Elliott Harris

Global Economics Expert, Former United Nations Chief Economist and Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development
Speaker Elliott Harris speaking on stage with a UN flag behind him.
  • Former UN chief economist and one of the most influential figures in shaping and advising on global policy for more than two decades
  • Macroeconomic expert with 34 years of experience in leadership and advisory roles at the UN and International Monetary Fund
  • Analyzes geopolitical, social, and environmental factors moving the economy and offers valuable insights on what they mean for organizations and their strategic business planning

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Few people have had the influence that Elliott Harris has had in shaping economic development and policy across the globe through the course of his distinguished 34-year career in international economics. Harris is the former United Nations assistant secretary-general for economic development and chief economist who has been closely involved in the design of the global Sustainable Development Agenda and the policies aimed at reducing poverty, generating more equitable social outcomes and environmental sustainability, and creating resilient and sustainable development. He brings this unparalleled expertise into the analysis of what’s happening now and what’s ahead in the global economic landscape.

Exclusively represented by Leading Authorities speakers bureau, Harris draws audiences in with a compelling outlook on national and global economies, the factors that are influencing the economic future, and the impact on business and society. An acknowledged expert in international economics and development, he possesses a deep understanding of macroeconomics in various regions, including the Americas, Africa, and Central Asia, and is especially skilled at breaking complex concepts down to what matters most for groups. Addressing topics such as geopolitical, social, and environmental factors that affect economic activity; market conditions, gross domestic product; and trade, Harris offers data-driven solutions for how organizations can arrive at decisions that align with their business goals, support growth, and serve to benefit the economic progression of society.    

In 2018, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed Harris as assistant secretary-general for economic development and chief economist for the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. As the UN’s economic leader, he combined his extensive knowledge of the organization’s multilateral and inter-agency coordination systems and his insight into macroeconomic linkages with global social and environmental policies to put forth sensible strategies and programs for comprehensive economic advancement across the globe — especially as it relates to environmental sustainability. Prior to the appointment, he served in various roles in the UN Environmental Program, including Assistant Secretary-General and head of the UNEP New York Office, and Head of the UN Environment Group secretariat. Harris began his career at the International Monetary Fund and held several leadership roles in the organization, including as Assistant Director of the Strategy, Policy, and Review Department, as well as IMF Special Representative to the UN.

Born in the Bahamas and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, Harris holds a Bachelor of Science degree in German and political science, as well as advanced degrees in economics. He was awarded an Advanced Studies Certificate in international economics and policy research from the Institute of World Economics in Kiel, Germany.

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Speaker Video

Financing our Low-Carbon Future

Conversation with Elliott Harris, UN Assistant Secretary-General, Chief Economist

Climate change affects the very foundations of economic growth

Working towards the Sustainable Development Goals

Growth, Globalization, and Geopolitics: How Effective Can National Economic Policy Be? As a leading expert on the global economy and sustainable development and the former chief economist for the United Nations, Elliott Harris has advised government officials and business leaders at the highest levels on macroeconomic processes, policies, and development, as well as the impact on their organizations. In this talk, Harris discusses trade as the engine for economic growth and whether the current framework for global trade can continue indefinitely, explains the shortcomings of current approaches to trade as a source of growth, touches on the role of digitalization today and in the economic future, points to some of the geopolitical factors that influence market outcomes, and ties all of these insights together to offer valuable insights for how organizations can adapt their strategies, operations, and advocacy to the changing world around them.

Climate Change and Sustainability: How Nature and Business Can Profit Together. What is the value of nature as it relates to economic growth? As former UN chief economist Elliott Harris shares, measuring the value of nature is just as important in assessing progress as measuring the economic value of the  goods and services produced — if not more important. The effects of climate change extend far beyond the environment and have social and economic implications with the potential to shake up society in adverse ways if left unresolved. The same is true of biodiversity loss. In this talk, Harris examines the risks that environmentally negligent practices pose to the world and analyzes the limits that climate change sets on economic growth and social development. In addition to the risks, Harris points out the many important ways in which organizations can benefit directly and indirectly should they account for nature and sustainability in their business strategies, and offers a framework by which companies can identify how they can operate in a way that ensures that nature profits — and so do their businesses.

Beyond GDP: A New Paradigm for Governments and Private Enterprise. Global economics expert Elliott Harris leads a compelling session that will spur audiences to rethink the pros and cons of using the gross domestic product as the measure of economic value and progress, and its impact on their businesses and society. Previously the United Nations’ chief economist, Harris offers a wide-ranging overview of GDP and its role as an economic metric, outlines its weaknesses and limitations, highlights its impact on policy, and illustrates why we must measure beyond GDP to get the most accurate read on current economic performance and how governments and organizations can plan for future growth and prosperity. Harris pays special attention to how environmental, social, and governance principles will intersect with more nuanced measurements of economic activity, and provides guidance for how organizations can integrate these aspects into their strategic business planning while contributing to sustainable development — both domestically and globally.

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