Noeleen Heyzer (Singapore) is the ninth Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). Appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, in August 2007, Dr. Heyzer is the first woman to occupy this position since its founding in 1947. She leads the organization at the level of Under-Secretary-General.
Since taking office, Dr. Heyzer has positioned ESCAP, the regional development arm of the United Nations, as a powerful platform for promoting regional co-operation among member States, to achieve inclusive and sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific.
She has strengthened ESCAP's capacity and effectiveness to support the countries of the region, using its convening powers and standard-setting authority, strategic analysis, policy options, and technical assistance, to build the economic and social foundations for shared prosperity, social progress, and environmental sustainability.
She has also improved the engagement of ESCAP with countries that have special needs (least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, and the small island developing states), redirecting policies, institutions and resources to reduce poverty, and to address inequalities.
Under her leadership, ESCAP has built the capacity of member States, through technical support, to implement international agreements, norms, and standards, to support the well-being of people and the planet.
She has focused ESCAP’s work to realize the achievement of sustainable and inclusive growth, social equity, wise stewardship of natural resources, and resilience, as well as the forging of stronger regional integration and South-South cooperation.
As Executive Secretary, Dr. Heyzer has championed the role of the UN Regional Commissions in the post-2015 development agenda, and the forging of a more coordinated Asia-Pacific voice and leadership in shaping effective and strategic responses to the 21st century challenges of sustainable development.
She has worked with political leaders and key decision-makers to establish regional cooperation mechanisms and institutional frameworks to address multiple crises, such as the food-fuel-finance crises and climate change, as well as to harness economic and social development opportunities, through multi-stakeholder alliances and partnerships.
Amongst the many significant achievements of the region, under her tenure with ESCAP, have been groundbreaking intergovernmental agreements and initiatives such as those on Dry Ports and International Road Transport Facilitation, to build corridors of prosperity; the Incheon Strategy to Make the Right Real for Persons with Disabilities; the Agenda for Regional Connectivity and assistance in the formulation of ASEAN's Connectivity Master Plan; exploration of an Asia-Pacific Energy Highway, an ICT super-highway, and the agreement supporting a Silk Super-highway of economic development in Central Asia.
Dr. Heyzer was also instrumental in the creation of four new ESCAP subregional offices, and the strengthening of its five regional institutions, to better support member States. She also led the development of a single ESCAP/UNDP/ADB tracking system and regional reporting on MDG progress.
Other major milestones include ESCAP’s Low Carbon Green Growth Roadmap; regional action plans on socioeconomic policy and social protection, sustainable urbanization, food security and sustainable agriculture, statistics, initiatives on paperless trade, and the building of productive capacity and employment in developing countries, including for women and youth. She was also at the forefront of innovations in regional disaster preparedness, such as the establishment of near-real-time satellite imagery capabilities through space technologies – first used in the Thai floods of 2011.
Another key focus of Dr. Heyzer’s work with ESCAP has been to revitalize the United Nations Asia-Pacific Regional Coordination Mechanism, improving the policy coherence of its more than 30 UN organizations to "deliver as one", supporting member States to harness the power of partnerships for development. She has also promoted stronger strategic engagement with a range of influential development partners including, inter alia, the ADB, ASEAN, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Pacific Islands Forum, and with civil society, private sector, and regional think-tanks.
In 2009, Dr. Heyzer led an unprecedented dialogue with Myanmar's leaders, resulting in the Government of Myanmar requesting the formation of a development partnership that has allowed practitioners and eminent international scholars, such as the Nobel Prize economist Professor Joseph Stiglitz, and local researchers to exchange experiences and ideas with government agencies and civil society. This has been regarded by many as helping to catalyze the opening-up of the country from its former isolation. In 2008, she also worked closely with ASEAN, the Government of Myanmar, and the UN in the recovery efforts assisting cyclone-affected people in the Ayeyarwady Delta.
