Project Management

Most Influential Projects 2020—Thought Leaders’ Top Picks

19 Nov 2020
Sunil Prashara
Our second annual Most Influential Projects list highlights compelling projects from around the world and across industries that achieved important milestones and had significant societal impact this past year. In this post, PMI’s leaders call out some of the projects that they believe are changing the world for the better and that illustrate the remarkable achievements of project management professionals.


Last year in honor of its 50th anniversary, PMI launched the Most Influential Projects list. Beginning in 2020, PMI has committed to celebrating the 50 Most Influential Projects on an annual basis, recognizing initiatives that represent PMI’s vision of how project work, and the change-makers behind them, embody the creative spirit that is re-shaping the future of our planet.

The 2020 Most Influential Projects list identifies the noteworthy projects that have defined the past yeara year that has been dramatically transformed by the global coronavirus pandemic. Many of the projects on this year’s list therefore reflect the ingenious ways that project managers and change-makers have kept initiatives moving forward in the face of unexpected obstacles and challenges.

In addition to the Top 50 list, PMI is releasing 30 Top 10 lists that recognize the most influential projects in a variety of regions and industries. In total, the lists include more than 250 breakthrough projects that touch every part of the world and every aspect of human endeavor.

Here’s a sampling of the projects on the lists this year, as selected by PMI leaders:


International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor 

Sunil Prashara, President & CEO  

It promises to be clean, safe and deliver nearly 4 million times the energy of burning fossil fuels. It’s the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), a US$25 billion collaboration of 35 nations to harness fusion powerthe power that fuels the sun. The project reached a major milestone this April with the delivery of two prototype fusion reactors each weighing 360 metric tons to project headquarters in France. The latest phase of this global project, now 69 percent complete, required extraordinary coordination among manufacturers, governments and ITER’s logistical teams and brings a truly revolutionary source of safe, carbon-free energy one step closer to reality.

Why I Chose This Project: ITER has the potential to be a real game-changer. It’s truly inspiring in the boldness of its thinking and its global scale. And it demonstrates once again the power of project management to turn dreams into reality.


Plant-for-the-Planet App

Joe Cahill, Chief Operating Officer   

The Trillion Tree Campaign, a global effort started in 2006 by then pre-teen climate activist, Felix Finkbeiner, received a boost recently when it developed the Plant-for-the-Planet app that allows supporters to track the impact of their donations on 50 large reforestation projects around the world. In its first nine months, the app has brought in donations for 2 million trees from 40,000 users. That brings the total number of trees planted by the group to 13.4 billion. What’s even more exciting: Reaching the 1 trillion tree goal would cancel out nearly a decade of carbon emissions, according to a 2019 analysis by ETH Zurich. 

Why I Chose This Project: The Plant-for-the-Planet app is a model for how a big idea can spark innovation and bring together the skills of a diverse group of people to solve seemingly intractable problems.  


COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator

Mike DePrisco, VP Global Experience & Solutions  

Delivering treatments for the coronavirus is the holy grail of the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator. Backed by an array of companies, NGOs and individuals, the Accelerator has taken up the critical work of coordinating R&D efforts among groups developing a treatment for the deadly virus. But the group’s work doesn’t end there. Before a vaccine is even approved, the Accelerator team is building factories to manufacture the seven most promising candidateseven though only two may ultimately be produced. This proves once again that in the critical race for a COVID treatment, time is far more precious than dollars.  

Why I Chose This Project: The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator is the very definition of collaborative leadership. Not only have multiple organizations come together in the quest for a vaccine, but they’re demonstrating genuine leadership in gearing up manufacturing before a vaccine is even approved.



Dave Garrett, Chief Strategy and Growth Officer   

To aid collaboration around the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the World Economic Forum (WEF) along with Salesforce, Deloitte and LinkedIn recently launch UpLink, a digital platform that connects social entrepreneurs with the resources they need to make a difference. Launched this past January, UpLink is part of WEF’s “decade of action” for tackling SDG challenges by forming action groups to scale the most promising projects. The team is already using Uplink to support young change-makers in a sprint focused on SDG 14protecting marine ecosystems and reducing ocean pollution.  

