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Dr. Asa Torkelsson

Country Director of UNFPA Thailand

Dr. Asa Torkelsson joins UNFPA as Country Representative Malaysia and Country Director Thailand on 1 November, from an assignment as UNFPA Representative in Bangladesh, where she has led and grown one of UNFPA’s largest operations and teams through significant changes, humanitarian and natural disasters, the Rohingya refugee, and COVID crises, since January 2018.

During her tenure, the CO has magnetized resources beyond target and into the future, attracted new donors, pioneered strategic partnerships, notably with the World Bank, amalgamated ICPD innovatively into new programming. Using advocacy with the Government and the UN Country Team, the new UNSDCF and CPD10, COVID, and humanitarian responses, address ICPD goals and inclusion of those left behind. Interagency flagship initiatives have been ideated and scaled out.

To create the conditions for accelerated results, high performance teams have been nurtured; work smarts systematized; team negotiation, advocacy and communication skills strengthened; efforts for a harmonious, caring and collaborative workspace in a diverse hyperlocal team have been piloted; and specifically young leaders have been mentored. To facilitate convergence and consensus around critical issues, a senior manager alliance has been established to grow and execute strategies, ideate new ideas, and manage risks for accelerated results for the underserved.

Dr. Torkelsson’s career spans more than 20 years, leading increasingly complex endeavours at country, -regional, and HQ, in UN (FAO, IFAD, UN Women, WB), academia, Government, NGO, private sector, relentlessly pursuing gender equality and the M/SDGs, and expanding spaces for women.

Prior to joining UNFPA, she served in UN Women positions 2013-2017; as advisor for economic empowerment in the ESA region, based in Nairobi, and in the AP region, based in Bangkok; and experiences include detail assignments as Deputy Representative for India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka, based in Delhi. Serving Governments, regional bodies, and other clients, she has led evidence-based interagency research on gender and agriculture, studies on gender and climate change / migration; and ultimately launched coalitions for action, which leveraged investments and policy changes towards gender equality. She also provided organizational and capacity development assignments with numerous UNCTs, regional and COs.

Between 2008-2012, she set-up, resourced and led the execution of the World Bank gender programme in Kenya, integrating gender perspectives in a wide programmatic portfolio, leading research teams and research, provided capacity building to Government clients, resulting in public service innovations, and led global South-South exchanges on gender and water and sanitation. She brokered novel CSO partnership between the WB and women’s grassroots movement.

She started her UN career as JPO for FAO in 1998 in a regional field project based in Harare, then served at both FAO and IFAD HQs in Rome, developing organizational gender action plans, advising on/designing gender-related investments, and policies, across multiple sectors. Her first job was as volunteer organizing European volunteer exchanges for solidarity projects, and as assistant researcher at Centro Studi di Politica Internazionale to a research on EU development assistance policies, and tutoring masters students in development studies at STOA/Naples University, based in Rome.

Lifelong student of leadership, she has benefited from training on leadership at the World Bank, UNDP, and UNFPA, on negotiations at Harvard Kennedy School, financial management at INSEAD, RC coaching, and leading in crisis at UN staff college. A learning advocate and a mentor with the UN Secretariat mentorship programme, she provides mentoring to grow leaders around the globe, with a focus on women’s leadership.

Moreover, she has a keen interest in innovation and has been gender advisor to the USAID, the Foreign Ministry of Netherlands, SIDA Sweden and the Republic of South Africa Innovation Challenge Fund to secure water and food security, integrating gender in investments.

With a PhD in sociology from the University of Stockholm, a MSc in development economics from the Gothenburg School of Business and Commercial Law, and a BSc in social sciences from Vaxjo University, all based on gender-and development related field research in Ethiopia, her analytical posture is inter-disciplinary. She has authored and co-authored several publications on gender equality and women’s empowerment, and been a resident of the Rockefeller Bellagio Centre.

Asa and her pediatrician husband Wilhelm have three adolescent children.  She enjoys to spend time in nature in her free time, and is personally interested in the impact of faith in the lives of individuals and cultures and is currently exploring religious studies. She speaks Swedish, English, French, and Italian and used to be a student of Amharic, Ge’ez, and KiSwahili.

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