27 Inspirational Quotes About Activism From Some of the World’s Leading Activists

Have you ever been driven to keep plugging away at a challenge because of a motivational quote? Or been inspired to stand up and take action because of something particularly inspirational someone’s said to you?

Quotes give us a quick bubble of wisdom to refocus our attention and help provide the inspiration we need to keep working every day on something we care about. Quotes, frequently excerpts from world-defining speeches, have the power to inspire people for years to come.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech from 1963, for example, is still regarded as one of the most memorable speeches of the 20th century. Warren Buffet, the American business magnate, investor, and philanthropist, once described one of King’s speeches as the “most inspiring” he has ever heard.

Quotes are a powerful universal motivator for individuals and communities to take action, especially when they address some of the world’s most pressing issues.

So to help inspire all the Global Citizens out there to keep taking action on the issues you care about (because we all need a bit of inspiration and motivation sometimes!), here are some of our favorite quotes from luminaries, activists, leaders, and Global Citizens like you, who use their voices to amplify their work, stand up for what’s right, and inspire others to act.

On Activism: 

Katharine Hayhoe, Canadian Atmospheric Scientist and Professor

Dr. Katharine Hayhoe arrives at the White House with President Barack Obama and actor Leonardo DiCaprio to talk about climate change as part of an event in Washington, DC, on Oct. 3, 2016.Dr. Katharine Hayhoe arrives at the White House with President Barack Obama and actor Leonardo DiCaprio to talk about climate change as part of an event in Washington, DC, on Oct. 3, 2016.
Image: Carolyn Kaster/AP

“Personal action changes who we are, it changes people around us, and it can help us change the world. Greta Thunberg is the epitome of what I’m saying. She was, as many young people are, very anxious about climate change — and who wouldn’t be? So, she convinced her family to stop flying and they changed their diets. But if that was all they had done, nobody would ever know her name and the Fridays for Future strikes would not exist. She took a piece of cardboard, wrote on it, sat outside parliament, and changed the world.”

Dolly Parton, American Singer-songwriter, Actress, Philanthropist, and Businesswoman

Dolly Parton performs in concert in May 2014, in Knoxville, Tenn.
Image: Wade Payne/Invision/AP

“We can’t just hope for a brighter day, we have to work for a brighter day. Love too often gets buried in a world of hurt and fear. And we have to work to dig it out so we can share it with our family, our friends, and our neighbors.”

Liz Agbor-Tabi, Vice President of Global Policy at Global Citizen

“There is an old adage that a mentor once shared with me and it was ‘lead where you are.’ You have a unique voice and the unique ability to make a difference and to engender change no matter where you are. And for those of us Global Citizens who are in a position to raise our voices, to use our voices for the betterment of humanity, it’s important not to squander that opportunity. The ultimate expression of humanity is daring to care and then using your voice and your talents to do something about that, to take action, to ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to the opportunity for a life lived in peace and with dignity.”

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Melinda French Gates, Philanthropist, Businesswoman, and Global Advocate for Women and Girls

Melinda Gates Addresses Every Woman Every Child Event. Photo from Flickr
Image: United Nations Photo

“The world is full of what seem like intractable problems. Often we let that paralyze us. Instead, let it spur you to action.”

Dolores Huerta, American Labor Leader and Civil Rights Activist

Dolores Huerta poses for a portrait to promote the film, “Dolores”, at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Park City, Utah.
Dolores Huerta poses for a portrait to promote the film, “Dolores”, at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Park City, Utah.
Image: Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP

“Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.”

Kerry Washington, American Actress, Producer, and Director

Kerry Washington arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Kerry Washington arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Image: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

“Do it! What are you waiting on? Do it! Stand up for what you believe in. The world needs your voice. Whoever you are, you have something to say. Say it.”

Ban Ki-moon, Former UN Secretary-General

Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.
Image: Flickr/World Bank Photo Collection

“Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth … These are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security, and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.”

Emma Watson, Actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador

Image: Nick Harrys

“Bobby Kennedy, when he was senator for New York, said each time a man or woman stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Eddie Ndopu, South African Activist and UN SDG Advocate

SDG Advocate Eddie Ndopu at the SDG Global Festival of Action
Image: Global Goals Advisory

“I think that another word for activism is… imagination. Because it’s about this idea of being able to envision a world that doesn’t yet exist. I think that’s what the job of an activist is, it’s to be able to create, and create into being or create into existence a new world order that is really equitable and that is really fair and that’s just and sustainable. Advocacy is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. We advocate for our survival.”

Anuscheh Amir-Khalili, 2022 Global Citizen Prize: Citizen Award Germany Winner

Image: Amir Hamja for Global Citizen

“Change is already taking place in small ways, in how people treat each other. The more people become aware of the opportunities they have to change the world, even in small ways, the bigger it ends up being for everyone.”

Barbie Izquierdo, 2022 Global Citizen Prize: Citizen Award USA Winner

Image: Amir Hamja for Global Citizen

“Vulnerability requires breaking the standards of control that you’ve placed on yourself. We need to move past that and break down those walls, and fully feel and embrace our stories, good, bad, and different.”

On Action for the Climate

Greta Thunberg, Swedish Environmental Activist

Climate activist Greta Thunberg marches through the streets of Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 5, 2021 which is the host city of the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit. | Image: Alberto Pezzali/AP

“For children and young people, climate change is the single greatest threat to our futures. We are the ones who will have to clean up the mess you adults have made, and we are the ones who are more likely to suffer now.”