Why I Chose This Project: Harness the energy and social commitment of a diverse group of young change-makers and you end up with an innovative solution like Uplink. This team demonstrates how working together in an agile way and leveraging new technology tools can help achieve important outcomes.  


Dangote Refinery  

Otema Yirenyki, VP Global Engagement 

When it’s completed in 2021, the Dangote Oil Refinery in Nigeria will be the largest oil refinery in Africa and one of the largest in the world, processing 650,000 barrels of crude oil per day and creating nearly 35,000 jobs in and around Lagos. But its benefits run deeper than that. By creating a self-sustaining supply of high-quality refined petroleum products, the project will reduce the country’s reliance on imports, help stabilize its currency and aid in the fight against poverty. And the project team, led by Mr. Devakumar V.G. Edwin has seemingly planned for everything: from providing on-site housing to avoid a pandemic lock-down to training the engineers that will be needed to operate the refinery.   

Why I Chose This Project: Typically, Nigeria exports raw materials and imports finished goodsa situation that leaves Nigeria reliant on other countries and contributes to poverty. The Dangote Refinery turns that model on its head, allowing Nigeria to not only produce oil but the refined petroleum products that have always been in short supply. In the true sense of the word, the project is “transformative.” 


Chenab Bridge

Srini Srinivasan, Managing Director, South Asia  

Rising 359 meters (1,178 feet) above some of the most rugged and remote terrain on the planet, Chenab Bridge will be the world’s tallest rail bridge when it is completed in 2022. The 1,315 meter (4,314 feet) long “engineering marvel” is in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the Himalayan foothills of northwestern India. Sponsored by Konkan Railways, the project is said to be the most challenging engineering project in the 150-year history of Indian Railways. More than 1,400 construction workers are laboring on the project, which will use 5,462 tons of steel, feature blast-proof concrete pillars, and will be able to withstand wind speeds of up to 260 kmph.   

Why I Chose This Project: The Chenab Bridge takes center stage as the exemplar of engineering prowess on the Indian subcontinent. But engineering isn’t the only marvel here. It’s the project management skills that have brought together the wide range of resources required to construct the bridge under such challenging circumstances.   


Capital City Relocation 

Ben Breen, Managing Director, Asia Pacific  

Jakarta, the current capital of Indonesia, sits at the center of multiple global macro trends. Its population is expected to reach 12.7 million by 2030. And it’s among the world’s fastest sinking citieswith 95 percent of North Jakarta expected to be underwater by 2050. To address these issues and to stimulate growth, Indonesia plans to move its political centerand nearly 1 million civil servantsto a new futuristic capital city nearly 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) away. The US$33 billion project will lighten the burden on Jakarta and create a sustainable “smart” city that will spur economic growth in an underdeveloped part of the country for years to come.  

Why I Chose This Project: With my background in construction, it’s only natural that I would gravitate to Indonesia’s Capital City Relocation project. It’s a project that calls for foresight, bold thinking and unparalleled project management skills, and it will forever alter the physical and economic landscape of the country.   


Iceland Contact Tracing

Ashwini Bakshi, Managing Director, Europe   

While most countries resorted to lockdowns to contain the coronavirus, many have embarked on contact tracing. Iceland’s project is notable because they quickly adapted a local asset and applied a surgical approach that relied on science and technology to virtually eliminate the virus in this country of 365,000. Iceland’s health officials teamed up with homegrown biotech firm DeCode Genetics and other private companies to build a smartphone app called Rakning C-19. The app flagged anyone who had been in close proximity of an infected person for follow-up by contact tracers. This approach, along with social distancing and comprehensive testing, has established Iceland as a model for other countries to emulate. When the country embarked on this project in early April, new cases were rising fast, increasing by up to 99 a day. By June, this exemplary effort helped Iceland ramp up testing and the country’s death rate from COVID-19 became one of the lowest in the world.

Why I Chose This Project: The Iceland Contact Tracing project is a great example of turning a smart strategy into reality. Recognizing a local asset is often the hallmark of successful projects. By recognizing and leveraging a critical local assetDeCode Geneticsand rapidly deploying the right technology, health officials in Iceland accomplished what few other countries have been able to achieve.


