Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a Nigerian-American economist, fair trade advocate, environmental sustainability champion, human welfare champion, sustainable finance guru, and global development expert. Okonjo-Iweala, as she is colloquially known, is the current Director-General of the World Trade Organization. She is the World Trade Organization’s first female and African Director-General.
Early Life and Education
Okonjo-Iweala was born on June 13, 1954, in Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State, Nigeria, where her father, Professor Chukwuka Okonjo, was the Obi (king) of the Ogwashi-Ukwu Obahai Royal Family.
Okonjo-Iweala received her education at Queen’s School in Enugu, St. Anne’s School in Molete, Ibadan, and the International School in Ibadan.
She moved to the United States in 1973 to attend Harvard University, where she earned an AB in Economics in 1976. She graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a master’s degree in city planning in 1978 and a PhD in Regional Economics and Development in 1981, with a thesis on Credit Policy, Rural Financial Markets, and Nigerian Agricultural Development. Her doctoral studies were supported by an international fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
Okonjo-Iweala worked as a development economist for the World Bank in Washington DC for 25 years, rising to the position of Managing Director, Operations. She was in charge of the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolios in Africa, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia as managing director. During the 2008-2009 food and financial crises, Okonjo-Iweala led several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries. In 2010, she chaired the IDA replenishment, the World Bank’s successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low-interest credit for the world’s poorest countries. 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 Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and held meetings between April and October 2008.
Okonjo-Iweala was Nigeria’s Finance Minister twice (2003-2006 and 2011-2015) and briefly served as Foreign Minister in 2006. She was the first woman in either position. During her first term as Finance Minister in President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, she led negotiations with the Paris Club that resulted in the cancellation of US$30 billion of Nigeria’s debt, including an outright cancellation of US$18 billion. She oversaw efforts to improve Nigeria’s macroeconomic management in 2003, including the implementation of an oil-price-based fiscal rule. Revenues that exceeded a reference benchmark oil price were saved in a special account known as the “Excess Crude Account,” which aided in reducing macroeconomic volatility.
She also introduced the practice of publishing in the newspapers, each state’s monthly financial allocation from the Federal Government of Nigeria. That 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 of 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. Okonjo-Iweala was also instrumental in helping Nigeria obtain its first ever sovereign credit rating (of BB minus) from Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poors in 2006.
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, which created thousands of jobs. As part of Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, she received death threats and endured the kidnapping of her mother.
This program 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 became 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 became 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 a special envoy to solicit international support to help the continent deal with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In June 2020, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari 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 and eventually competed 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 that 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 by the United States Trade Representative, “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 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. She began her career as Director-General of the WTO on 1 March 2021.
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. In July 2021, she joined the Multilateral Leaders Task Force on COVID-19 Vaccines, Therapeutics, and Diagnostics for Developing Countries, co-chaired by Tedros Adhanom and David Malpass.
She is married to Ikemba Iweala, a family medicine Physician from Umuahia, Abia State, Nigeria. They have four children, including a popular author, Uzodinma Iweala.
During her campaign to become the 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.
Other Career Activities
- 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)
- OECD/UNDP Tax Inspectors Without Borders (TIWB), Member of the Board
- GAVI, Chair of the Board (2016–2020)
- 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)
- Africa Europe Foundation (AEF), Member of the High-Level Group of Personalities on Africa-Europe Relations (since 2020)
- 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
- International Growth Centre (IGC), Senior Advisor
- 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
Awards and Nominations
Okonjo-Iweala has received numerous recognitions 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), Top 100 Global Thinkers (Foreign Policy, 2011 and 2012), the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in the World (Forbes, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014), Top 3 Most Powerful Women in Africa (Forbes, 2012), 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:
- 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, Emerging Markets
- 2005 – Global Finance Minister of the Year, Euromoney
- 2005 – Finance Minister of the Year for Africa and the Middle East, The Banker
- 2010 – Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award
- 2010 – Global Leadership Award, Columbia University School of International and Public
- 2011 – Global Leadership Award, Chicago Council on Global Affairs
- 2011 – President of the Italian Republic Gold Medal, Pia Manzu Centre
- 2014 – David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award
- 2016 – Global Fairness Award, Global Fairness Initiative
- 2016 – Power with Purpose Award, Devex Development Communications Network
- 2017 – Madeleine K. Albright Global Development Award, Aspen Institute
- 2017 – Women’s Economic Empowerment Award, WEConnect International
- 2017 – Vanguard Award, Howard University
- 2020 – African of the Year, Forbes Africa
Okonjo-Iweala has received honorary degrees from 14 universities worldwide, including some from the most prestigious colleges:
- Brown University (2006)
- Colby College (2007)
- Trinity College, Dublin (2007)
- Amherst College (2009)
- University of Pennsylvania (2013)
- Yale University (2015)
- Northern Caribbean University, Jamaica
- LUISS Guido Carli, Italy (2021)
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.
- Gillard, Julia; Okonjo-Iweala, Ngozi (2020). Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons. Penguin. p. 336. ISBN 9780143794288. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
- 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 (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). Archived from the original on 21 December 2021.
Okonjo-Iweala is said to be living okay and fine. Though, she doesn’t live a flamboyant lifestyle. Her net worth is unknown to the public.