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Gro Harlem Brundtland

First woman Prime Minister of Norway and former Director-General of the World Health Organization; leading advocate on global preparedness for pandemics; put sustainable development on the international agenda.
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“We Elders have all experienced remarkable transformations in our own lifetimes; we know that there is an alternative, that wrongs can be righted.”

Gro Harlem Brundtland


Norway’s first female Prime Minister

“For girls and women, the great progress we have made over the last few decades is not enough. Until all of us share the same opportunities – to get an education, to work, to lead – we can never truly prosper."


Sustainable development champion

“Economies are stalling. Ecosystems are under siege. Inequality – within and between countries – is soaring. These afflictions are clearly rooted in political short-sightedness, where narrow interests triumph over common interests, common responsibilities and common sense."


UN Photo/Rossana Fraga

Health as a human right

“There can be no real growth without healthy populations. No sustainable development without tackling disease and malnutrition. No international security without assisting crisis-ridden countries. And no hope for the spread of freedom, democracy and human dignity unless we treat health as a basic human right.”



Gro Harlem Brundtland

First woman Prime Minister of Norway and former Director-General of the World Health Organization; a medical doctor who champions health as a human right and a leading advocate on global preparedness for pandemics; put sustainable development on the international agenda.
Norway's first woman Prime Minister
Director-General of the World Health Organization 1998-2003
UN Special Envoy on Climate Change 2007-2010
Founding member of The Elders
Deputy Chair of The Elders 2013-2018
Co-Chair of the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB)
Member of the UHC Movement Political Advisory Panel

"We are individuals who are speaking without any outside pressures. In that context we can create the potential for change."

Gro Harlem Brundtland

Purpose text

Work with The Elders

Gro Harlem Brundtland has been a member of The Elders since its founding in 2007, bringing to the group her decades of experience as a global leader in public health and sustainable development. She has served as Deputy Chair since May 2013 and assumed the role of Acting Chair in August 2018 until Mary Robinson's appointment as Chair in November 2018.


As part of The Elders’ peace-building agenda, Prime Minister Brundtland joined The Elders’ first delegation to Israel and the West Bank in August 2009 to support efforts to advance Middle East peace - paying particular attention to the impact of the conflict on ordinary Israelis and Palestinians - and to lend their support to the Egyptian democratic transition. Gro Harlem Brundtland joined The Elders’ delegations to Israel and Palestine again in October 2012 and May 2015. During both trips, The Elders continued to support the need for a two-state solution, Palestinian reconciliation and improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza.


Deeply engaged in conflict resolution, she also travelled to Greece, Turkey and Cyprus to encourage reconciliation between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities in February 2011. Similarly, a few months later in April 2011, she joined Mary Robinson, Jimmy Carter and Martti Ahtisaari on a visit to the Korean Peninsula and China in an effort to improve relations between North and South Korea.


A staunch advocate of gender equality as a prerequisite for development, Prime Minister Brundtland travelled to Ethiopia in June 2011 to meet communities affected by child marriage and bring together experts and activists working to end this harmful practice. At the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2011, Gro Harlem Brundtland together with Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson, Lakhdar Brahimi and Martti Ahtisaari launched The Elders’ initiative on child marriage and Girls not Brides campaign. Moreover, in February 2012 she travelled to India, where the Elders lent their support to youth activists tackling early marriage at the local level.


Dubbed the “godmother of sustainable development”, she was also part of Elders+Youngers, an intergenerational dialogue between four Elders and four young change-makers during the Rio+20 summit in June 2012.


Since September 2013, Gro Harlem Brundtland has been an active part of The Elders’ Myanmar initiative. She visited the country in September 2013, meeting political and military leaders and civil society representatives involved in supporting the peace process with ethnic minority armed groups and addressed ongoing violence in Rakhine state. In March 2014, she returned with Martti Ahtisaari where they visited Mae La refugee camp and Mae Tao Clinic, on the Thailand-Myanmar border and saw the resilience of those living in exile. In December 2014, she led the Elders’ delegation to Myanmar where they met with representatives from the government, the military and civil society including ethnic women’s groups.


In September 2014, she participated at the UN General Assembly in New York with Martti Ahtisaari, Graça Machel and Mary Robinson as a strong advocate for climate change and sustainable development, taking part in that year’s Climate Summit and New York Climate Change March.


Gro Brundtland joined The Elders’ delegation to Moscow in April 2015. Together with Kofi Annan, Martti Ahtisaari, Lakhdar Brahimi, Jimmy Carter and Ernesto Zedillo, she met with President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as well as former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.


In September 2015, Gro Harlem Brundtland travelled to New York with Hina Jilani, Graça Machel and Ernesto Zedillo to celebrate the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals. During the trip, Prime Minister Brundtland participated in two events as part of The Elders’ Strengthening the UN initiative and the Social Good Summit, hosted by the UN Foundation and Mashable.


In May 2016, Gro Harlem Brundtland together with Hina Jilani, Graça Machel and Mary Robinson launched The Elders’ new initiative on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. The initiative calls for universal access to healthcare as a way of saving lives, tackling poverty, empowering women and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.


‘Mother of the nation’

Gro Harlem Brundtland was seven years old when she enrolled in the children’s section of the Norwegian Labour Movement. She has been a member ever since, and has led the Labour Party to electoral victory three times.


After spending 10 years as a physician and scientist in the Norwegian public health system, Gro Harlem Brundtland was appointed Prime Minister for the first time in 1981. Aged 41, she was both the youngest person and the first woman to hold the office in Norway.


She served for more than 10 years as Prime Minister over three terms until 1996, during which time women’s representation in government significantly increased. A popular leader, Prime Minister Brundtland is affectionately known by Norwegians as ‘Landsmoderen’ or ‘mother of the nation.’


Public health and environmental champion

Few people have had an impact on society as global as Prime Minister Brundtland. As Norway’s Environment Minister from 1974 to 1979, she began to realise her vision of extending health beyond the confines of the medical world into environmental issues and human development. From 1983, as the Chair of the World Commission of Environment and Development (known as the Brundtland Commission) she put sustainable development on the international agenda with the Commission’s landmark report Our Common Future in 1987.

A physician and Master of Public Health (Harvard) by training, Prime Minister Brundtland served as Director-General of the World Health Organization from 1998 to 2003, gaining recognition for leading the global response to SARS, negotiating an agreement on tobacco control, increasing access to life-saving drugs, working towards polio eradication and promoting awareness of the links between poverty and disease.


Prime Minister Brundtland was a member of the United Nations Secretary-General's High Level Panel on Global Sustainability (2011-2012), and serves on the Board of the United Nations Foundation. She was:


  • Member of the Palme Commission on Security and Disarmament, 1980s
  • Member of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, 2008-2010
  • Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Climate Change, 2007-2010

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