Chancellor, Germany There is likely no one, male or female, with more power over the global economy than Merkel. As the leader of the largest economy in the European Union, she is the de facto chief of the uneasy alliance of European countries. This fall she has been fighting to keep struggling Greece in the eurozone to prevent possible contagion should it fail, and avoid the worst-case outcome, global economic meltdown. But economists worry (and Merkel has warned) that even Germany does not have complete control over the eurozone drama. Despite the gravity of her job, the largely private leader is also said to have a lighter side. A German daily reported that the former chemist says her respites in times of trouble are, “hiking, cooking and laughing.” Her favorite movie: “Out of Africa.” Note: This list is not ordered.
Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Just by taking office Lagarde ensured her spot in the history books. Besides being the first woman to head the IMF, she took the reins as Europe teetered. When she came on in 2011, the fund had more than $100 billion in outstanding loans to cash-strapped Ireland, Greece and Portugal. She also replaced the infamous Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned after the NYPD arrested him for sexually assaulting a hotel maid (charges were later dropped). Yet by any measure, Lagarde has had a big impact in her own right. Her tenure at the world’s lender of last resort has been marked by an unflinching willingness to take on European leadership, including friend Angela Merkel. She has argued that eurozone officials have put too great an emphasis on austerity and recommended making emergency funds more readily available to struggling countries.
President, Brazil Brazil’s growth has exploded in recent years, making it one of the world’s largest economies as well as one of its most coveted markets. But the country’s economic engine has sputtered. Now, facing slowing growth and rising inflation, Rousseff has rolled out a set of policies designed to bring down the cost of doing business, an effort viewed as a concession to private industry over federal employees. The moves have surprised many, given Rousseff’s role as leader of Brazil’s Workers’ party and her personal history as a part of a militant communist group in her 20s, when she was arrested and tortured by the military dictatorship. As a result of the reforms, hundreds of thousands of government workers have staged walkouts in recent months, demanding higher pay among other concessions. So far Rousseff has held firm, and with an approval rating north of 70%, much of the population seems hopeful her approach will jump-start growth.
President of the Indian National Congress, India The Italian-born party chief turned down opportunities to nab India’s prime minister spot, but that seemingly hasn’t diminished her power in the 1.2 billion-person country. Despite recent allegations of corruption, she gets partial credit for India’s recent growth, and her support could be critical to the fate of the proposed economic reforms of prime minister Manmohan Singh. Her son, Rahul Gandhi, appears primed to be Singh’s successor in 2014.
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
President, Argentina Fernández is the charismatic chief of the world’s 21st largest economy. Credited for a dramatic rise in prosperity that led to her easy reelection last year, her star has faded somewhat in recent months. Inflation in the country is estimated to be as high as 25% annually, and her tight controls over the economy have triggered widespread protests this year. A recent poll indicated 72% of Argentinians disapprove of their government’s handing of the economy.
Administrator of the United Nations Development Program The former three-term prime minister of New Zealand became the first woman to lead the UNDP in 2009. About a third of the agency’s $5.2 billion budget goes toward fighting poverty, with an emphasis on finding jobs for the underprivileged. That focus, in turn, promotes more reliable and robust economic growth, the organization says. Besides fostering stable democracies and promoting regional jobs programs, the UNDP reports that its job-creation work has directly led to employment for some 1.6 million people, 170,000 of those in regions recovering from disasters.
House minority leader, U.S. The congresswoman from California may not seem like a natural choice for this list, given that her job description is representing the Palmetto State’s 8th district. But Pelosi is playing a key role in the unfolding negotiations about the looming fiscal cliff. According to reports, she was the only woman in the room during last year’s ill-fated debt-ceiling negotiations between her counterpart House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama. And don’t forget health care, which accounts for a huge chunk of the U.S. economy. Pelosi played a crucial role in getting Obamacare passed — a potentially pivotal moment in the economic history of the U.S.
Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman, United States As Wall Street’s top cop, Schapiro is charged with preventing the next financial crisis. The long-time regulator took the job in 2009, a low point for the agency, which had failed to bust Bernie Madoff or rein in banks during the run up to the crash. Since then, Schapiro has launched investigations against the likes of Goldman Sachs, sued more than 100 firms and individuals in the wake of the crisis, and pushed for higher fines for rule-breakers. But critics say the agency still has a long way to go, questioning why so few top Wall Street executives have been charged in the aftermath of the crisis. Schapiro faces big obstacles, and has met with intense opposition in her latest effort to increase regulations for the $2.5 trillion money market fund industry.
FDA commissioner, U.S. Hamburg is the gatekeeper to the world’s largest economy, responsible for monitoring 10% of all imports into the United States. As commissioner, the Harvard Medical School graduate is also in charge of regulating more than $1 trillion in products per year. A supporter of calorie counts on menus and graphic warning labels on tobacco products, the 2009 Obama appointee has at times tousled with the administration as she expands the agency’s reach.
State Councilor, China Little is known about Liu Yandong, China’s highest ranking female official and the only woman on its 25-person Politburo. Still, she has gained a reputation among some observers as a reformer who has pushed for greater cooperation with the outside world. Also said to be a close ally of Chinese leader Hu Jintao, Yandong could become the first woman to gain a seat on China’s nine-member standing committee — the innermost ring of power in the 1.3 billion-person country.