Ms. Bárcena Ibarra received a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico and a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University
On 13 May 2008, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, announced the appointment of Ms. Alicia Bárcena Ibarra of Mexico as Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Ms. Bárcena Ibarra took office on 1 July 2008, replacing Mr. Jos é Luis Machinea of Argentina. Ms. Bárcena Ibarra had previously served as Under-Secretary-General for Management and, prior to that, had served as Chef de Cabinet of the Secretary-General of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
In the academic field, Ms. Bárcena Ibarra worked closely with the Mayan community at the Southeast Regional Centre of the National Institute of Biological Resources Survey in Yucatan. She studies and teaches natural sciences in the fields of botany, human botany and ecology. She has published a series of papers on sustainable development, mainly on finance, public policy, environment and public participation.