Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala GCON Nigerian-American Economist, Director-General of the World Trade Organization

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala GCON Nigerian-American Economist, Director-General of the World Trade Organization

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala GCON born June 13, 1954 in Nigeria, is a Nigerian-American economist. Since March 2021,  has been the Director-General of the World Trade Organization. She is the first woman and the first African to be Director-General of the World Trade Organization.

This is a big deal. She is on the boards of Danone, Standard Chartered Bank, MINDS: Mandela Institute for Development Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, One Campaign, GAVI: Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, Rockefeller Foundation, R4D: Results for Development, ARC: African Risk Capacity, Earthshot Prize, and more. She also used to be on the Board of Directors for Twitter, but she quit in February 2021 when she became Director General of the World Trade Organization.

Okonjo-Iweala is a non-resident distinguished fellow in the Global Economy and Development Program at the Brookings Institution. She works with the Africa Growth Initiative. She is the Co-Chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and a former Commissioner. She worked at the World Bank for 25 years as a development economist. From 2007 to 2011, she was the Managing Director for Operations. Okonjo-Iweala was the first Nigerian woman to serve as the country’s Finance Minister for two terms, the first from 2003 to 2006 under President Olusegun Obasanjo and the second from 2011 to 2015 under President Goodluck Jonathan. After that, she worked as Nigeria’s Minister for Foreign Affairs from June to August 2006. In 2005, she was named Global Finance Minister of the Year by Euromoney.

Educational Background

Okonjo-Iweala was born in Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State, Nigeria. Her father, Professor Chukwuka Okonjo, was the Obi (king) of the Obahai royal house of Ogwashi-Ukwu, Nigeria.

Okonjo-Iweala went to Queen’s School in Enugu, St. Anne’s School in Molete, Oyo State, and the International School in Ibadan for her education. She moved to the US in 1973 to go to Harvard University, where she got an AB in Economics with honors. In 1978, she got a master’s degree in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1981, she got a PhD in regional economics and development with the thesis Credit policy, rural financial markets, and Nigeria’s agricultural growth. She got a grant from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) to study abroad, which paid for her doctoral studies.


The World Bank

At the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group in 2004, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said:

Okonjo-Iweala worked as a development economist for 25 years at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., and rose to the No. 2 post of Managing Director, Operations. As managing director, she was in charge of the World Bank’s operations in Africa, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia, which were worth $81 billion. Okonjo-Iweala led a number of World Bank projects to help low-income countries during the food crises of 2008 and 2009 and the financial crisis that followed. In 2010, she led the World Bank’s successful effort to get $49.3 billion in handouts and low-interest loans for the world’s poorest countries through the IDA replenishment. During her time at the World Bank, she was also a part of the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s Commission on Effective Development Cooperation with Africa, which met from April to October 2008.


Okonjo-Iweala was Nigeria’s Finance Minister twice (from 2003 to 2006 and from 2011 to 2015) and Foreign Minister for a short time in 2006. She was the first person who was a woman to hold both jobs. During her first time as Finance Minister in President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government, she led talks with the Paris Club that led to US$30 billion of Nigeria’s debt being forgiven, including US$18 billion that was just written off. In 2003, she was in charge of improving Nigeria’s macroeconomic management. One thing she did was set up a budget rule that was based on the price of oil.

The “Excess Crude Account” was used to save money that came in above a reference standard oil price. This helped to make the macroeconomy less volatile. Okonjo-Iweala was also a big part of how Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s gave Nigeria its first ever national credit rating (BB-) in 2006. She also made it common for the federal, state, and local governments’ shares of money from the federal account to be made public. This move went a long way toward making government more open at all levels, especially at the sub-national level.

After her first stint as Minister of Finance, she was Minister of Foreign Affairs for two months in 2006. In December 2007, she went back to work as a Managing Director at the World Bank.

In 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan gave Okonjo-Iweala another term as Minister of Finance in Nigeria. He also gave her the new job of Coordinating Minister for the Economy. In her second term as Finance Minister, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was in charge of reforms that made government accounts more transparent and made institutions stronger against corruption. These reforms included the implementation of the GIFMS (Government Integrated Financial Management System), the IPPMS (Integrated Personnel and Payroll Management System), and the TSA (Treasury Single Accounts). As of February 2015, the IPPIS platform had gotten rid of 62,893 “ghost workers,” saving the government about $1.25 billion.

The Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Corporation (NMRC), which she started in 2013, is part of her legacy. It helps the housing market and strengthens the country’s public financial systems. Under her direction, the National Bureau of Statistics re-based the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the first time in 24 years. This made Nigeria the biggest economy in Africa. She also gave women and young people more power through the Growing Girls and Women in Nigeria Programme (GWIN), a gender-responsive budgeting system, and the Youth Enterprise with Innovation Programme (YouWIN), which helped businesses and created thousands of jobs. As part of Goodluck Jonathan’s government, when she tried to clean up Nigeria’s fuel subsidy payments to some traders in 2012, she got death threats and her mother was taken away.

Okonjo-Iweala also worked for the government. From 2006 to 2009, she was a member of the Commission on Growth and Development, which was led by Professor Michael Spence, who won a Nobel Prize. She was on the International Monetary and Finance Committee of the IMF from 2003 to 2006 and from 2011 to 2015, and she was on the High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda of the UN Secretary-General from 2012 to 2013. She also worked with UK Secretary Justine Greening to lead the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. She ran for President of the World Bank in 2012 against former Colombian Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo and Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim. If she had won, she would have been the first woman to lead the organization.

Later Career

Okonjo-Iweala joined the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (2015–2016), which was led by Gordon Brown, and the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors’ Eminent Persons Group on Global Financial Governance (2017–2018). Since 2014, she has been co-chairing the Global Commission for the Economy and Climate with Nicholas Stern and Paul Polman. She was also the Chair of the Board of Directors of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, from 2016 to 2020.

Okonjo-Iweala started NOI-Polls, the first opinion study group in Nigeria that was made by Nigerians. She also started the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (C-SEA), a study group for development based in Abuja. She is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development and the Brookings Institution.

Okonjo-Iweala has been a member of the International Commission on the Futures of Education, which is part of UNESCO and is led by Sahle-Work Zewde, since 2019. Since 2019, she has also been on the High-Level Council on Leadership and Management for Development of the Aspen Management Partnership for Health (AMP Health). In 2020, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, put her on an outside consulting group to help solve policy problems. Also in 2020, the African Union (AU) named her a special envoy to help the continent deal with the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization also named her a COVID-19 Special Envoy.

Okonjo-Iweala was put forward by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari as the country’s choice for director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in June 2020. She finally made it to the final round of the election and ran against Yoo Myung-hee. Before the vote, the European Union gave its support to her candidate. In October 2020, the US government said it would not support Okonjo-Iweala’s campaign. In its official report, the WTO said that Okonjo-Iweala “clearly had the most support from members in the final round and has had broad support from members at all levels of development and in all parts of the world throughout the process.”

Yoo Myung-hee dropped out of the race on February 5, 2021, after “close consultation with the United States.”  “The United States takes note of the Republic of Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee’s decision today to withdraw her candidacy for Director General of the WTO,” said a statement from the United States Trade Representative. The Biden-Harris Administration is happy to say that it strongly backs Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s bid to become the next Director General of the WTO. On February 15, Okonjo-Iweala was chosen by everyone to be the next Director-General. On March 1, 2021, she began her job as Director General of the WTO.

Okonjo-Iweala, along with Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Lawrence Summers, was named co-chair of the G20 High Level Independent Panel (HLIP) on financing the global commons for pandemic preparedness and response at the beginning of 2021. She was also one of the founders of the COVAX Facility, which helps Low- and Middle-Income Countries get affordable vaccines. In July 2021, she joined the Multilateral Leaders Task Force on COVID-19 Vaccines, Therapeutics, and Diagnostics for Developing Countries, which was led by Tedros Adhanom and David Malpass. Okonjo-Iweala joined The Group of Thirty (G30) in January 2022. The G30 is a group of 30 well-known leaders from all over the world.

Personal Life

Ikemba Iweala, a doctor from Umuahia, Abia State, Nigeria, is her husband.They have four kids, one of whom is the author Uzodinma Iweala.

During her bid to be the next Director-General of the WTO, it came out that Okonjo-Iweala became an American citizen in 2019 after living and working in the US for many years. Analysts said that, given the current trade tensions between China and the US, China’s attitude toward her might change as a result of the news.

Other Activities

Government agencies

Member of the International Advisory Board (since 2017): Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

International Organisations

Since 2016, he has been a member of the International Advisory Panel for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Tax Inspectors Without Borders (TIWB), a program of the OECD and UNDP, is a member of the Board.

GAVI is the board’s chair from 2016 to 2020.

Ex-Officio Member of the Board of Governors of the African Development Bank (AfDB) from 2003 to 2006 and from 2011 to 2015.

