Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Africa’s Greatest Economist

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, African Greatest Economist

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was born 13 June 1954 is a Nigerian-American economist, fair trade leader, environmental sustainability advocate, human welfare champion, sustainable finance maven, and global development, expert. Since March 2021, Okonjo-Iweala has been serving as Director-General of WTO: World Trade Organization. Notably, she is the first woman and first African to lead World Trade Organization as Director-General.

She sits on boards of Danone, Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, 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 and Earthshot Prize plus others.

She is the first female Finance Minister and the first female Foreign Affairs Minister in Nigeria. Also the first female and black candidate to contest for the presidency of World Bank Group in 2012.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Africa’s Greatest Economist

Early life and education

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was born to a royal family on the 13th of June, 1954. She hails from Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State. Her parents, Chukwuka (Obi from the Obahai Royal family of Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State) and Kamene Okonjo were professors at the University of Ibadan.

Okonjo-Iweala had her secondary education at International School Ibadan and St. Anne’s School, Molete, Ibadan. She arrived in the US in 1973 as a teenager to study at Harvard University and graduated magna cum laude with an AB in Economics in 1976. She holds a Ph.D. in Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She received an international fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which supported her doctoral studies.

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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Career

Okonjo-Iweala started out as an intern in World Bank Group then later went ahead to have a 25-year career at the World Bank in Washington DC as a development economist and rose to the second position, managing director. She had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolios in Africa, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia while as the managing director.

Okonjo-Iweala was the first Nigerian woman to serve two terms as Finance Minister of Nigeria, under President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration and President Goodluck Jonathan’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 under President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration.

Okonjo-Iweala was also instrumental in helping Nigeria obtain its first-ever sovereign credit rating (of BB minus) from Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s in 2006. 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.

Okonjo-Iweala became a member of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (2015–2016), the Eminent Persons Group on Global Financial Governance, 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 was unanimously appointed as the next Director-General World Trade Organization(WTO) on 15 February 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.

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Recognition and Awards

  • 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.


    • Sallah, Tijan; Okonjo-Iweala, Ngozi (2003). Chinua Achebe: Teacher of Light, A Biography. Trenton, NJ: Africa World 
    • Okonjo-Iweala, Ngozi; Soludo, Charles Chukwuma; Muhtar, Mansur, eds. (2003). The Debt Trap in Nigeria: Towards a Sustainable Debt Strategy. Trenton, NJ: Africa World 
    • Okonjo-Iweala, Ngozi (2012). Reforming the Unreformable: Lessons from Nigeria
    • Okonjo-Iweala, Ngozi (2018). Fighting Corruption Is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines
    • Gillard, Julia; Okonjo-Iweala, Ngozi (2020). Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons

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Personal life

She is married to Ikemba Iweala, a family medicine Physician from Umuahia, Abia State, Nigeria. They have four children, including author Uzodinma Iweala.

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.