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Doctor of Humane Letters
Before being appointed a Managing Director of the World Bank in 2007, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was the first woman to hold the positions of Finance Minister and Foreign Minister of Nigeria. Through many reforms, she led the way in reducing corruption, cutting debt and inflation and spurring economic growth for the nation.
Okonjo-Iweala was born and raised in the town of Ogwashi-Uku, Nigeria. She studied economics at Harvard, graduating magna cum laude in 1977, and then earned a Ph.D. in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She served as vice president and corporate secretary of the World Bank until Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed her Finance Minister in 2003. In the ensuing three years, she struck a deal to cut the country’s debt from $30 billion to $12 billion; helped Nigeria obtain its first-ever sovereign credit rating; fought corruption in government, the police force and the oil industry and cracked down on Internet fraud; and introduced reforms to import tariffs, banking, insurance, pensions, income tax, foreign exchange, the steel industry and the telecom industry. After a brief stint as Foreign Minister in 2006, Okonjo-Iweala was invited back to the World Bank as a Managing Director, responsible for overseeing the organization’s activities in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia. The goal of the World Bank is to reduce poverty by providing financial and technical assistance to developing nations.
Okonjo-Iweala is founder of the nongovernmental organization NOI Global Consulting, which partnered with the Gallup Organization in 2007 to introduce public-opinion polling to Nigeria, and of the Center for Research on the Economies of Africa. She is also a co-founder of the Makeda Fund, which invests in African female entrepreneurs, and has been a Distinguished Visiting Fellow in the Global Economy and Development Program at the Brookings Institution. She has been honored by such publications as Nigeria’s This Day newspaper, Time Europe, Euromoney and the Financial Times and was named Nigerian of the Year for 2006.
Hear Okonjo-Iweala’s talk, “The Global Economic Crisis: Its Impact on Developing Countries,” on our audio page, Conversations with Honored Guests.