Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (/ /; born 13 June 1954) is a Nigerian-American economist and international development expert who has served since March 1, 2021 as Director-General of the World Trade Organization. She is the first woman and the first African to hold the office. She sits on the boards of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, and the African Risk Capacity (ARC).
Previously, Okonjo-Iweala spent a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist, scaling the ranks to the number two position of managing director, operations (2007–2011). She also served two terms as finance minister of Nigeria (2003–2006, 2011–2015) under President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan respectively. She was the first woman to serve as the country's finance minister, the first woman to serve in that office twice, and the only finance minister to have served under two different presidents. In 2005, Euromoney named her global finance minister of the year.
Early life and education
Okonjo-Iweala was educated at Queen's School, Enugu, St. Anne's School, Molete, Ibadan, and the International School Ibadan. She arrived in the US in 1973 as a teenager to study at Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude with an AB in Economics in 1976. In 1981, she earned her PhD in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a thesis titled Credit policy, rural financial markets, and Nigeria's agricultural development. She received an international fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), that supported her doctoral studies.
Career at the World Bank
Okonjo-Iweala had a 25-year career at the World Bank in Washington DC as a development economist, rising to the No. 2 position of Managing Director. As Managing Director, she had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia. Okonjo-Iweala spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008–2009 food crises, and later during the financial crisis. In 2010, she was Chair of the IDA replenishment, the World Bank’s successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low interest credit for the poorest countries in the world. During her time at the World Bank, she was also a member of the Commission on Effective Development Cooperation with Africa, which was set up by the Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, and held meetings between April and October 2008.
Career in government
Okonjo-Iweala served twice as Nigeria’s Finance Minister and also as Minister of Foreign Affairs. She was the first female to hold both positions. During her first term as Minister of Finance under President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, she spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club that led to the wiping out of US$30 billion of Nigeria’s debt, including the outright cancellation of US$18 billion. In 2003, she led efforts to improve Nigeria’s macroeconomic management including the implementation of an oil-price based fiscal rule. Revenues accruing above a reference benchmark oil price were saved in a special account called "The Excess Crude Account,” which helped to reduce macroeconomic volatility.
She also introduced the practice of publishing each state's monthly financial allocation from the Federal Government of Nigeria in the newspapers. This action went a long way in increasing transparency in governance. With the support of the World Bank and the IMF to the Federal Government, she helped build an electronic financial management platform—the Government Integrated Financial Management and Information System (GIFMIS), including the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), helping to curtail corruption in the process. As at 31 December 2014, the IPPIS platform had eliminated 62,893 ghost workers from the system and saved the government about $1.25 billion in the process.
Following her first term as Minister of Finance, she served two months as Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2006. She returned to the World Bank as a Managing Director in December 2007.
In 2011, Okonjo-Iweala was re-appointed as Minister of Finance in Nigeria with the expanded portfolio of the Coordinating Minister for the Economy by President Goodluck Jonathan. Her legacy includes strengthening the country's public financial systems and stimulating the housing sector with the establishment of the Mortgage Refinance Corporation (NMRC). She also empowered women and youth with the Growing Girls and Women in Nigeria Programme (GWIN); a gender-responsive budgeting system, and the highly acclaimed Youth Enterprise with Innovation programme (YouWIN); to support entrepreneurs, that created thousands of jobs. As part of Goodluck Jonathan's administration, she received death threats and endured the kidnapping of her mother.
This programme has been evaluated by the World Bank as one of the most effective of its kind globally. Under her leadership, the National Bureau of Statistics carried out a re-basing exercise of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the first in 24 years, which saw Nigeria emerge as the largest economy in Africa. She took a lot of heat for the government's fuel subsidy removal policy, an action that led to protests in January 2012. In May 2016, the new administration eventually removed the fuel subsidy after it became apparent that it was unsustainable and inefficient.
In addition to her role in government, Okonjo-Iweala served on the Growth Commission (2006–2009), led by Nobel Prize winner Professor Michael Spence, and the United Nations’ Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (2012–2013). She also co-chaired the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. In 2012, she was a candidate for President of the World Bank, running against Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim; if elected, she would have become the organization's first female president.
After leaving government, Okonjo-Iweala was also a member of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (2015–2016), chaired by Gordon Brown, and the Eminent Persons Group on Global Financial Governance, which was established by the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (2017–2018). Since 2014, she has been co-chairing the Global Commission for the Economy and Climate, with Nicholas Stern and Paul Polman. In January 2016, she was appointed the Chair-elect of the Board of Gavi.
