights to an education.
One of the most famous Nobel Prize recipients is Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. He was a Buddhist advocate for peace and freedom who was forced to flee and live as a refugee in India after China occupied Tibet. He opposed China’s occupation of Tibet and advocated for peace between the two countries. The Dalai Lama created a plan for how Tibet could be restored. He recommended that a demilitarized zone should exist between China and Tibet due to the conflict. Once that was in place, the two could settle negotiations between one another. Unfortunately, that plan was rejected because of the deep-seated animosity of the situation.
Even though his plans were rejected, nearly everyone agreed with his mission for seeking peace. In 1989, he was given the Nobel Prize because he often said that he felt that he had a sense of “universal responsibility” to bring peace to all of humanity.
Baroness Bertha von Suttner will go down in history as being the very first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In the 1870s, Bertha von Suttner became friends with Alfred Nobel, the man who founded the Peace Prize Laureate. She established the Austrian Peace Society in 1891 and wrote several anti-war novels because of her focus on peace. Her most famous book was titled Lay Down Your Arms, which was provocative and got her point across straight away.
Even though most peace conferences were dominated by men, Bertha von Suttner was never afraid to speak for the causes she believed in. She earned the nickname “generalissimo of the peace movement”. Many people believe that without von Suttner, Alfred Nobel may have never established the Nobel Peace Prizes in his last will and testament. He once wrote to her, “Inform me, convince me, and then I will do something great for the movement” due to her impact in the field.
In 1906, American President Theodore Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating peace in the Russo-Japanese war. He also managed to end a dispute with Mexico through arbitration. Roosevelt was the first politician to be awarded a Peace Prize. This was considered to be a controversial decision because of his stance. Not everyone believed that Roosevelt truly deserved to be an icon of world peace.
Norwegians claimed that Roosevelt was actually a “military mad imperialist” because of the American takeover in the Philippines. Journalists in Sweden even wrote that Alfred Nobel was “turning in his grave” due to Roosevelt’s award in the field. During World War I, he attempted to serve in the US Army as an officer, but he was turned away. In 1919, he did not want the United States to join the League of Nations. So even to this day, there may be some debate as to whether he really represents peace or not due to those facts.
Nearly everyone is familiar with the Red Cross for their humanitarian efforts during wartime and after natural disasters. They are considered to be so amazing that they actually won the Nobel Peace Prize more than once because of their efforts. The Red Cross was mentioned in 1917, 1944, and 1963, as well as being apart of Henri Dumont’s award in 1901.
During World War I, they were the only ones to receive the award because they “undertook the tremendous task of trying to protect the rights of the many prisoners of war on all sides, including their right to establish contacts with their families.” They received the award again in 1944 due to their work during World War II. Even today, the Red Cross continues to help people around the world.
After the end of World War I, many people were desperate to make sure that nothing like this ever happened again. So American President Woodrow Wilson established The League of Nations as part of his “14 point plan.” This was meant to ensure world peace, and therefore garner negotiations in Europe. After World War I, the peace negotiations between Great Britain, France, and Germany were established. Germany had to take all of the blame for starting the war, and this led to their economic downfall as a result.
Wilson was disappointed with how it turned out. He believed that the punishments given to Germany were too harsh, and would therefore result in more conflict later on. This was correct, and it would eventually be one of the major causes of World War II. Since Wilson openly disagreed with the terms of this treaty, the United States was denied from entering the League of Nations even though Wilson was the one who orchestrated it. Many other Nobel Laureates had dreamed of creating a League of Nations for years. He became a natural choice to win the award in 1919 as a result.
Nearly everyone knows the story of Martin Luther King Jr., who spent his life advocating for civil rights. Since 1955, he orchestrated multiple nonviolent protests against racism in the United States. He also became the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. His most famous speech was his 1963 classic, “I Have a Dream”, which was given in front of a crowd of 250,000 in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. Because of this demonstration, President Johnson created a law that prohibited racial discrimination. The next year in 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize as a result of his efforts.
In 1968, King was killed in Memphis, Tennessee. The leader of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, had King under surveillance because he suspected him of being a communist. Some believe that his assassination was due to fear that he was gaining too much power. Even though his end was truly tragic, he still has a lasting legacy of a man who committed his life to peace and equality. He’ll go down as arguably the most prominent example of fighting inequality as a result of his life’s work.
Wiesel was a Holocaust survivor who spent years of his life living in the Auschwitz concentration camp. His entire family was killed by the Nazis and he witnessed some of the worst moments in human history. When he was set free, Wiesel was just 17 years old. He wrote several books about the experience, including one called Night, which has since become required reading in schools across America. After the war, he moved to New York City and became an American citizen.
