Dr. Natalia Kanem is United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. Appointed by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in 2017, Dr. Kanem has more than 30 years of strategic leadership experience in the fields of preventive medicine, public and reproductive health, social justice and philanthropy. She started her research career with the Johns Hopkins and Columbia University schools of medicine and public health.
Dr. Kanem joined the United Nations in 2014 as UNFPA Country Representative in the United Republic of Tanzania. In 2016, she was named Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director in charge of programmes. Previously, she served as founding president of ELMA Philanthropies, Inc., and as senior associate of the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies.
At the Ford Foundation from 1992 to 2004, she funded pioneering work on women’s reproductive health and human rights, serving first in West Africa and eventually as Deputy Vice-President for peace and social justice programmes in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and North America.
She holds a medical degree from Columbia University in New York, and a Master’s degree in Public Health with specializations in epidemiology and preventive medicine from the University of Washington in Seattle. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College in history and science.
In 2019, Dr. Kanem presided over the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, which marked the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development. Dr. Kanem is recognized for her powerful advocacy for the rights and choices of women and girls and as a key influencer and thought leader in the formulation of global policy on sexual and reproductive health and rights in the Sustainable Development Goals era and has been listed on the Gender Equality Top 100.
Dr. Kanem advocates for the rights of women and girls on the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, an international forum for humanitarian partners, and as co-chair of the Reference Group of Family Planning 2020-2030, a global partnership for investing in rights-based family planning. She has made leadership contributions to the Secretary-General’s organizational transformation initiatives towards reform of the United Nations development system, including co-chairing the Strategic Financing Group of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group, and as a member of the High-Level Steering Groups on Gender, Youth, the System-wide Response to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and the global response to COVID-19. Dr. Kanem is the fifth Executive Director of UNFPA since the Fund became operational in 1969.