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Dr. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid

Global Senior Advisor

Dr. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid was the first Saudi Arabian to head a UN agency. She was appointed head of UNFPA in 2001 with the rank of Under-Secretary General of the United Nations. Dr. Obaid has 35 years of experience at the United Nations in areas of international cooperation and assistance, policy formulation, organizational leadership and management, mentoring, especially of young leaders, empowerment of women, and gender-culture and human rights linkages, population and development.

Dr. Obaid brings a wealth of experience to Behavioral Management Consulting given her unique multi-cultural perspective gained through 35 years with different organizations – governments, UN organizations, and international non-profits -– at global, regional and national levels, and working with various sectors and partners including private sector, civil society, bilateral organizations, large and small foundations in a variety of national, regional and international contexts. And at the core of all her work was the strategic leadership in working with partners around the world to put culture at the service of the development agenda, thus promoting the importance of change from within to ensure sustainable development. This allowed her a vast and unique learning on how human behavior is affected by leadership through diplomacy and strategic decisions, policy design, managerial practices, communication outreach; all to achieve work environment that is both empowering and encouraging innovation.

In 2020 She was selected as Chair of W20, one of the engagement groupsof the G20 lead by Saudi Arabia during its presidency. In 2013 Dr. Obaid was historically appointed at the Saudi Shura Council by a Royal Decree as one of the first group of 30 women to hold such a position. Her responsibility, along with otherShura Members, was to reviewthe performance of the various ministries and authorities and to present recommendations as well as propose new legislations to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the King of Saudi Arabia, all focused on improving the quality of services provided to the citizens, with the overall aim of enhancing the quality of life. She is also the first woman to Chair one of the Council’s Committees, as she has been the chair of the Human Rights and Oversight Committee, 2015 – 2016. She is also one of three Saudi women who received King Abdulaziz Medal of the First Degree for her international service.

In 1975 she established the first women’s development programme at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). This program helped build partnerships between the United Nations, Member States of the region, as well as national and regional NGOs. From 1975 to1998, she occupied various positions at ESCWA, reaching the position of Deputy Executive Secretary, after which she was appointed at UNFPA, New York, as Director of Division for Arab States and Europe at UNFPA(1998 – 2000). She has undertaken varied assignments through her career, including a member of the League of Arab States Working Group for Formulating the Arab Strategy for Social Development (1984 – 1985). In 1996, Ms. Obaid chaired the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Gender in Amman and in 1997 she was a member of the UN Inter-Agency Gender Mission to Afghanistan as well as the Mission to formulate a programme of assistance to Afghanistan.

Ms. Obaid was the first Saudi Arabian woman to receive a government scholarship to study in the United States in February 1963. She has a doctorate degree in English Literature and Cultural Anthropology from Wayne State University in Michigan. She received a B.A. in English Literature and Sociology from Mills College in California.