Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a lady of firsts. As the newly appointed chief of the World Trade Organization, she will be the first woman and first African to fill the seat. Although many people are just hearing of her now, she is far from being new to leadership in international economics. Here are 20 facts to get to know Ms. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
She was appointed the new chief of the World Trade Organization. After paralyzing criticism from former U.S. President Donald Trump, the WTO has struggled to hold clout in governing international trade. Now, she has been tasked to lead its new direction.
She is impressively educated. She holds an A.B. in Economics from Harvard University, and a Ph.D in Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
She has a long and impressive career. She spent a 25-year career at the World Bank, rising to the position of Managing Director.
She paved a way for women in economic leadership. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala served twice as Nigeria’s Finance Minister from 2003-2006 and as Foreign Minister in 2006 and was the first woman to hold both positions.
She has been influential in numerous international advisory groups. She has been a member of the Rockefeller Foundation, Women’s World Banking, Mercy Corps, Harvard University, the Oxford University Martin School Advisory Council, and the World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders Foundation, to name a few.
She is a humanitarian. As the Chair of the Board of Gavi, she led the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations. Since 2000, Gavi has immunized over 580 million children and saves 8 million lives globally.
She is a magnificent writer. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala is the author of numerous articles and books, including: Reforming the UnReformable: Lessons from Nigeria (MIT Press, 2012), and The Debt Trap in Nigeria: Towards a Sustainable Debt Strategy (Africa World Press, 2003), Women and Leadership, and Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines.
She is active on Twitter. See her most recent updates on her Twitter handle: @NOlweala. Some of her recent posts include details of her global health recovery plans and international partnerships.
She is an expert negotiator. As Minister of Finance, she negotiated with the Paris Club of Creditors to eliminate over $30 billion of Nigeria’s debt, and the outright cancellation of over $18 billion. She has also spearheaded numerous government transparency initiatives and strengthened institutions against corruption.
She is a family woman. She is married to Dr. Ikemba Iweala, who is a retired neurosurgeon and emergency physician. They have four children together, and three grandchildren.
She is an entrepreneur. She founded NOI Polls in 2006, which was the first indigenous opinion research organization. The company partnered with Gallup USA to develop and produce relevant public opinion information.
She is a powerful public speaker. She has spoken at international events including the African Development Bank Group Annual Meetings, the 2015 Global Landscape Forum, the 2016 SIPA Graduation, and at TED Talks.
She has accumulated public recognition and awards. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala has been awarded the Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women in the World, Financial Minister of the Year by Africa Investor Magazine, 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policies, and the African Minister of the Year Award at ThisDay.
She was born to a royal Igbo family. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala was born on June 13th 1954 in Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State. Her father, Mr. Chukwuka Okonjo, is the Obi from the Umuobi Royal Family of Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State.
She learned English as a young girl. She had her secondary education at International School Ibadan and St. Anne’s School in Molete, Ibadan.
She has not always lived an easy life. As a young girl during Nigeria’s brutal civil war, she and her family had to sleep on floors, after losing all their life’s savings.
She has made tangible changes in Nigeria. As the Minister of Finance in Nigeria, she has helped the country’s economy grow on average 6% per year over the past three years.
She wants to empower the WTO. She says, “My vision is also of a rejuvenated and strengthened WTO that will be confident to tackle effectively ongoing issues.”
She is a feminist. She said in an interview this Monday that, “greater efforts should be made to include women-owned enterprises in the formal sector.”
COVID-19 is a personal matter. Her work fighting the effects of the Coronavirus in her own country and with the African Union has been a special matter. She has worked closely with public-private health partnerships to immunize people in poorer countries.