Wiesel became the Chairman of “The President’s Commission on the Holocaust” due to his experiences. He spent the rest of his life educating people. One of the biggest goals he had was to make people truly care about their fellow human beings so that this kind of tragedy will never happen again. He was once quoted saying, “The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.” Wiesel became the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.
Mandela was a political activist who opposed apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid was racial segregation in South Africa that kept white and black people separated from one another. Black people were forced to live in horrible conditions. Mandela spoke up against the system that was designed to oppress his people. He encouraged a “mass formation of the democratic movement” due to apartheid’s horrors. In 1962, he was captured and charged with conspiring against the South African government. Mandela was given a life sentence in prison as a result.
Even though he was behind bars for decades, Mandela continued to fight apartheid. He also led demonstrations against the poor treatment of prisoners. People began protesting for Nelson Mandela to be freed. In 1990, President Frederik de Klerk released Mandela from prison. Once he was released, they both sat down to negotiate the end of apartheid as a result. This was considered to be such a huge success for civil rights that they were both given the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. After this, Mandela was so loved by everyone that he was elected as the first black President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 as a result of his life’s work.
North and South Korea have been divided by war since 1950. Even today, the two nations are separated by their Demilitarized Zone. In 1998, South Korea’s President Kim Dae-jung created the “sunshine policy” towards North Korea. This was named after Aesop’s Fable called “The North Wind and the Sun”. In the story, the wind and sun have an argument over who is stronger. Kim Dae-jung insisted that they must be friendly to one another if they want to have any sort of peace and reconciliation as a result.
Aside from diplomacy with North Korea, Kim Dae-jung also had to struggle for democracy and human rights in South Korea. He always made sure that the North would be able to receive humanitarian aid, even if their political views differed so drastically. In 2000, Kim Dae-jung arranged for a meeting with Kim Jung Il. They finally came to an agreement that family members who had been separated by the border could see one another for the first time in years. Dae-jung was awarded the prize in the year 2000 because of his efforts to find peace.
Carter was the 39th president of the United States, serving from 1977 to 1981. In 1978, he helped to broker a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. He continued to get involved in foreign policy. Even after losing his re-election against Ronald Reagan, Carter continued to have active peace campaigns. He was not afraid to advocate for solutions that were not official US policy if it meant bringing peace between the two countries.
Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 due to “decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”
14. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr.
Al Gore was the Vice President. In 1992, he began to advocate for environmental reforms because of the world’s many issues in that area. After losing his run for Presidency in 2000, he decided to devote his entire career to the cause. He began working together with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which had been around since 1988. In 2007, both Al Gore and the IPCC won the Nobel Peace Prize because of “their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”
He wrote a book called Earth in the Balance: Forging a New Common Purpose. Gore also helped to produce a documentary called An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. According to the Nobel Committee, Gore is the one individual who has made the biggest impact in pushing the government to take action for climate challenge thanks to his continued efforts.
15. Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)
Since World War I, chemical warfare has been used on the battlefield. For years after, chemical weapons devastated civilian populations during war. They were also abused by terrorist groups. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was formed in 1997.
They work to make sure that the ban on the manufacturing and storage of chemical weapons is a rule being followed throughout the world. The OPCW won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 due to their efforts in this field.
16. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman
In 2011, these three Liberian women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was born in Liberia. She moved to the United States to receive her education at Harvard University. She served as Liberia’s Minister of Finance and was President of Liberia from 2005 to 2011. During her time as President, she pushed for more peace and economic development in the country.
Gbowee is a social worker who specializes in giving therapy to women who have experienced trauma during the Liberian Civil War, especially child soldiers. She also became the head of the Women Peace and Security Network Africa. Unlike the other two winners that year, Tawakkol Karman is from Yemen. In 2005, she co-founded the group Women Journalists Without Chains. They promote freedom of speech and democracy. She is therefore active in protests that fight for human rights.
Liu Xiaobo studied literature and philosophy.. He became a professor in Beijing. In 1988, he earned a doctorate degree and became a guest lecturer at universities in the United States and Europe. In 1989, Xiaobo stood by his student during the protests in Tiananmen Square. He was arrested for disagreeing with China’s one-party system as a result. After two years in prison and three years in a labor camp, he was finally released. He spent the rest of his life fighting for democracy in China. Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution says that citizens should be able to enjoy “freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession, and of demonstration”.
