Ngozi Okonjo Iweala: The Giant Stride Among Men and Women

Amy Tenney once said “Strong women are needed in the world. Women with an unbreakable will, who will uplift and strengthen others, who will love and be loved, who will live boldly.

In relation to the above assertion, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala described her strengthen and ability in occupational field thus “When I became finance minister, they called me Okonjo-Wahala – or ‘Trouble Woman.’ It means ‘I give you hell.’ But I don’t care what names they call me. I’m a fighter; I’m very focused on what I’m doing, and relentless in what I want to achieve, almost to a fault. If you get in my way, you get kicked.

This article will be taking a look at Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala life, personality, accomplishment and some of her philanthropic ways as a change-maker.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is not just the World Trade Organization’s seventh Director-General but also the first female and the first African to hold the position of Director-General, a position that began on March 1st, 2021.

On the above mentioned date, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala began her tenure as WTO Director-General. She has over 30 years of experience working in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and North America as a global finance specialist, economist, and professional in international development. She has served on the boards of Twitter Inc. and Standard Chartered PLC.

She was selected as the WHO Special Envoy for Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and the African Union (AU) Special Envoy to mobilize international financial support for the battle against COVID-19.

She has mediated several agreements that have resulted to win-win outcomes in talks as she is a good negotiator.

Recognized as a trustworthy broker who can successfully forge consensus, the governments and other stakeholders perceive her favorably as a trustworthy broker who can effectively forge consensus.

She firmly believes that trade may help poor nations escape poverty and support them in achieving sustainable development and vigorous economic growth.

She participated in trade negotiations with other West African nations while serving as finance minister, and she helped restructure Nigeria’s trade policy so that it could become more competitive.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was the first woman to occupy both positions when she served as Nigeria’s finance minister twice, from 2003 to 2006 and again from 2011 to 2015. She set herself apart by implementing significant changes that enhanced the efficiency of these two Ministries and the operation of the legislative and executive branches of government.

As a development economist, she worked for the World Bank for 25 years, eventually moving up to the No. 2 position of Managing Director, Operations. She led her nation through numerous changes, ranging from macroeconomic to trade, financial, and real sector challenges, throughout her time as Finance Minister and a development economist.

In her capacity as Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, she conducted negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors that resulted in the cancellation of $30 billion of Nigeria’s debt, including $18 billion in full.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was in charge of implementing the GIFMS (Government Integrated Financial Management System), IPPMS (Integrated Personnel and Payroll Management System), and TSA (Treasury Single Accounts) during her second term as finance minister.

The IPPIS platform had removed 62,893 ghost employees from the system as of February 2015, saving the government roughly $1.25 billion in the process. These reforms increased the transparency of government accounts and strengthened institutions against corruption.

As one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in the World (TIME, 2014 and 2021), one of the 25 Most Influential Women (Financial Times, 2021), Minister of the Decade, People’s Choice Award by Nigeria’s This Day newspaper (2020), and one of Transparency International’s Eight Female Anti-Corruption Fighters Who Inspire (2019), Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has been recognized by numerous publications among the Top 100 Global Thinkers (Foreign Policy, 2011 and 2012), Top Three Most Powerful Women in Africa (Forbes, 2012), Top Ten Most Influential Women in Africa (Forbes, 2011), Top 100 Women in the World (The UK Guardian, 2011), Top 150 Women in the World (Newsweek, 2011), and Top 100 Most Inspiring People in the World Delivering for Girls and Women (Women Deliver, 2011). Additionally, she was included on a list of 73 “brilliant” business influencers by Condé Nast International.

She received the American Academy of Achievement’s Global Leadership Award in 2022. She was recognized as a “Champion for Global Change” by the United Nations Foundation with a Global Leadership Award in 2021.

She was appointed an Angelopoulos Global Public Leader at the Harvard Kennedy School in 2020. His Excellency Cyril Ramaphosa, the president of South Africa, named her to the Presidential Economic Advisory Council (PEAC) in 2020. 2019 saw the election of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

She won the Women’s Economic Empowerment Award from WEConnect International, the Madeleine K. Albright Global Development Award from the Aspen Institute, and the Vanguard Award from Howard University in 2017.

She was honored for her commitment to sustainable development in 2016 with the Global Fairness Award from the Global Fairness Initiative and the Power with Purpose Award from the Devex Development Communications Network.

Additionally, she received High National Honors from the Republics of Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire. She also received Nigeria’s third-highest National Honor, Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR), and the country’s second-highest National Honor, Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON, 2022).

She was awarded the Grand Cross of the Rio Branco Order by the Federative Republic of Brazil in 2023.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has received the President of the Italian Republic Gold Medal and the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award (2014), the Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award (2010), the Global Leadership Award given by the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (2010), the Global Leadership Award given by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (2011), and the President of the Italian Republic Gold Medal by the Pia Manzu Center (2011).

She also held the position of Senior Advisor at Lazard from 2015 to 2019 and held positions as Chair of the World Bank’s Development Committee in 2004 as well as co-chair of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation with UK Secretary Justine Greening.

She also served on the World Economic Forum’s Global Leadership Council on Transparency and Corruption, the Commission on World Growth (headed by Nobel Prize Winner Professor Michael Spence), the High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda established by the UN Secretary General, the Danish Government Commission on Africa, and the International Monetary and Finance Committee of the IMF (2003–2006 and 2011–2015). She held ten-year terms on the boards of the World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders and the Rockefeller Foundation. She was a trustee and a member of the board.

NOI-Polls, the nation of Nigeria’s first indigenous organization for opinion research, was founded by Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. She also established the Abuja, Nigeria-based Center for the Study of Economies of Africa (C-SEA), a think tank for development research.

She is a distinguished visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Center for Global Development, two eminent Washington, D.C., think tanks.

With a magna cum laude degree in economics from Harvard University (class of 1977), Dr. Okonjo-Iweala went on to receive a Ph.D. in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, 1981).

Among the 20 universities from around the world from which she has earned honorary degrees are Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, Trinity College (University of Dublin), Amherst College, Colby College, Tel Aviv University, Northern Caribbean University, Jamaica, University of Amsterdam, American University, Nyenrode Business University, London School of Economics and Political Science, and a number of Nigerian universities, including Abia State University.

Amazingly, she is also the author of several books, including Reforming the Unreformable: Lessons from Nigeria, (MIT Press, 2012), The Debt Trap in Nigeria: Towards a Sustainable Debt Strategy, (Africa World Press, 2003), and Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons (co-authored with Julia Gillard; Penguin Random House, July 2020).

Together with Tijan Sallah, she co-authored the 2003 publication Chinua Achebe: Teacher of Light (Africa World Press). Several of her articles have also been published, including Finding A Vaccine is Only the First Step (Foreign Affairs, April 2020), Mobilizing Finance for Education in the Commonwealth (Commonwealth Education Report 2019), and Shine a Light on the Gaps, an essay on financial inclusion for African Small Holder Farmers (Foreign Affairs, April 2020).

Funding the SDGs: Legal and Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries (Horizons Magazine, 2016), and Shine a Light on the Gaps, an essay on financial inclusion for African small-scale farmers.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is Dr. Ikemba Iweala’s heart throb, a neurosurgeon by profession. They are blessed with four children and five grandchildren.

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