Global Leaders Council

Making a Difference 

The Aspen Institute's Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health is a group of sitting and former heads of state, high-level policymakers and other leaders committed to advancing reproductive health for lasting development and prosperity. Members of the Global Leaders Council are working to reclaim the debate about reproductive health, highlight linkages to global development that make reproductive health a vital investment, and challenge policymakers to commit to supporting reproductive health and increasing global reproductive health funding to the estimated $7 billion needed annually to achieve universal access to these critical services.


Frederick Torgbor Sai

Frederick Torgbor Sai is known by many as the “grandfather of maternal health”. He has received many awards for his efforts, including the 1993 United Nations Population Award, and in 2006, one of his nation’s highest honors, the Member of the Star of Ghana. Dr. Sai served as the chairman of the National Population Council of Ghana from 1992-1997. He was the president of International Planned Parenthood Federation and also a senior population advisor at the World Bank from 1985-1990. His most recent book is With Heart and Voice: Fred Sai Remembers, a vivid account of his childhood and experiences in the world of reproductive health.


Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland (1990-1997) and former United Nations high commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), has spent most of her life as a human rights advocate. Born in Ireland, she was educated at the University of Dublin (Trinity College) and Harvard Law School. She has received numerous honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama. She is also a member of the Elders, former chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, and a member of the Club of Madrid. She currently serves as president of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice.


Joyce Banda

Joyce Banda is the president of Malawi and previously served as that nation's first female vice president. She was a member of Parliament for the Zomba-Malosa constituency and was minister of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services. In 2006, President Bingu wa Mutharika appointed her Malawi’s minister of Foreign Affairs. She was later appointed as Malawi’s Goodwill Ambassador for Safe Motherhood by the African Union.


Gro Harlem Brundtland

Gro Harlem Brundtland is a Norwegian politician, diplomat, and physician, and an international leader in sustainable development and public health. She was Norwegian minister for Environmental Affairs from 1974-1979, became Norway’s first female prime minister in 1981, and then again from 1986 to 1996. Brundtland was elected director general of the World Health Organization in 1998. She has served as a special envoy on Climate Change for the UN, and on the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability.


Jan Eliasson

Jan Eliasson was appointed Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations in July 2012. He served as Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Darfur in 2007-2008, and prior to this, was President of the 60th session of the UN General Assembly.  He was Sweden's Ambassador to the U.S. from 2000-2005, and was appointed Foreign Minister of Sweden until the elections in Fall 2006. Ambassador Eliasson was the first UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and was involved in operations in Africa and the Balkans. Prior to his appointment as Deputy-Secretary General, Eliasson also served as Chair if Water Aid/Sweden and as a member of the UN Secretary-General's Advocacy Group of the Millennium Development Goals.


Helen Clark

Helen Clark, a New Zealand politician and administrator, served three terms as that country's prime minister from 1999-2008, and is the first woman to head the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), where she has served since 2009. Clark is also the chair of the United Nations Development Group, a committee consisting of heads of the UN funds, programs, and departments working on development issues. Before resigning from Parliament in April 2009, Clark was foreign affairs spokeswoman for New Zealand's Labour Party and had been a member of Parliament for the Mount Albert electorate since 1981.


Regina Benjamin

Regina Benjamin was appointed surgeon general of the United States Public Health Service by President Obama in 2009. Before becoming “America’s Doctor,” she served her patients at the rural health clinic she founded in Bayou La Batre, Alabama, was associate dean of the University of South Alabama College of Medicine in Mobile, and served as chair of the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States. She was the first physician under the age of forty and the first African-American woman to be elected to the American Medical Association Board of Trustees. She was the U.S. recipient of the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights in 1998.


Jenny Shipley

Jenny Shipley was the first female prime minister of New Zealand. Born in Southland, she trained as a teacher and joined her husband Burton Shipley in a large farming partnership before becoming involved in local government politics. During the 1990s, she served as minister of Women’s Affairs, Health, Social Welfare, State Services, State Owned Enterprises, Transport, and the Accident Compensation Commission, and was a driving force in the economic and social reforms during this period. Elected prime minister in 1997, she guided New Zealand through the “Asian crisis” and back to positive economic growth. She led the New Zealand delegation to the 1995 Beijing United Nations Conference on Women.


Annie Lennox

Internationally renowned and award-winning singer-songwriter, performer, and recording artist, Scottish-born Annie Lennox, OBE, is also a social activist and campaigner. Dedicated to speaking out for women and girls affected by the HIV epidemic, she founded the SING campaign in 2007 as a vehicle to raise awareness and funds. As well as being a UNAIDS global ambassador, she is also a special envoy for the Scottish Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, HIV Ambassador for London, Goodwill Ambassador for Oxfam and the British Red Cross, among others.


Tarja Halonen

Tarja Halonen was the first woman president of Finland and had served as a member of that nation's Parliament since 1979. In addition to her political career, she had a long and extensive career in trade unions and various non-governmental organizations. Halonen served in the Parliament of Finland for six terms from 1979 to 2000, representing the constituency of Helsinki. She also had a long career in the city council of Helsinki, serving there from 1977 to 1996. She is the current chair of the Council of Women World Leaders.


Ted Turner

In 1997, philanthropist Ted Turner announced his historic pledge of $1 billion to create the United Nations Foundation in support of United Nations causes. He is chairman of the UN Foundation, Turner Foundation, Inc., and Turner Enterprises, co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and co-founder of Ted’s Montana Grill. Turner is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees, industry awards, and civic honors, including being named Time Magazine’s 1991 Man of the Year and Broadcasting and Cable’s Man of the Century in 1999.


Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is a United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women. A teacher by training, Phumzile has a long history of empowering women and ensuring their voices are heard. In 1983, she became the first president of the newly formed Natal Organization of Women (NOW), an affiliate of the leading anti-apartheid political movement in South Africa, the United Democratic Front (UDF). She also had leadership roles in the YWCA and TEAM, a development organization based in Cape Town. She served as the first female deputy president of South Africa in 2005 until 2008. 


Vaira Vike-Freiberga

Vaira Vike-Freiberga was president of the Republic of Latvia from 1999 to 2007, the first female president in Eastern Europe. After obtaining her Ph.D. in Canada, she worked for many years as a professor of psychology at the University of Montreal and has gained recognition as an interdisciplinary scholar and expert on science policy. As president of Latvia, she was instrumental in achieving membership in the European Union and NATO for her country. She is a founding member of the Club of Madrid, and has received many awards and medals for her continued work in the international arena in defense of liberty, equality, and social justice.


Maria Otero

From 2009 to 2013, Maria Otero served in the U.S. Department of State as Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, overseeing U.S. foreign relations on issues ranging from democracy and human rights to criminal justice and violent extremism. Born in Bolivia, Maria was at the time of her departure the State Department's highest-ranking Hispanic official, and the first Latina under secretary in its history. Before joining State, she was president and CEO of ACCION International, a pioneer organization in the field of microfinance. 


Joy Phumaphi

Joy Phumaphi began public service in Botswana as a local government auditor. From 1994 to 2003, she went on to serve in Parliament and then became Minister of Health in the midst of the country’s AIDS crisis. She later became the assistant director general for the Family and Community Health Department at the World Health Organization and the vice president of the Human Development Network at the World Bank. She is currently the Executive Secretary of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance.