Gro Harlem Brundtland

First woman Prime Minister of Norway and Deputy Chair of The Elders; a medical doctor who champions health as a human right; put sustainable development on the international agenda.

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

Work with The Elders

Dr 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.

Dr Brundtland has joined two Elders’ delegations to Israel and the West Bank to support efforts to advance Middle East peace, and in 2012 travelled to Cairo to support Egypt's democratic transition. She has visited Greece, Turkey and Cyprus to encourage reconciliation between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. In April 2011 she joined an Elders delegation 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, Dr 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. 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.

‘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, Dr Brundtland was appointed Prime Minister for the first time 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, Dr 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 Dr Brundtland’s. 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 Chair of the World Commission on 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, Dr Brundtland served as Director-General of the World Health Organization from 1998 to 2003, gaining recognition for successfully 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.

Dr Brundtland is a member of the United Nations Secretary-General's High Level Panel on Global Sustainability, 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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Report: The Elders’ visit to Myanmar, 23-28 March 2014