Rafael Salas

Former UNFPA Executive Director, UN Under-Secretary General

Rafael Montinola Salas

(7 August 1928–3 March 1987)

Rafael Montinola Salas was the first Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and headed the fund from the time it became operational in 1969 until his untimely death on 3 March 1987. Under his leadership, UNFPA grew from a small trust fund into the world's largest multilateral provider of population assistance. Mr. Salas was a pioneer in the field of population. Indeed, he was one of its first true international advocates, conveying to others the importance of understanding the crucial links between population and development and the need to take population factors into account in development planning.

Mr. Salas was born in Bago, Negros Occidental, in the Philippines on 7 August 1928. He graduated with high honours from the University of the Philippines in 1950, completing his B.A. (Magna Cum Laude) and LL.B (Cum Laude) both in 1953. He then attended Harvard University, where he obtained a Master in Public Administration in 1955. Upon graduation, he returned to the University of the Philippines where he occupied a variety of academic positions until 1966.

In 1966, Mr. Salas was called on to serve his country as Executive Secretary of the Republic of the Philippines under then-President Ferdinand E. Marcos. During his tenure as Executive Secretary, he was credited with solving the country’s annual rice production problem as action officer of the National Rice Sufficiency Programme.

From 1962 to 1969, Mr. Salas was a member of various Philippines delegations to international conferences, the United Nations General Assembly. He headed the Philippines delegation to and was Vice-President of the International Conference on Human Rights, held in Teheran in April-May 1968. It is the conference that proclaimed: "Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children."

Mr. Salas stepped down as Executive Secretary in 1969 and accepted to be the first Director of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, now known as the United Nations Population Fund.

Rafael Montinola Salas died on 3 March 1987 in Washington, DC. while still serving as UNFPA Executive Director.

Mr. Salas received many honorary degrees and academic awards from around the world for his work and dedication in the field of population.

Mr. Salas' efforts to create global awareness and consensus about the importance of population to social and economic development earned him the title of “Mr. Population” by the international community. He also contributed a huge body of literature on government management and population issues to numerous scholarly journal, magazine and newspaper articles.

The Rafael M. Salas Memorial Lectures

To honour his legacy, UNFPA has established the Rafael M. Salas Memorial Lecture series that provide a unique forum for distinguished guest lecturers to discuss important aspects of population and development. The first lecture, in 1989, was delivered by Saburo Okita, former Foreign Minister of Japan, on Population and Development.

Subsequent lectures have been delivered by:

  • Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, on Population and Nature;
  • Robert S. McNamara, former President of the World Bank, on A Global Population Policy to Advance Human Development in the 21st Century;
  • Captain Jacques Cousteau, on The Greatest Adventure of All Time;
  • Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norwegian Prime Minister, on Population, Environment and Development;
  • Fidel V. Ramos, former President of the Philippines, on Globalization, Population Policy and Democratic Development: Imperatives in Nation Building;
  • Jeffrey D. Sachs, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals, on Population, Reproductive Health and the Millennium Development Goals; and
  • Dr. Nafis Sadik , Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Asia-Pacific, on To the Summit and Beyond - Gender Equality, Reproductive Health and the MDGs.
  • Nicholas D. Kristof, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times columnist, on The Greatest Challenge in the 21st Century:
    Gender Equality in Development.
  • Gertrude I. Mongella, President of the Pan-African Parliament and World Health Organization's Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal and Newborn Health in the Africa region.

The Lecture is held at United Nations Headquarters, New York.


The late Rafael Salas, the first Executive Director of UNFPA, at a press briefing at United Nations Headquarters in October 1976 on his book, “People: An International Choice”, dealing with United Nations involvement in the field of population.

Credit: United Nations/Teddy Chen.

300 dpi (1.24 MB)


Official 1983 portrait of the late Rafael Salas, the first Executive Director of UNFPA and also Secretary-General of the International Conference on Population, held in Mexico City in 1984.

Credit: United Nations/Milton Grant.

300 dpi (1.06 MB)