Noeleen Heyzer (Singapore) is the ninth Executive Secretary of the Economicand Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). Appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General 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 arm of the United Nations, as a powerful comprehensive 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 member states, using its convening and standard setting authority, sound strategic analysis, policy options and technical assistance, to build the economic and social foundations for shared prosperity, social progress and ecological sustainability in the region. She has improved the engagement of countries with special needs (least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states), redirecting policies, institutions and resources to reduce poverty and to address existing inequalities. With her leadership, ESCAP is building the capacity of Member States through technical support to implement international agreements, norms and standards. She has focused ESCAP to achieve stronger regional co-operation for transport and ICT connectivity, green growth, fair trade and ethical investment, financial stability, food and energy security, and social development.
The Executive Secretary has championed increased regional co-ordination, enhancing a co-ordinated Asian Pacific voice and leadership in shaping effective and strategic responses to the critical transnational and global challenges of the 21st Century. She has worked with key decision-makers to establish a number of regional co-operation mechanisms and institutional frameworks to address the food-fuel-finance crises and climate change, and to harness development opportunities in the region. These include her five-point agenda for regional connectivity presented to 16 Head of States during the 4th East Asian Summit; the Bangkok Declaration for intermodal transport development; the initiation of an Asia Pacific Energy Security Co-operation Framework; the Dhaka outcome for accelerated growth and poverty reduction in LDCs; and a regional approach towards achieving inclusive low carbon, green growth. At the request of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers, she is now working with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to support ASEAN's development of a Master Plan for regional connectivity. She is also strengthening SPECA, the United Nations Special Programme for Economies of Central Asia, in collaboration with the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE). She strongly advocates for the adoption of a holistic approach to development based on socio-economic equity and ecological sustainability, and the strengthening and integration of the Asia Pacific region through intra-regional trade, financial stability, responsible investment, environmental sustainability, social justice and gender equality.
The Executive Secretary has worked to revitalize the United Nations' Asia Pacific Regional Co-ordination Mechanism, improving the policy coherence of its 30 UN organizations to "deliver as one" in supporting the region to implement international conventions, declarations and development goals. She has promoted stronger strategic engagement with development partners including the ADB, UNDP, ASEAN, the Pacific Islands Forum and with civil society, business and regional think tanks. The tripartite partnership with UNDP and ADB has led to the development of a widely recognized statistical tracking system for MDG progress in the region. She has also established three new sub-regional offices for ESCAP to provide better support and outreach to all member states to realize the MDGs and other internationally agreed development goals.
Dr. Heyzer has led an unprecedented dialogue with Myanmar's leaders, resulting in the Government of Myanmar requesting the formation of a development partnership that has allowed 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. She has also worked closely with ASEAN, the Government of Myanmar and the UN for the ongoing recovery efforts assisting cyclone affected people in the Ayeyarwady Delta.
(October 1994 – September 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, women's full participation in several peace negotiations and electoral processes including in Liberia, Rwanda 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 has 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.
Dr. Heyzer has served on numerous boards and advisory committees of international organizations, including the UNDP Human Development Report as well as the UNDP Eminent Persons Group on Trade and Sustainable Development. 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 successfully mobilized 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 tsunami-affected areas as well as in the Arab States, setting new standards for ethical investment.
Dr. Heyzer has a Bachelor of Arts 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 several awards for leadership, including
- 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". Upsala, 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.