Irina Bokova to deliver Gates Cambridge Annual Lecture

Irina Bokova, the first female Director-General of UNESCO, will give this year's Gates Cambridge Annual Lecture.

This year's Gates Cambridge Annual Lecture will be given next month by Irina Bokova, the first female Director-General of UNESCO on the subject of protecting our cultural heritage.

The Annual Lecture will take place on the evening of 27th February at St John's College, Cambridge.

Irina Bokova will speak about UNESCO's work on cultural heritage which is underpinned by the idea that heritage belonging to different cultures may represent “outstanding universal value” and should be protected by international law, embodied in the World Heritage Convention.

Heritage is at the frontline of many “modern” conflicts and is under attack by extremists in Mali, Syria and Iraq. The Buddhas of Bamiyan, Palmyra [pictured] and the mausoleums of Timbuktu are all listed by UNESCO as deliberate attacks on culture.

It says: "Cultural heritage is our bridge from the past to the future. Culture and heritage are not about bricks and stones - they are about identities and belonging. They carry values from the past that are important for societies today and tomorrow. Heritage is the way we understand the world and the means by which we shape it."

The organisation sees cultural heritage as playing a vital role in reconciliation and social transformation and says there is a firm link between peace and security on the one hand and preservation of humanity’s heritage on the other.

Bokova's lecture will address the many challenges to world heritage preservation today, including climate change, uncontrolled urbanisation, unsustainable tourism, illicit trafficking of antiquities, illicit poaching and logging and wars and conflict. 

Bokova served two terms as the Director-General of UNESCO, from 2009 to 2017 and was the first woman and the first Eastern European to lead the Organisation. Having graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations, she was a Fellow at the University of Maryland, Washington, and followed an executive programme at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She began her career at the United Nations Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria and was elected twice Member of Parliament, serving as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Government's first Secretary for European Affairs.

Before being elected as Director General of UNESCO, from 2005 to 2009 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, she was actively engaged in the UN efforts to adopt Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, including quality education for all, gender equality and protection of the world’s cultural heritage. She actively promotes culture as a driver for development, along with science and innovation.

Bokova, who was on the Forbes List of the world's most influential women for 2016, is currently a Member of the Board of Ban Ki Moon Centre for Global Citizens, Honorary Dean of the Humanitas College and Honorary Professor of Peace Studies of Kyung-Hee University, Seoul. She is also a member of the Concordia Leadership Council, New York, a member of the Strategic Committee of the Paris School of International Affairs, a member of Leaders For Peace and Chair of the International Advisory Council of the Beijing Heritage Art Foundation, Beijing.

*The Annual Lecture takes place from 18:00 to 19:30 on 27th February in the Palmerston Room at St John's College. It is open to Gates Cambridge Scholars and their guests. To book your place, click here. 

**Picture credit:  Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria by Bernard Gagnon under Creative Commons from Wikimedia Commons.