Okonjo-Iweala is the founder of Nigeria’s first indigenous opinion-research organization, NOI-Polls. She also founded the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (C-SEA), a development research think tank based in Abuja, and is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development and the Brookings Institution.
Since 2019, Okonjo-Iweala has been part of UNESCO's International Commission on the Futures of Education, chaired by Sahle-Work Zewde. Also since 2019, she has also been serving on the High-Level Council on Leadership & Management for Development of the Aspen Management Partnership for Health (AMP Health). In 2020, the International Monetary Fund's Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva appointed her to an external advisory group to provide input on policy challenges. Also in 2020, she was appointed by the African Union (AU) as special envoy to solicit international support to help the continent deal with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In June 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria nominated Okonjo-Iweala as the country’s candidate to be director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO). She later advanced to the election's final round, eventually competing with Yoo Myung-hee. Ahead of the vote, she received the backing of the European Union for her candidacy. In October 2020, the United States government indicated that it would not back Okonjo-Iweala's candidacy. The WTO in its formal report said Okonjo-Iweala "clearly carried the largest support by Members in the final round; and, enjoyed broad support from Members from all levels of development and from all geographic regions and has done so throughout the process" On 5 February 2021, Yoo Myung-hee announced her withdrawal from the race, in "close consultation with the United States". According to a statement issued from the United States Trade Representative, which says “The United States takes note of today’s decision by the Republic of Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee to withdraw her candidacy for Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Biden-Harris Administration is pleased to express its strong support for the candidacy of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director General of the WTO". Okonjo-Iweala was unanimously appointed as the next director-general on 15 February.
In early 2021, Okonjo-Iweala was appointed as co-chair, alongside Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Lawrence Summers, of the High Level Independent Panel (HLIP) on financing the global commons for pandemic preparedness and response, which had been established by the G20.
During her campaign to become the next Director-General of the WTO, it was revealed that Okonjo-Iweala became a US citizen in 2019 after spending several decades working and studying there. Given the ongoing trade tensions between China and the US, analysts commented that the disclosure would be a contributing factor in shaping China’s attitude towards her.
- Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Member of the International Advisory Board (since 2017)
- Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Member of the International Advisory Panel (since 2016)
- GAVI, Chair of the Board (since 2016)
- OECD/UNDP Tax Inspectors Without Borders (TIWB), Member of the Board
- African Development Bank (AfDB), Ex-Officio Member of the Board of Governors (2003–2006, 2011–2015)
- International Monetary Fund (IMF), Member of the International Monetary and Finance Committee (2003–2006, 2011–2015)
- Joint World Bank-IMF Development Committee, Chair (2004)
- Danone, Member of the Mission Committee (since 2020)
- Twitter, Member of the Board of Directors (since 2018)
- Standard Chartered, Independent Non-executive Member of the Board of Directors (since 2017)
- Lazard, Senior Advisor (since 2015)
- Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Member of the Board of Trustees (since 2019)
- Bloomberg New Economy Forum, Member of the Advisory Board (since 2018)
- Results for Development (R4D), Member of the Board of Directors (since 2014)
- Women's World Banking, Member of the Africa Advisory Council (since 2014)
- The B Team, Member (since 2013)
- Friends of the Global Fund Africa, Member of the Board (since 2007)
- Global Financial Integrity (GFI), Member of the Advisory Board (since 2007)
- African Risk Capacity, Chair of the Board
- African University of Science and Technology, Chair of the Board
- Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, Member of the Advisory Board
- Global Business Coalition for Education, Member of the Advisory Board
- Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS), Member of the Advisory Board
- Mercy Corps, Member of the Global Leadership Council
- Rockefeller Foundation, Member of the Board of Trustees (2008–2018)
- Nelson Mandela Institution, Chair of the Board
- One Campaign, Member of the Board
- Oxford Martin School, Member of the Advisory Council
- Vital Voices, Member of the Global Advisory Council
- World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders Foundation, former Member of the Board
Okonjo-Iweala has received numerous recognition and awards. She has been listed as one of the 50 Greatest World Leaders (Fortune, 2015), the Top 100 Most Influential People in the World (TIME, 2014), the Top 100 Global Thinkers (Foreign Policy, 2011 and 2012), the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in the World (Forbes, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014), the Top 3 Most Powerful Women in Africa (Forbes, 2012), the Top 10 Most Influential Women in Africa (Forbes, 2011), the Top 100 Women in the World (The Guardian, 2011), the Top 150 Women in the World (Newsweek, 2011), the Top 100 most inspiring people in the World Delivering for Girls and Women (Women Deliver, 2011). She was listed among 73 "brilliant" business influencers in the world by Condé Nast International.