Brianna Fruean, 2022 Global Citizen Prize: Citizen Award Samoa Winner

Image: Amir Hamja for Global Citizen

“Climate change for a lot of people feels very static, like something they watch on the news, but for me, it’s something very real. I believe that climate activism is the fight for home. Engagement of young people is so important when trying to re-build and re-imagine a future because we are the future.”

Xiye Bastida, Brazilian Climate Activist

Climate activist Xiye Bastida speaks on stage at Global Citizen Live in Central Park.
Image: Kris Lori for Global Citizen

“The planet is suffering, and we don’t have the luxury of time anymore. Saving the world as a teenager means being good with words, understanding the science behind the climate crisis, bringing a unique perspective into the issue to stand out, and forgetting about almost everything else.”

Azeez Abubakar, Nigerian Climate Activist and UN COP26 Delegate

Azeez Tobu Abubakar is a 23-year-old Nigerian climate activist and a member of the Global Citizen Fellowship Program, powered by BeyGOOD.
Image: Iman Tajik for Global Citizen

“The climate crisis is a threat to our health now! Young people must be included at all levels in climate discussions, policy making, and decision making. Nothing for us without us!”

Vanessa Nakate, Ugandan Climate Activist

Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate is calling on African leaders to declare a climate emergency.
Image: Imaged supplied by Nakate.

“My advocacy is based on the understanding that our environment is our inheritance, and we have to protect it or we face the consequences. We’d rather act now, as we can’t keep watching more people die as a result of climate change.”

Nyombi Morris, Ugandan Climate Activist

Nyombi Morris is a Ugandan climate activist and social media manager for a climate justice non-profit organisation called Rise Up Movement.
Nyombi Morris is a Ugandan climate activist and social media manager for a climate justice non-profit organisation called Rise Up Movement.
Image: Courtesy of Nyombi Morris

“The idea of a world where natural resources and people’s lives are respected and put above profit matters so much to me. That’s why I am here — to make that world a reality.”

Adenike Oladosu, Nigerian Climate Activists and UN COP26 Delegate


“Everybody is needed at this moment in the fight for climate justice, regardless of who you are, where you are from, or what you do.”

On Action for Equity

Mitzy Violeta Cortés Guzmán, 2022 Global Citizen Prize: Citizen Award Mexico Winner

Mitzy Cortés Guzmán is Global Citizen Award 2022 winner.
Image: Gibran Mena Aguilar

“In times of ecocide and genocide, we argue that the future is a territory to defend where other stories have to be told — stories that denounce the violence against Indigenous peoples, feminized bodies, and nature, but also sow hope that other worlds are possible.”

Payzee Mahmod, 2022 Global Citizen Prize: Citizen Award UK Winner

Image: Amir Hamja for Global Citizen

“I wish people knew child marriage harms children. No one should ever be against child marriage being banned… I find people saying, ‘It’s only a couple of kids’ — a really hurtful excuse for inaction. It’s not about the fact that it’s a small number, it’s the fact that it’s happening at all. If we think every child matters, we can’t allow child marriage in any context. Even one child is too many.”

Khanyisile Motsa, 2022 Global Citizen Prize: Citizen Award South Africa Winner

“You know, seeing a child having been so battered, that when you look at them with your own eyes, you could say helping them is hopeless. But I say, just give the child a chance. Just two weeks, give her love, food, let her play with other children, and don’t even ask a lot of questions. The smile, the way she finds herself free. And with that, you feel that you’ve saved a life. I’ve saved a life. Her standing up, her being proud of herself, makes me proud.”

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Former United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says balanced cabinets made better decisions not just for women, but for broader society and economies, and provided role models for the next generation of both girls and boys.
Image: Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank/Flickr.

“We want our girls to grow up aspiring to be leaders — to lead their countries, companies, institutions. When girls see someone who’s like them — that’s when the penny drops, ‘I can do this too.’”

Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Image: Mark Garten/UN Photo

“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave — to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.”

Louise Aubery, French Creator and Activist

Image: Getty Images for Global Citizen

“I believe that just as racism is systemic, because of centuries of oppression, sexism is systemic. A construct of the system. But the good news is that what has been constructed can be deconstructed. But to do that, you have to learn to recognize it, to question it, and to accept that the system must change.”

Freida Pinto, Actress and Women’s Rights Activist

Image: Flickr/World Bank Photo Collection


“I call upon women to raise each other up, to make each other’s welfare a priority, and to never shame a woman for the choices she makes.”

Gizele Martins, Grassroots Activist and Human Rights Advocate


“The absence of basic human rights plus racism and social inequality makes us have to decide who gets to receive food amidst widespread hunger. I want the world to know that mutual support and solidarity are what is going to save us from any crisis while we still don’t have the same right to life as the wealthy do.”

Angélique Kidjo, Beninese Singer-songwriter, Actress, and Activist

Angélique Kidjo is pictured on stage during Global Citizen Live in Paris.
Image: Cyril Marcilhacy for Global Citizen

“I am an optimist by nature and my career path has also taught me that change lives deep within each one of us and that every daily action contributes to change. Our job is to grow the flame of equality and justice for all every day. When people own and contribute to social change, they become guardians of that progress, and they’ll do whatever it takes to safeguard it and nurture it. This is what I believe in.”

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Join the fight for justice and equity by heading to our Defend Activists NOW campaign page for actions you can take to help defend and protect advocates, activists, and civic spaces around the world — and keep checking back in to see the latest actions you can take with us. 

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