Former Director General, UNESCO and Chair, Democracy & Culture Foundation
Born in Sofia, Bulgaria, Irina Bokova served two terms as director general of UNESCO from 2009 to 2017. She is the first woman to lead the organisation.
Having graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations, shewas a fellow at the University of Maryland, Washington, and followed an executive program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Before being elected director general of UNESCO, she was ambassador of Bulgaria to France, Monaco and UNESCO and personal representative of the president of the Republic of Bulgaria to the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.
As director general of UNESCO, Ms. Bokova was actively engaged in the U.N.’s efforts to adopt Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, particularly Goal 4 on inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all, gender equality and the protection of the world’s cultural heritage against the destruction by extremists in Mali, Syria and Iraq. As a result, in 2017, the U.N. Security Council adopted the landmark Resolution 2347 declaring for the first time the link between peace and security on one hand, and the protection of cultural heritage on the other.
Ms. Bokova was named among the world's most influential women by Forbes in 2016. She has received state distinctions from more than 40 countries and is the recipient of honorary doctorates from leading universities, such as King’s College London, the University of Edinburgh, Paris-Saclay University, Boston University, Catholic University of Milan and Tonji University in Shanghai, among others.
In 2020 she was also elected an international honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in the category of scientific, cultural and nonprofit leadership.
Currently, she is a member of the board of Ban Ki-moon Center for Global Citizens, a member of the Concordia Leadership Council in New York, a global champion of the U.N.’s Education Cannot Wait and a member of the Strategic Committee of the Paris School of International Affairs at Sciences Po, Paris. She is a lecturer on cultural diplomacy, a visiting lecturer at the University of Geneva and Miwon scholar of peace studies at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. She is also a member of Leaders For Peace, a member of the board of the Open Diplomacy Institute and l’Institut de relations internationales et stratégiques and a member of the International Advisory Council of the Beijing Forum at the University of Beijing, among other activities.