Dame Margaret Anstee was born in 1926 and grew up in rural Essex, UK. She was educated at Newnham College Cambridge, from which she graduated with first-class honours, and at the University of London.
Dame Margaret served at the United Nations for over four decades, from 1952 to 1993. She served as resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in eight countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa. She had major responsibilities for disaster relief operations in Bangladesh (1973), in response to the Mexican earthquake in 1985, in dealing with the Chernobyl nuclear disaster (1991–1992), and in response to the burning oil wells of Kuwait (1991–1992). Dame Margaret served as assistant administrator of the UNDP for Policy and Evaluation (1977–1978) and as assistant secretary general in the Department of Technical Cooperation for Development (1976–1987). In her role as an international civil servant, she assisted countries in dire economic distress, such as Bolivia (1982–1992) and Peru (1990–1992). Additionally, she was involved in the design and implementation of UN reforms. From 1987 to 1992, she was director general of the UN at Vienna and head of the Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs. In 1987, she became the first woman to be named an under-secretary general of the United Nations. From 1992 to 1993, she was the secretary general’s special representative to Angola and head of the UN peacekeeping mission there.
Since leaving the UN in 1993, she has worked as an independent consultant and special adviser to the president and government of Bolivia on matters related to development and finance. Dame Margaret chairs the Advisory Board of the Lessons Learned Unit of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and has taken part in training in peacekeeping techniques for both military and civilian personnel in the UK, Sweden, South America, South Africa and the United States.
In addition to her book on the Angolan experience, Orphan of the Cold War: the Inside Story of the Collapse of the Angolan Peace Process 1992–3, she wrote an autobiography, Never Learn to Type: A Woman at the United Nations.
Among her many honours, Dame Margaret is an honorary fellow at Cambridge and recipient of the Reves Peace Prize from the College of William and Mary. She holds honorary doctorates from the Universities of Essex, Westminister, and London. In 1994, Queen Elizabeth II made her Dame Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George. She delivered the Gifford Lecture, Peacebuilding in a Shrinking World, at the University of Edinburgh in 2004.