Past Career Highlights
(October 1994 – 2007)
Prior to her appointment to ESCAP, Dr. Heyzer was the first Executive Director from the South to head the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). Through her leadership, UNIFEM assisted over 100 countries in the formulation and implementation of legislation and policies that promote women's security and rights. This resulted in the removal of discriminatory practices, changes in inheritance laws for women, better working conditions for migrant workers, full participation for women in several peace negotiations and electoral processes including in Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Timor Leste, and the inclusion of women as full citizens in the constitution of Afghanistan.
Dr. Heyzer played a critical role in the Security Council's adoption and implementation of the landmark Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security, undertaking extensive missions to conflict-affected countries worldwide. She was responsible for the establishment of the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women and for appointing Actress Nicole Kidman as UNIFEM's Goodwill Ambassador to campaign against this violence. She led UNIFEM's restructuring to maximize organizational performance. Consequently, UNIFEM increased its resources tenfold, strengthened its programmes, ground presence and team leadership, and successfully advocated to put issues affecting women high on the agenda of the whole United Nations system.
She was instrumental in the establishment of UN Women (the successor to UNIFEM) – to ensure that the United Nations will always have a strong institutional voice for women at its highest decision-making table.
Dr. Heyzer has served on numerous boards and advisory committees of international organizations, including the UNDP Human Development Report, the UNDP Eminent Persons Group on Trade and Sustainable Development, the ADB Eminent Persons Group to evaluate their 2020 Strategy, the Board of Trustees of the National University of Singapore, as well as the Board of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation.
She convened and chaired the International Women's Commission for a Just and Sustainable Palestinian-Israeli Peace and was on the High-Level Commonwealth Commission on Respect and Understanding chaired by Nobel Laureate Prof. Amartya Sen. Dr. Heyzer has also advised private sector partners such as Macy's, CISCO, and the Calvert Investment Fund to provide high value employment and market access to women and youth in conflict and disaster-affected areas as well as in the Arab States, setting new standards for ethical investment.
In June 2013, the Secretary-General announced Dr. Heyzer’s concurrent appointment as his Special Adviser for Timor-Leste, at the level of Under-Secretary-General, working with the Government and UN Country Team to support the continuing efforts of Timor-Leste towards peace-building, state-building, and inclusive and sustainable development.
Dr. Heyzer holds a Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) and a Master of Science from the University of Singapore. She obtained a Doctorate in social sciences from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.
Prizes & Awards
Dr. Heyzer has received numerous awards for leadership, including
- Aletta Jacobs Prize (To be Conferred: March 2014), University of Groningen, Netherlands.
- Plaque of Recognition on World Food Day (2013), Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. Presented by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand.
- Honorary Professor (2011), Eurasian Economic Club of Scientists Association, Astana Economic Forum, Kazakhstan.
- Honorary Doctorate (2011), University of Ulan Bator, Mongolia.
- Eminent Alumni Award (2011), National University of Singapore.
- Order of the Polar Star (2011), Mongolia. Presented by the President of Mongolia.
- Women of the Year Award (2008), Singapore Press Holdings.
- Women's Equality Award (2007), American National Council of Women's Organization, Washington, USA.
- Global Leadership Award (2005), Global Summit on Women, Mexico.
- Women Who Make a Difference Award (2005), American National Council for Research on Women, New York City, USA.
- UNA-Harvard Leadership Award (2004), Boston, USA.
- The Dag Hammarskjöld Medal (2004) given to "a person who has promoted, in action and spirit, the values that inspired Dag Hammarskjöld as Secretary-General of the United Nations and generally in his life: compassion, humanism and commitment to international solidarity and cooperation". Uppsala, Sweden.
- The Woman of Distinction Award (2003) from the UN-NGO Committee on the Status of Women, New York, USA.
- Spirit of Excellence and Lifetime Achievement Award (2000) by the Institute for Leadership Development, York University, Canada.
- Global Tolerance Award for Humanitarian Service (2000), Friends of the United Nations, New York, USA.
She was listed by the Earth Times in 2000 as one of the most influential voices in the UN system. In recognition of her contribution to women, peace and justice, Dr. Heyzer was among the nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.