The Rt. Hon. Sir Stephen O’Brien KBE is a British statesman who has recently completed his term as United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.
Born in Tanzania, Sir Stephen was educated in Kenya and the United Kingdom, where he attended Emmanuel College, Cambridge University and qualified as a lawyer. He thereafter practised as an international commercial solicitor with City of London firm, Freshfields, subsequently becoming an industrialist as senior executive at FTSE100 global building materials producer, Redland PLC, until 1998, and thereafter an entrepreneur. Since returning to the UK in late 2017, Sir Stephen has taken on the Vice-Chairmanship of AIM-listed Savannah Petroleum PLC and, amongst others, is a non-executive Director-Trustee of the Innovative Vector Control Consortium.
Sir Stephen joined the Conservative Party in 1995, initially building a local branch in Petworth, West Sussex. After the 1997 General Election (during which he was co-campaign manager for the only successful ‘Conservative-win’ in that election at Mid-Dorset & North Poole), he was elected Chairman of the Chichester Association where he remains an Hon. Vice-President.
In a hard-fought by-election in 1999, he was first elected to Parliament as Conservative MP in Eddisbury, Cheshire, where he and his family have lived since. He was re-elected three times, always with significantly increased majorities. While his party was in opposition he served in various shadow ministerial roles, including as Shadow Secretary of State for Business & Energy, then Higher Education & Skills, from 2001 to 2005, and as Shadow Minister for Health & Social Care from 2005 to 2010. He was appointed a Minister in the Coalition Government, becoming Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development in 2010. In 2012, he was appointed the Prime Minister’s Envoy and UK Special Representative to the Sahel in Africa, working for peace in the region. He chose not to seek re-election in 2015 when offered his senior global post at the UN.
Both before and throughout his Parliamentary career, Sir Stephen has been a leading advocate for global health. In 2004 he founded, and then served as first chairman, of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases. He has also been Co-founder/Chairman of the leading NGO, Malaria Consortium, Vice-President/Director of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Director Trustee of the Innovative Vector Control Consortium, Global Advocate for the UN/WHO’s inter-agency Roll Back Malaria Partnership, among other similar roles, for which he has won international awards. He was appointed to the Privy Council in 2013.
In 2015 Sir Stephen was appointed UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and
Emergency Relief Coordinator, leading the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. As the world’s leading Advocate for crisis-affected people, not least in a record number of forceful engagements before the UN’s Security Council, he argued for compliance and accountability under International Humanitarian law, unimpeded access to people in need and the necessary US$23 billion funds, under the transformative Agenda for Humanity which was developed under his leadership at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May 2016. His responsibilities included oversight of all UN humanitarian operations globally, and leadership of coordination mechanisms between UN agencies and other partners. Sir Stephen’s term covered the time of the exponential increase to 143 million people across 40-plus countries suffering from natural disasters and in grave humanitarian crises with life-saving and protection needs, caused primarily by man-made conflict and violence, leading to protracted and complex crises notably in and around Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar, CAR, DRC, as well as the challenge to avert the threatened famines, exacerbated by violence and climate change, in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and north-eastern Nigeria. In recognition of his leadership and achievements in humanitarian and development work, Stephen was awarded a Knighthood (KBE) in June 2017.
Stephen is married to Gemma (a nurse). They have three grown-up children.