So he continued to fight against the government and demanded human rights. Xiaobo co-wrote a book called Charta 08. The book laid out a plan on how to bring democracy to the country. He was arrested again in 2008. Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison due to his efforts. Even though he was in prison, he still won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. He has been called “China’s Nelson Mandela.” Sadly, he passed away in 2017.
Wangari Muta Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She was also the first woman in East and Central to receive a doctorate in Biology. Maathai created an environmental program called the Green Belt Movement in her home country of Kenya. Instead of trying to go after big government, her strategy was to start with grassroots campaigns. It worked due to her constant efforts.
It became a “trickle-up” movement because of her. Once neighbors and farmers saw how great it was to plant trees, more wanted to participate. This led to the planting of over 30 million new trees in multiple African countries. Many of the areas that were once barren wastelands are now lush and green once again. During an interview, Maathai said, “The environment is not an issue for tomorrow. It is every day. It is the air we breathe, it’s the water we drink, the food we eat. And we can’t live without these things.”
The European Union was founded in 1952 in order to garner peace and conflict resolution among nations. One of their early tasks was to fix the relationship between Germany and France after World War II. They helped to rebuild that relationship by building the European Coal and Steel Community together with four other countries. As time went on, more and more countries felt comfortable envisioning them as a unified Europe.
After years of hard work, there are now 28 countries in the EU. If not for them, there’s no telling just how many conflicts were resolved early. In 2012, the European Union was celebrated their 60-year anniversary. It was appropriate for them to become the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize that year.
20. International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)
In 2007, The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was founded in Australia. They work to educate people on the horrific consequences of nuclear weapons. From a humanitarian point of view, they want to push for treaties that will resolve nuclear conflicts. The efforts are in the hope nothing like Hiroshima and Nagasaki could ever happen to humanity again.
After 10 years of effort, they managed to get 100 countries to agree to diplomacy. They have drafted over 122 treaties that would prevent another nuclear war. This is absolutely amazing because of its overall impact. They were recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.
An Iranian woman named Shirin Ebadi became the first Islamic woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. Ebadi is a lawyer who is fighting for the separation of church and state in divorce laws. In the year 2000, she was imprisoned for trying to help women.
Despite having spent time behind bars for fighting for human rights, she continues to help women and children. She even wrote a book on all of the reasons why there needs to be political reform in the Islamic world. She believes that clergymen no longer have political power. Ebadi was given the award “for her efforts for democracy and human rights. She has focused especially on the struggle for the rights of women and children.”
Muhammad Yunus is a Bangladeshi banker and entrepreneur who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. In the 1970s, he was a professor of economics at the University of Chittagong. Bangladesh suffered a famine in 1974. During that time he witnessed poor people starving to death because they could not afford to eat. After this, he realized that teaching people about economics was not enough. He needed to do something in order to spark growth in the economy of Bangladesh due to its ongoing issues.
Yunus founded the Grameen Bank and invented “micro-credit.” These are small loans that are available to help encourage people to become entrepreneurs. Grameen Bank has very low standards of who they lend to. They always make sure to give every customer a financial education on how to pay their loan back. They hope people will do the right thing due to the program. The Nobel Peace Prize committee awarded him and the bank “for their efforts to create economic and social development from below.”
Mukwege from the Congo and Murad from Iraq split the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018. They both made significant strides to “end sexual violence as a weapon in war and armed conflict.” Murad is part of an ethnic minority called Yazidi. When she was just 19 years old, the Islamic State attacked her village. They killed 600 Yazidi men and kidnapped women to keep as sex slaves. Murad escaped her captors and lived as a refugee in Germany. She now devotes her life to helping young girls and women who were victims of sex trafficking.
The second winner that year was a gynecological surgeon named Dr. Denis Mukwege. Unfortunately, his country of The Congo has been called the “rape capital of the world.” As the son of a minster, Denis Mukwege started his career helping women who were injured after giving birth. But his career eventually found him helping victims of sexual violence. In 1999, he founded the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. They specialize in treating thousands of women who became victims of sexual violence. Just by helping these women, Mukwege has been targeted for murder. He has survived assassination attempts because of his efforts to help women.
Just a few weeks after becoming Prime Minister of Ethiopia in 2018, Abiy Ahmed accepted a peace deal that ended a 20-year war with Eritrea. Over 80,000 people were killed on the border. Many civilians had not seen their family members in 20 years. Ahmed also released tens of thousands of prisoners of war. They were now able to cross the border and reunite with their families as a result. The President of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, was in tears over the joy of finally ending the war.