International Monetary Fund (IMF), Member of the International Monetary and Finance Committee (2003–2006 and 2011–2015)

Chair of the Joint World Bank-IMF Development Committee (2004):

Business boards

Since 2020, Danone has been a member of the Mission Committee

Since 2018, I have been a member of Twitter’s Board of Directors.

Independent Non-Executive Member of the Board of Directors at Standard Chartered since 2017.

Since 2015, Lazard has been a Senior Advisor.

Non-profit Oragnisations

Since 2020, the Africa-Europe Foundation (AEF) has been a member of the High-Level Group of Personalities on Africa-Europe Relations.

Member of the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (since 2019).

Since 2018, I’ve been a member of the Advisory Board for the Bloomberg New Economy Forum.

Member of the Board of Directors for Results for Development (R4D) since 2014.

Since 2014, Women’s World Banking has been a member of the Africa Advisory Council[89].

Member of The B Team (since 2013)

Friends of the Global Fund Africa, Board Member (since 2007)

Since 2007, I have been a member of the Advisory Board for Global Financial Integrity (GFI).

Chair of the Board of African Risk Capacity.

Chair of the Board, African University of Science and Technology.

[95] I’m a member of the Advisory Board for the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security.

I’m a member of the Advisory Board for the Global Business Coalition for Education.

Senior Advisor at the International Growth Centre (IGC)

Member of the Advisory Board for the Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS)

Mercy Corps is a member of the Global Leadership Council.

Member of the Board of Trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation from 2008 to 2018.

Chair of the Board of the Nelson Mandela Institution

One Election, Board Member.

Member of the Advisory Council for the Oxford Martin School.

Vital Voices is a member of the Global Advisory Council.

Former member of the board of the World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders Foundation.



Okonjo-Iweala has won a lot of awards and honors. She has been named one of the 50 Greatest World Leaders (Fortune, 2015), the Top 100 Most Influential People in the World (TIME, 2014 and 2021), the Top 100 Global Thinkers (Foreign Policy, 2011 and 2012), the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in the World (Forbes, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2022), the 25 Most Influential Women in the World (Financial Times, 2021), the Top 3 Most Powerful Women in Africa (Forbes) Condé Nast International put her on a list of 73 “brilliant” business people from around the world.

Portrait of Director-General of the WTO, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, at Parliament House in Canberra on November 22, 2022. (Photo by Alex Ellinghausen / Sydney Morning Herald via Getty Images)

Okonjo-Iweala was chosen to be a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2019.[112] The Republic of Côte d’Ivoire and the Republic of Liberia also gave her High National Honors. She also got Nigeria’s second- and third-highest national honors: Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON, 2022) and Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR), respectively. In 2023, the Federative Republic of Brazil also gave her the Grand Cross of the Order of Rio Branco. Among other awards are:

2004: European Heroes Award from TIME.

2004: Finance Minister of the Year, by Africa Investor Magazine.

2005: Emerging Markets Magazine named him Finance Minister of the Year for Africa and the Middle East.

2005: Euromoney named him “Global Finance Minister of the Year.”

2005: The Banker named him Finance Minister of the Year for Africa and the Middle East.

2010: The Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award

2010: Winner of the Global Leadership Award from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

2011: Winner of the Global Leadership Award from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

2011: Gold Medal from the President of the Italian Republic, Pia Manzu Center.

2014: The David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award

2016: Global Fairness Initiative and the Global Fairness Award.

2016: Power with a Purpose Award, Devex Development Communications Network.

2017: Aspen Institute’s Madeleine K. Albright Global Development Award.

2017: WEConnect International gives the Women’s Economic Empowerment Award.

2017: Howard University’s Vanguard Award.

2017: The BBC’s list of 100 women.

2020: Forbes Africa’s African of the Year.

2022: 50 Over 50: EMEA Award from Forbes.

2022: American Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award.

2022: United Nations Association of New York will give the Humanitarian Award for a Lifetime of Public Service and Advocacy of Sustainable International Development.

Honorary Degree

Okonjo-Iweala has been given honorary doctorates from 21 universities around the world, including some of the best colleges:

In 2006, Brown University,

Colby College said in 2007:

Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, in 2007

In 2009, Amherst College

Penn State University (2013)

In 2015, Yale University

Jamaica’s Northern Caribbean University

LUISS Guido Carli, Italia (2021)

The American University (2022)

Nyenrode Business School (2022)

The London School of Economics and Political Science was founded in 2023.

University of Glasgow (2023)

She also has degrees from a number 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). Okonjo Iweala got a degree of honor from Tel Aviv University in 2019. Okonjo-Iweala got her 20th honors doctorate degree from the London School of Economics on February 7, 2022.


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