Graduation Speaker

Dr Noeleen

Social Scientist and Former United Nations Under-Secretary-General

Dr Noeleen Heyzer was the first woman to serve as the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) since its founding in 1947. Prior to her ESCAP appointment, she was the first woman from outside North America to head the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). She became its longest serving Executive Director for 13 years (October 1994 – August 2007), transforming it from a small entity to a powerhouse in women’s empowerment and gender equality. Dr Heyzer was also the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Timor-Leste, and is currently a member of the United Nations Secretary General’s High Level Advisory Board on Mediation.

During her time in office, she brought about significant changes in development practice and reforms in the areas and organisations she took charge of. These include establishing legal frameworks for women’s domestic work and for safe migration in Asia; playing a critical role in the Security Council’s adoption and implementation of the landmark Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security; and establishing the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women. She and her team were instrumental in initiating the reform of the UN gender architecture, leading to the establishment of UN Women, whose aim is to ensure that the United Nations will always have a strong institutional voice for women at its highest decision-making table. Responding to the 2008 global financial crisis, she developed ESCAP as the platform for the region to rethink new drivers of inclusive economic growth and sustainable development based on four pillars: regional trade and connectivity; closing the infrastructure and development gaps; developing a new regional financial architecture; and addressing shared vulnerability.

Dr Heyzer is now a Distinguished Fellow of Singapore Management University and the Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and was formerly a trustee of the National University of Singapore (NUS). She is also on the governing board of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS, and is a member of the Kofi Annan Global Commission on Elections and Democracy in the Digital Age. She holds a BA (Upper Hons) and an MSc from the National University of Singapore, a PhD from Cambridge University, and has received numerous awards for leadership.

Past Graduation Speakers