Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway)

Former Prime Minister, Norway; Director-General Emeritus, World Health Organization

Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland is a physician and politician. She is the former Prime Minister of Norway and served as Director-General of the World Health Organization from 1998 to 2003.

A medical doctor and Master of Public Health (MPH), Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland spent 10 years as a physician and scientist in the Norwegian public health system. She served in public office for more than 20 years – 10 of them as prime minister. In the 1980s, she gained international recognition, championing the principle of sustainable development as the chair of the World Commission of Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission).

Dr. Brundtland’s first choice of career was not to become an environmentalist or a politician, but to become a doctor like her father. He was a specialist in rehabilitation medicine, a skill much in demand following World War II. When Dr. Brundtland was 10 years old, the family moved to the United States where her father had been awarded a Rockefeller scholarship.

Dr. Brundtland inherited another passion from her father — political activism. At the age of 7, she was enrolled as a member of the Norwegian Labour Movement in its children’s section and has been a member ever since, leading the Labour Party to election victory three times.

Returning to Oslo and the Ministry of Health in 1965 after attending the Harvard School of Public Health, she worked on children’s health issues including breastfeeding, cancer prevention, and other diseases. She worked in the children’s department of the National Hospital and Oslo City Hospital and became director of Health Services for Oslo’s schoolchildren.

In 1974, Dr. Brundtland was offered the job of Minister of the Environment. During the 1970s she acquired international recognition in environmental circles and a political reputation at home. In 1981, at the age of 41, she was appointed as Prime Minister of Norway for the first time. Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland was the youngest person and the first woman ever to hold the office of prime minister in Norway. Winning the next two terms from 1986 to 1989 and 1990 to 1996, Dr. Brundtland was head of the Norwegian government for more than 10 years.

In 1983 the United Nations Secretary-General invited her to establish and chair the World Commission on Environment and Development. The Commission, which is best known for developing the broad political concept of sustainable development, published its report Our Common Future in April 1987. The Commission’s recommendations led to the Earth Summit, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Dr. Brundtland was elected as Director-General of the World Health Organization in 1998 and served until 2003. Dr. Brundtland is acting chair of The Elders.