Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala - Doctor of Humane Letters
“You are a citizen of your country, your continent, and the world. Shaped by challenging experiences during your childhood in Nigeria, you have made social and economic reform your mission.
As Nigeria’s coordinating minister of economic development and minister of finance, you have tackled corruption, created a vision and path to long-term economic stability, and worked to build a culture of transparency.
At the World Bank, you made food security a priority and provided policy advice and capital for the world’s poorest countries. With wisdom, a fierce dedication to doing what is right, and unflagging energy, you have transformed the economic landscape of your nation.
We are proud to name you Doctor of Humane Letters.” – Yale Citation of Ngozi Okonji-Iweala
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s Biography
Doctor of Humane Letters
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the coordinating minister for the economy and minister of finance for the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Previously she was managing director of the World Bank Group, one of the world’s most important global financial institutions tasked with providing loans and technical expertise to developing nations. A progressive reformer and dedicated public servant, Okonjo-Iweala has spearheaded efforts to stabilize and grow Nigeria’s economy, battling widespread government corruption and creating greater fiscal transparency and discipline.
Okonjo-Iweala was born in Delta State, Nigeria to parents who were university professors. Her happy childhood was interrupted by the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war in 1967, which forced her family to leave their home, sometimes surviving on one meal a day. At 15, she walked 10 kilometers to take her 3-year old sister, who was very ill with malaria, to the nearest clinic. After the war ended in 1970, the family began to rebuild. Encouraged by her father’s belief in the power of an education and her own sense of adventure, Okonjo-Iweala traveled abroad, earning her Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude in economics from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She joined the World Bank, where she worked as a development economist for 25 years, rising to the position of managing director.
In 2003 she returned to Nigeria, becoming the country’s first female minister of finance. Faced with the task of cleaning up Nigeria’s financial mismanagement and corruption, she developed an office for national debt management and increased fiscal transparency by publishing revenues accruing to different tiers of government in the newspapers, unprecedented steps that gained international attention for their commitment to good governance. Okonjo-Iweala spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors, which led to the elimination of $30 billion in external debt with the outright cancellation of $18 billion. She secured the country’s first-ever sovereign credit rating of BB minus. Nigeria’s growth rate tripled to an average 6% per annum over three years. From June to August 2006 she also served as minister of foreign affairs, the first woman to occupy that position.
She resigned from her position in Nigeria shortly thereafter to serve as a distinguished fellow of the Brookings Institution before returning to the World Bank with a portfolio that included Africa, South Asia, Europe, and central Asia. In 2011 she began her second term as Nigerian minister of finance and coordinating minister of the economy, focusing on ensuring macroeconomic stability and the development of key sectors of the economy to diversify Nigeria away from oil. Okonjo-Iweala has focused on creating jobs for youth, empowering girls and women by engendering the budget, unlocking the housing sector, and building institutions, systems and processes that use technology to enhance fiscal transparency. In 2012 she was one of three candidates to campaign for World Bank president, the first time that the position was ever contested.
Okonjo-Iweala is the founder of two Nigeria-based organizations: the opinion research organization NOI-Polls and the think-tank Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSE A). She co-founded the African University of Science and Technology, one of the centers of excellence for science and technology in Africa, and chairs its board. She is the author of “Reforming the Unreformable: Lessons from Nigeria” (2012), about her first term as minister of finance, and co-author of two books published in 2003: a biography of Chinua Achebe and a book about the debt strategy in Nigeria.
Okonjo-Iweala has received numerous honors including the 2004 European Hero of the Year Award from Time magazine, which also designated her as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2014. For the past four years she has been listed among Forbes’100 Most Powerful Women and in 2015, she was named one of Fortune’s50 greatest world leaders. She has also earned several honorary doctorates and in 2014 received the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award.
Credits: Yale News