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21 Top Podcast Episodes for Global Thinkers

Jaclyn Schiff
For the Love of Podcast
5 min readApr 6, 2015


I’m a podcast nut! I love discovering new shows, and listening to podcasts is definitely one of my favorite ways to learn.

Podcasts are a great research tool as well. When I was looking for speaker inspiration for the online forum I’m producing, The Huddle for Global Change, I relied heavily on my podcast library to help me think of people who expressed themselves really well and had fascinating things to share.

Friends often ask me for podcast recommendations. So I consulted my trusty iPhone and put together some of my favorite episodes for all you global citizens. Here they are in no particular order:

(1) CBC News excerpts 50 hours of conversation with the late Nelson Mandela. The interviews were mostly recorded in the early 90s just after Mandela’s release from prison. → Why listen? Very candid thoughts and insights from the iconic leader.

(2) On Global Dispatches, Georgetown University’s C. Christine Fair discusses her career path. After starting out in the sciences, life events led her to study South Asia. → Why listen? Lots of take aways from the twists and turns on her professional path. Also, brutal honest about sexual harassment in academia.

(3) On The School of Greatness, Adam Braun explains the why, how and what of the Pencils of Promise, the “for-purpose” organization he founded in his early 20s.Why listen? Get inspired and learn from a remarkable global changemaker.

(4) Author Nina Munk chats with Tiny Spark about the six years she spent reporting on economist Jeffrey Sachs’ Millennium Villages Project.Why listen? Just because one has a good plan to end extreme poverty and $100 million+ to execute it doesn't mean it will work.

(5) Water for People CEO Ned Breslin interviews Cameron Conaway, a former mixed martial arts fighter who published a book of poetry about malaria.Why listen? Amazing lessons on social entrepreneurship and advocacy from a seemingly unlikely source.

(6) The Freakonomics podcast interviews Bjørn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Consensus Center in “Fixing the World, Bang-for-the-Buck Edition.”Why listen? A clear, informative overview of international development economics and contemporary perspectives.

(7) Back in 2012, This American Life looked at what it is like to be an American living in China.Why listen? Apparently as a foreigner in China, you have a pretty good shot of getting on Chinese television.

(8) If you’ve noticed an over-abundance of white males in the news media, you’re not alone. On The Weekly Wonk, journalist Lauren Bohn tells Anne-Marie Slaughter how she plans to interrupt that pattern.Why listen? Learn why it’s a problem that there aren’t more voices in the foreign policy discussion and how that can be changed.

(9) Just before he stepped down as head of USAID earlier this year, Raj Shah looked back on his tenure with the Center for Global Development.Why listen? Some interesting thoughts from Shah on what’s needed in development and what works.

(10) Canadian astronaut and YouTube personality Chris Hadfield shares lessons from his time in space on Fresh Air.Why listen? Space and science are cool, and so is Hadfield.

(11) Tiny Spark examines ethical questions in international aid and development through an interview with journalist Emily Troutman.Why listen? The work might sound noble, but it certainly doesn’t make international development immune from scandal and corruption.

(12) Tom Paulson speaks with Françoise Barré-Sinoussi who won the Nobel prize for her role in the discovery of HIV.Why listen? Hear first-hand from a scientist-activist who has been at the forefront of the global fight against HIV/AIDS. Also Barré-Sinoussi discusses why she believes an HIV cure is possible.

(13) Bill Gates and some other higher-ups from the Gates Foundation were interviewed on the Nerdist Podcast. Why listen? Kinda interesting to hear Gates and the other Foundation folks on a less formal media channel.

(14) Canadaland devotes an episode to the story behind the rise of news organization VICE. Through several interviews with early VICE employees, journalist Jesse Brown explores how a Canadian magazine became a cutting-edge global news source. → Why listen? This is essential listening if you love VICE or are a global news junkie.

(15) In an episode of On Being, titled, “Journalism and Compassion,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reflects on his career so far. Why listen? Kristof is frank about his insights from life as a foreign correspondent and the role of journalism in raising awareness.

(16) Ever thought about working for the United Nations? Slate’s Working podcast got the ins and outs of working for the multinational body from Tony Banbury, the assistant secretary-general for field support. Why listen? Interviewer Adam Davidson asks great nuts-and-bolts questions.

(17) Jessica Tuchman Mathews, the longtime head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is interviewed on Global Dispatches.Why listen? It’s interesting to hear how coming from a famous family shaped Mathews’ worldview.

(18) Humanosphere speaks with global poverty pundit Charles Kenny who argues that the world is “getting better” according to several development measures.Why listen? Kenny is one of those rare wonks who is easy to understand and fun to listen to.

(19) Devin Thorpe, a Forbes contributor who covers social entrepreneurship and impact investing, interviews Nancy Hughes, the founder of StoveTeam International.Why listen? Hear how a trip to Guatemala changed Hughes’ life and learn about the critical need for clean cookstoves.

(20) For a recent weekly show, This Week in Global Health (TWiGH) held a Google+ Hangout with Hans Rosling, the Swedish medical doctor and statistician who is familiar to many thanks to his hit TED talk. → Why listen? Rosling has a knack for making development stats riveting. Greg Martin and the rest of the TWiGH team are a lot of fun too.

(21) Owen Barder hosts a fascinating discussion about what data means for international development on his podcast Development Drums. → Why listen? Thorough and well-informed thoughts from two women on the cutting edge — Claire Melamed, director of the Growth, Poverty and Inequality Programme at ODI, and Amanda Glassman, director of global at the Center for Global Development.

Jaclyn Schiff is the producer of The Huddle for Global Change, a multi-day online conference dealing with issues of international impact.



Jaclyn Schiff
For the Love of Podcast

Writer, podcast aficionado, digital nomad. Think about: media, obscure travels, creative pursuits.