Irina Bokova was the Director-General of UNESCO for two terms from 2009 to 2017. She was the first woman to lead the organisation.
She was born in Sofia (Bulgaria) and graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations. She then became a Fellow at the University of Maryland, Washington, and followed an executive program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
She began her career at the United Nations Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria. She was elected twice Member of Parliament and served as First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Government’s first Secretary for European affairs.
Before being elected as Director-General of UNESCO, Bokova 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, Bokova was actively engaged in the UN efforts to adopt Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, particularly Goal 4 on “Inclusive and equitable quality education and life-long learning for all”, gender equality, and the protection of the world’s cultural heritage.
Bokova was on the Forbes list of the world’s most influential women for 2016. She has received state distinctions from more than 40 countries and is doctor honoris causa of leading universities across the world, including King’s College and the University of Edinburgh, UK, Paris-Sud Saclay, France, Boston University, US, and the Catholic University of Milan, Italy. In 2020 she was elected International Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Currently, she is a member of the board of the Ban Ki Moon Centre for Global Citizens, member of the Concordia Leadership Council, New York, Global Champion of the UN Education Cannot Wait Fund, member of the strategic committee of the Paris School of International Affairs /PSIA/, SciencePo, and lecturer on cultural diplomacy, honorary dean of the Humanitas College and Miwon Scholar of Peace Studies at Kyung-Hee University, Seoul, visiting lecturer at the University of Geneva on “innovation, human development and sustainability”, member of Leaders For Peace, Paris, member of the board of l’Institut de relations internationales et stratégiques (IRIS), Paris, among other activities.