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Gro Harlem Brundtland

First Female Prime Minister of Norway & Deputy Chair of The Elders 

As an environment minister, Prime Minister, and party leader, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland gained international recognition as a leader on key global challenges, the environment, human rights and sustainable development. The Alliance is pleased that Dr. Brundtland has accepted to be a keynote speaker at its global conference.

Sustainable development is at the very core of co-operative enterprises. As a model of business based on ethical values and principles whose goal it is to provide for the needs and aspirations of their members, co-operatives play a pivotal role in responding to local community needs and objectives.

Sustainability, therefore, forms one of the five pillars of the Alliance’s Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade, which aims to position co-operatives as builders of economic, social and environmental sustainability by 2020. The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) acknowledged the role of co-operatives in "contributing to social inclusion and poverty reduction, in particular in developing countries”.

Dr. Brundtland completed her medical studies at Oslo University. As a young mother and newly qualified doctor, she won a scholarship to the Harvard School of Public Health where her vision of extending health beyond the confines of the medical world into environmental issues and human development began to take shape. 

In 1974 she was asked to serve as Norway’s Minister of the Environment focusing on the links between public health and the environment. During the 1970s, Dr. Brundtland lobbied for women’s rights and progressive family policies, and gained a political reputation at home, as well as international recognition in environmental circles. 

At age 41, Dr. Brundtland became the first woman Prime Minister of Norway—and the youngest person ever appointed. Her cabinet of eight women and nine men represented the highest level of gender equality in history as Dr. Brundtland continued to lead her country for more than a decade. 

Dr. Brundtland chaired the World Commission on Environment and Development, the Brundtland Commission, which popularized the concept of sustainable development in its landmark report, “Our Common Future.” Their recommendations provided the momentum for the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. 

She returned to her roots in medicine serving as Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO)—a position utilizing her considerable skills as a physician, environmentalist, politician, and activist. Under her forward-thinking leadership, WHO confronted the global threat of the SARS virus and her rapid response and information networking are largely credited with helping prevent the widespread growth of the disease. 

Dr. Brundtland served as a member of the United Nations “High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change.” The panel’s 2004 report, “A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility,” includes sustainable development as an integral part of a new vision of collective security, and the proposal for “Responsibility to Protect,” the principle applied in 2011 in the cases of Libya and Cote d’Ivoire. 

In May 2007, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, named Dr. Brundtland, as well as Ricardo Lagos, the former President of Chile, and Han Seung-Soo, the former foreign minister of South Korea, to serve as UN Special Envoys for Climate Change. 

Also in 2007, she became a founding member of the “Elders,” a group of 11 leaders called together by Nelson Mandela and chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who contribute their wisdom, independent leadership, and integrity to tackling the world’s toughest problems with the goal of conflict resolution and making the world a better place. In 2010 the UN Secretary General appointed her a member of his “High Level Global Sustainability Panel.” 

Dr. Brundtland travels and lectures extensively as a leading voice on climate change, for a healthier and better educated world, and a champion of sustainable development, which she defines as “meeting the demands of the present generations while preserving the rights of future generations to meet their own needs.” 

Her numerous awards include the 1988 Third World Prize for leadership on sustainable development, the Indira Gandhi Prize 1989, and der Internationaler Karlspreis zu Achen 1994. She also received the International Environment Prize from the City of Göteborg in Sweden, and in 2004 the Blue Planet Prize from the Asahi Glass Foundation, Japan. 

She holds numerous honorary degrees from major universities, including Oxford, Harvard, and Yale, as well as Cape Town and the All India Institute. But, perhaps her most prized award is her unofficial title in her native Norway, where she is affectionately known as “Landsmoderen,” or “mother of the nation.”