Sadako Ogata began her career in diplomacy in 1968, serving on the Japanese delegation to the United Nations General Assembly and as a minister on the Permanent Mission of Japan to the UN. In 1979, she led a mission to provide assistance to Cambodian refugees. In 1990, she became UN high commissioner for refugees, a post she held for a decade.
In addition to her diplomatic duties, Ogata has been actively involved in initiatives such as the Imagine Coexistence project, which funded joint economic activities aimed at minimizing conflict in unstable regions. Her book The Turbulent Decade: Confronting the Refugee Crises of the 1990s was published in 2005.
Sadako Ogata was awarded the Great Negotiator Award for her skilled negotiations on behalf of refugees. Lacking traditional negotiating tools such as financial and military resources, she and her colleagues at the UN overcame daunting barriers to help improve the plight of refugees.