Lima Clean Water 

Ricardo Triana, Managing Director, Latin America  

With a population of 10 million, Lima, Peru is the world’s second-largest desert city and receives just 0.3 inches of rain each year. Now the government plans a US$720 million public-private partnership to deliver clean water to the capital city, hoping to alleviate a water and sanitation crisis that is complicated by inequality and climate uncertainty. Led by ProInversión, Peru’s private investment promotion agency, the project hopes to supplement water drawn primarily from the Rímac River and its underwater alluvial aquifer.  

Why I Chose This Project: The Lima Clean Water project demonstrates once again the value of collaboration across the public and private sectors for planning and executing investments that impact a large number of stakeholders. The learnings and experience change-makers gain from such partnerships will only grow in importance in the future as we cope with the new work ecosystem and issues such as the continuing impact of climate change.    


Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Causeway 

Grace Najjar, Managing Director, Middle East & North Africa 

Seeking to diversify its economy and reimagine the ancient Silk Road trade route linking China and the Persian Gulf, Kuwait is building a massive free trade zone and port in Subiyah, 90 minutes away from the country’s capital, Kuwait City. To link the cities, Kuwait has built the US$3 billion Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Causeway, the world’s largest maritime highway, extending 48 kilometers (30 miles) over Kuwait Bay. The causeway cuts inter-city travel time from 90 to 30 minutes and features a “smart” transportation monitoring system, island breaks to accommodate refueling stations and emergency services, and a signature 340-meter (1,115-foot) cable-stayed bridge bound by a stunning sail-shaped pylon that allows ships to pass underneath. 

Why I Chose This Project: The Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Causeway is a megaproject within a megaproject. From a project management standpoint, it has everything going for it: a compelling need, sophisticated engineering, complex logistics and extensive collaborationall captured in one of the most beautiful structures in the world.   


Shanghai Fashion Week 

Bob Chen, Managing Director, China  

Rather than cancel Shanghai Fashion Week because of the coronavirus, organizers opted to go virtual, staging the first entirely digital fashion week extravaganza in record time. Powered by Tmall, Alibaba’s online marketplace, the showcase featured livestreamed runways and an AR-fueled app that allowed viewers to comment, ask questions and make Smartphone purchases from among 150 designers and brands, including Diane von Furstenberg, Private Policy, H&M, Net-a-Porter and rising Chinese talent like ShuShu/Tong and Babyghost. The event garnered 11 million views and helped generate more than US$70 million in combined sales.

Why I Chose This Project: Talk about agile! Shanghai Fashion Week pivoted and converted a potential calamity into a positive outcome yielding real business value. The true star of the show, however, wasn’t the fashion but the sophisticated project management skills and technology savvy that made it all possible.   


Solar Orbiter 

Brantlee Underhill, Managing Director, North America   

Space exploration continues to be a stellar example of the power of projects to change our worldand even beyond. To help us understand more about the solar system, NASA and the European Space Agency launched the Solar Orbiter in February of this year. The $1.5 billion, seven-year mission will capture the first-ever, high-resolution images of the sun’s poles. This will help scientists better predict solar storms that can disrupt infrastructure here on Earth and threaten astronauts in space. The first breath-taking images, the closest ever taken of the sun, have already started to arrive.

Why I Chose This Project: With lives frequently on the line and given its great complexity, the space program has always tested the skills of project managers. And space exploration often involves international collaboration. The Solar Orbiter project is a great examplebringing together two space agencies in an ambitious mission to explore the ultimate source of life on earth. It doesn’t get more “big picture” than that. The space program also figures in PMI’s Future 50 list this year, where Kenneth Harris II, database lead engineer on NASA’s Joint Polar Satellite System J2 mission, was recognized for his project management skills. Ken uses his problem-solving and communications abilities not only on the job but in his personal life as a high-profile advocate for space exploration and STEM education.

Sunil Prashara Sunil Prashara

As PMI's Former President & Chief Executive Officer, Sunil Prashara was the lead advocate for PMI’s global organization, serving more than three million professionals working in nearly every country of the world. His primary responsibility was to implement PMI’s global strategic plan with a priority on strategic focus, customer centricity and organizational agility. This included expanding the PMI footprint globally, as well as digitizing PMI’s offerings and platforms to benefit its members and a variety of other stakeholders.