In 2019, Okonjo-Iweala was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was also conferred High National Honours from the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire and the Republic of Liberia. She is also the recipient of Nigeria's Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR). Other honours include:
- 2020 – African of the year, Forbes Africa
- 2017 – Vanguard Award, Howard University
- 2017 – Women’s Economic Empowerment Award, WEConnect International
- 2017 – Madeleine K. Albright Global Development Award, Aspen Institute
- 2016 – Power with Purpose Award, Devex Development Communications Network
- 2016 – Global Fairness Award, Global Fairness Initiative
- 2014 – David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award
- 2011 – President of the Italian Republic Gold Medal, Pia Manzu Centre
- 2011 – Global Leadership Award, Chicago Council on Global Affairs
- 2010 – Global Leadership Award, Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs
- 2010 – Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award
- 2004 – TIME’s European Heroes Award
- 2004 – Finance Minister of the Year, Africa Investor Magazine
- 2005 – Finance Minister of the Year for Africa and the Middle East, The Banker
- 2005 – Global Finance Minister of the Year, Euromoney
- 2005 – Finance Minister of the Year for Africa and the Middle East, Emerging Markets Magazine
Okonjo-Iweala has received honorary degrees from 14 universities worldwide, including some from the most prestigious colleges:
- University of Pennsylvania (2013)
- Yale University (2015)
- Amherst College (2009)
- Trinity College, Dublin (2007)
- Brown University (2006),
- Colby College (2007) and
- Northern Caribbean University, Jamaica
She has also received degrees from a host of Nigerian universities including Abia State University, Delta State University, Abraka, Oduduwa University, Babcock University, and the Universities of Port Harcourt, Calabar, and Ife (Obafemi Awolowo university). In 2019, Okonjo Iweala was awarded an honorary degree from Tel Aviv University.
- Sallah, Tijan; Okonjo-Iweala, Ngozi (2003). Chinua Achebe: Teacher of Light, A Biography. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. ISBN 978-1-59221-031-2. LCCN 2002152037. OCLC 50919841. OL 3576773M.
- Okonjo-Iweala, Ngozi; Soludo, Charles Chukwuma; Muhtar, Mansur, eds. (2003). The Debt Trap in Nigeria: Towards a Sustainable Debt Strategy. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. ISBN 9781592210015. LCCN 2002007778. OCLC 49875048. OL 12376413M.
- Okonjo-Iweala, Ngozi (2012). Reforming the Unreformable: Lessons from Nigeria. Cambridge: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-01814-2. LCCN 2012008453. OCLC 878501895. OL 25238823M.
- Okonjo-Iweala, Ngozi (2018). Fighting Corruption Is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines. Cambridge: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-03801-0. LCCN 2017041524. OCLC 1003273241. OL 27372326M.
- Okonjo-Iweala, Ngozi; Keller, Janeen Madan (19 January 2016). "Shine a Light on the Gaps: Financial Inclusion Matters for Africa's Smallholder Farmers". Foreign Affairs. Archived from the original on 9 May 2019.
- Okonjo-Iweala, Ngozi (2016). "Funding THE SDGs: Licit and Illicit Financial Flows From Developing Countries". Horizons: Journal of International Relations and Sustainable Development. 6: 108–117. JSTOR 48573616.
- Okonjo-Iweala, Ngozi (March 2007). Want to Help Africa? Do Business Here (TED Talk). Archived from the original on 17 February 2021.
- Okonjo-Iweala, Ngozi (June 2007). Aid versus trade (TED Talk). Archived from the original on 17 February 2021.
- Okonjo-Iweala, Ngozi (10 January 2014). Don't trivialise corruption, tackle it (TEDxEuston).
Gallery of Okonjo-Iweala
- Full biograpny and CV (WTO site)
- Want to help Africa? Do business here, a TED talk
- Time Europe's Heroes of 2004
- "2011 budget not good for development – Okonjo-Iweala"
- The Center for Global Development and The Washington Post Present: A World Bank President Candidate Event: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
- Appearances on C-SPAN