Paola Leoncini Bartoli is a historian who completed her studies at Paris IV – Sorbonne University in the area of Contemporary History, focusing on migration studies.
She began her professional career with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 1989, where she was the UNHCR consultant on migratory policies, especially on the African continent and in Eastern Europe, as well as training outreach workers and refugee leaders on HIV /AIDS prevention.
In 1992 she joined UNESCO, working in the division tasked with drawing up UNESCO’s cultural rights framework in the Office of the Director-General, Frederico Mayor Zaragoza. She was responsible for coordinating UNESCO's contribution and preparatory work in relation to its leadership of the First International Decade of the World's Indigenous People, focusing specifically on issues related to cultural rights.
In 1995, she drafted the biennial UNESCO World Culture Report. At the start of 2014 she was appointed Director the Office of the Director-General of UNESCO. She was responsible for providing organisational leadership and strategic guidance on political and programmatic issues, issues related to UN reform, coordination of official engagements and visits of the Director-General, building strategic partnerships with key governmental, intergovernmental, civil society partners and the private sector.
Currently she is the Director of Cultural Policies and Development, where she plays a key role in supporting UNESCO Member States in implementing the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in the area of culture and cultural policies.
She has been awarded the Cross of Commander of the Order of Merit pro Merito Melitensi (Civil Class) by the Order of Malta and received the Commander of the Order of Isabel the Catholic from the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.