Ahmed also announced he wanted to open up Ethiopia to trade with foreign nations. Unfortunately, not everyone was happy about that. Terrorists threw a grenade at Ahmed during a speech. He just barely managed to survive an assassination attempt. He told the Nobel Prize committee he therefore hopes to inspire other African leaders. His goal is that more of them will create peaceful diplomacy throughout the continent.
Many of you have probably heard of Doctors Without Borders. It was originally a French organization called Médecins Sans Frontières. The organization was originally founded in 1971. For decades, it has been their mission to give humanitarian aid to underprivileged parts of the world.
They are dedicated to being unbiased when it comes to politics. They travel to any part of the world where people need medical attention. This has sent them to war-torn countries. They sent 2,500 doctors and nurses, as well as 15,000 additional employees to 80 different countries. In 1999, the organization won the Nobel Peace Prize because of their continued efforts.
From 1968 to 1998, a conflict known as “The Troubles” terrorized citizens of Northern Ireland. This was a fight between the Protestant Unionists, who wanted Ireland to be a part of the United Kingdom. On the other side were the Catholic Nationalists. They wanted to keep an independent Republic of Ireland. Eventually, the fighting between paramilitary groups had gone on far too long. People had died and been imprisoned. There did not seem to be any resolution that all sides could agree upon as a result.
Finally, the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. Hume and Trumble were mainly responsible for the agreement. Hume is considered the architect. In the agreement, Northern Ireland needed to self-govern with power balanced between political groups. Of course, they also needed better relations with the United Kingdom, which is where British politician David Trumble came in. They both received the Nobel Peace Prize for ending a conflict that had gone on for 30 years.
27. International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and Jody Williams
Williams is an American political activist who advocated clearing landmines from civilian areas. Williams first experienced the horrors of how landmines affect civilians when she visited El Salvador. Explosions from landmines were created a near-constant fear for citizens. It was possible for anyone to buy these weapons.
This motivated Williams to help launch an organization called International Campaign to Ban Landmines. By 1997, over 1,000 organizations had joined the list to combine their efforts to solve the problem in order to prevent manufacturing and selling landmines. That year, both Williams and the ICBL won the Nobel Peace Prize because of their efforts.
28. Joseph Rotblat and Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs
Two years before atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Rotblat was already protesting the use of nuclear weapons. Rotblat was originally from Poland. He moved to the United States, where he worked as one of the scientists who collaborated on the Manhattan Project. He helped to split the atom, which led to the creation of the atomic bomb. Rotblat strongly believed that science should be a way to maintain peace among people.
So when he learned that the government planned to use these weapons of mass destruction, he no longer wanted to be a part of it. In 1943, he withdrew from the Manhattan Project. After the end of World War II, Joseph Rotblat devoted his life to the Pugwash Movement. It was meant to garner peace among nations rather than resorting to using nuclear weapons against one another. Fifty years later, both Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs shared the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.
29. Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin
In 1994, three men shared the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to find peace in the Middle East. The first was Arafat, who lived in Jerusalem. He fought in the war against Israel in 1948 and worked as an engineer in Kuwait. He spent several years of his life organizing guerrilla fighters as the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization. But after years of fighting, he knew it would never stop unless there was some sort of resolution. So in 1974, he spoke with the UN General Assembly to find peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The Oslo Accords were signed in an effort to bring peace to these nations.
The second man on this list, Peres, was heavily involved with the fighting all of his life. He even organized Israel’s nuclear program. He eventually became Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and was in charge of the negotiations. When he and Arafat were both awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, he chose to share it with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. All three of these men devoted their lives to peace in the Middle East. They clearly deserved the prize at the same time.
In 1992, Guatemalan Menchú was awarded the Peace Prize for fighting for indigenous people. Growing up in Guatemala, her life was surrounded by violence. Many of her family members were killed by the army during the Civil War because they opposed the regime. In the early 1980s, she had to flee to Mexico in order to survive. She met groups of people who were human rights advocates in Latin America. In 1983, she wrote an autobiography about her life called I, Rigoberta Menchú. The book brought international attention to the issues in Guatemala.
She grew up watching her family fight authority, so Rigoberta took the opposite approach as a result. She learned that the only way to peace was because of diplomacy and reconciliation. Norway became the intermediary between governments and guerrilla organizations, which lead to a peace agreement in 1996 due to her efforts. Rigoberta Menchú became a UN Ambassador for the world’s indigenous people, and she also won the Princess of Asturias Award in 1998.