Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: The Economic game changer

4 min readFeb 28, 2022

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a Nigerian-American economist, fair trade advocate, environmental sustainability advocate, human welfare champion, and global development, expert.

Since March 2021, Okonjo-Iweala has been serving as Director-General of the World Trade Organization making history as the first woman and first African to lead the World Trade Organization as Director-General.

She has sat on the 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).

Early life and education.

Okonjo-Iweala was born on 13, June 1954 into the Obahai ruling family of Ogwashi-Ukwu in Delta State, Nigeria. Her father, Professor Chukwuka Okonjo, was the Obi (king) of Ogwashi-Ukwu.

Okonjo-Iweala was educated at Queen’s School, Enugu; St. Anne’s School, Molete, Ibadan; and the International School Ibadan.

She moved to the US in 1973 as a teenager to study at Harvard University and graduated with an AB in Economics in 1976. In 1981, she earned her PhD in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the thesis Credit policy, rural financial markets, and Nigeria’s agricultural development. She received an international fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which supported her doctoral studies.

Her career at the World Bank.

After school, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala started what would be an illustrious 25-year career at the World Bank. Eventually rising to become the Managing Director. As managing director, she oversaw the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolios in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia.

She championed several World Bank initiatives to assist several low-income countries during the 2008–2009 financial Crises.

She also spearheaded the successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low-interest credit for the poorest countries in the world.

Her service in the Government.

In 2003, President Olusegun Obasanjo asked her to come back to serve the country as Finance minister and she obliged. She served for two terms first from 2003 to 2006 followed by a short stint as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Then again from 2011- 2015 under the Goodluck Jonathan administration.

In her first term as Finance Minister in the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, she led the 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.

She also introduced the practice of publishing in the newspapers, each state’s monthly financial allocation from the Federal Government of Nigeria. That action went a long way in increasing transparency in governance.

She led the drive to remove fuel subsidies which had been discovered to be unsustainable and inefficient. This was met with severe opposition and her mother was kidnapped to put pressure on her to stop it, but she persevered.

During her time in government, she was actively involved in the formation of various beneficial programmes like the Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Corporation (NMRC), and the Youth Enterprise with Innovation Programme (YouWIN).

Her break into the World Trade Organization.

In June 2020, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala was nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari as the country’s candidate to be director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO). She later advanced to the election’s final round and eventually competed with Yoo Myung-hee from South Korea.

Ahead of the vote, she received the backing of the European Union for her candidacy, however, the United States government indicated that it would not support her candidacy.

On 5 February 2021, Yoo Myung-hee announced her withdrawal from the race and Ngozi Okonjo Iweala was unanimously appointed as the Director-General of the World Trade Organization on February 15 2021.

Personal life.

She is happily married to Ikemba Iweala, a neurosurgeon and family medicine Physician from Umuahia, Abia State, Nigeria. They have four children, including prolific writer Uzodinma Iweala.

Smart Money Lessons from Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Integrity: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is known globally for her Integrity and honesty. She would not compromise on her values for money. In 2011 after the Fuel Subsidy program had been discovered to be inefficient and fraudulent, she began the movement to remove it.

Financial Integrity is a core part of building wealth. Be honest with yourself, be strong on your moral and financial principles.

Persistence: Following her nomination as the World Trade Organization’s director-general candidate, she faced tremendous criticism as well as rejection from the United States government. Her opponents withdrew before the final elections, and she was unanimously pronounced as the winner.

Despite all of these challenges, she remained focused on her goal of becoming the Director-General of the World Trade Organization.

What obstacles are preventing you from achieving your financial goals? All you need is determination, perseverance, persistence, and voila! Your financial aspirations are already yours.

Exploring new territories: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala displayed a honed capacity to break through barriers, overcoming the disadvantages that were unfairly placed against her gender. By taking on a leadership role in a significant global sector, she transformed the narrative. She didn’t simply accept what the Nigerian government had to offer; she went on to become the country’s foreign minister.

With healthy financial decisions, who says you can’t change your own story, defying the stereotypical financial expectation for women?

Challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone, take that course, harness your skills, unlearn things that stand in your way of financial freedom, explore new territories, go above and beyond to get your finances in order.

What other smart money lessons did you learn from Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s journey to economic success? Share in the comments or reach us at

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