When 67-year-old Nigerian-American economist and environment advocate Dr Ngozo Okonjo-Iweala addressed the world as the Director General of WTO, she had sustainability on her mind in the midst of a global pandemic. “A strong W.T.O is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said in a statement.
Okonjo-Iweala has lived a life of power and influence, thanks to her natural aclivity towards economics. But she vowed to use those two vital positions for sustainable causes. She made history on March 1st 2021 when she became the first woman, and the first African to serve as the Director General of the World Trade Organization. Okonjo-Iweala was appointed the Finance Minister of Nigeria twice, she was also the first woman to ever hold the position. She worked at the World Bank for 25 years, over time rising to the No.2 position of Managing Director. In 2020, Ngozo was named ‘African of the Year’ by the Forbes Magazine. She has been ranked by Fortune as one of the Greatest World Leaders in 2015, and by Forbes Magazine as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in the World consecutively for the past four years.
Ngozo Okonjo-Iweala is an icon all around the world, not just to women and POC, but to all those who think they don’t have what it takes to fulfil their dreams.
A knack for sustainable economy
Ngozo Okonjo-Iweala was born to Professor Chukwuka Okonjo, the obi (king) of the Obahai Royal Family of Ogwashi-Ukwu, in Ogwashi Ukwu, Delta State Nigeria. She came to the US in 1973 to study at Harvard University, from where she graduated magna cum laude with an AB in Economics. She then went on to earn her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) through her . thesis “Credit policies, rural financial markets, and Nigeria’s agricultural development.”
After earning her doctorate, Ngozo went on to work at the World Bank, where she had a flourishing career over the period of 25 years, eventually rising to the second position of Managing Director. During her tenure as Managing Director, she oversaw the IDA (International Development Association) replenishment drive, which successfully helped raise $43.9 billion in grants and low-interest credit for the poorest countries in the world.
In addition to this, Okonjo-Iweala served two terms as the Finance Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, making her the first woman to hold these positions. It was during her first term as Finance Minister that she led negotiations with the Paris Club, which ultimately led to the cancellation of $30 billion of Nigeria’s debt. She has proven time and again that she is capable of working wonders in the fields of finance and economics.
Okonjo-Iweala initiated the process of publishing each Nigerian state’s monthly financial allocation from the Federal Government of Nigeria, so as to give citizens an insight into the inner workings of the government, as well as increase transparency among the state and the press.
Improving Nigeria’s financial systems
Okonjo-Iweala has been credited for significantly strengthening Nigeria’s public financial systems. She worked towards empowering the women and youth of her country by introducing the Growing Girls and Women in Nigeria Programme (GWIN), which was a gender-responsive budgeting system, as well as the Youth Enterprise with Innovation Programme (YouWIN), which was meant to support budding entrepreneurs and boost employment rates.
The big question about vaccine equity and trade reforms
In 2020, Okonjo-Iweala was appointed by the African Union (AU), as the special envoy to solicit international support to help the continent deal with the devastating effects of Covid-19. In a latest interview with the Atlantic Council about the G-20 Nations Summit on Covid-19, she boldly asserted the need for a deeper trust between developed and developing countries. She suggested that one way to rebuild this trust and cooperation is to get back to the original purpose of the WTO: enhancing living standards for people, creating employment and supporting sustainable development. In her words, “If WTO members can strike deals such as a fisheries subsidies agreement and work in these multilateral ways together, that can begin to build the trust that you can work together and you can deliver together.”
The Atlantic Council reported that the WTO, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Health Organization have proposed a $50 billion plan to help arrest the pandemic, foster a sustainable recovery, and generate an estimated $9 trillion in global economic returns by 2025. Okonjo-Iweala said the above plan includes $10 billion allocated for prevention of future pandemics.
Outlining ways the WTO can alleviate the scarcity of vaccines across the supply chain, Okonjo-Iweala suggested that the trade restrictions have to be removed while working with manufacturers to boost production.
Ngozo Okonjo-Iweala is a true inspiration to women all over the globe. She proves that all of us have the power to change the world, even if it is at our own capacity.