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Black History Month – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

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Black History Month is meant to celebrate the accomplishments of all Black people. One Black woman who optimizes success and hard work is the World Trade Organization’s Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Before becoming the World Trade Organization’s first woman and African, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala earned an A.B. (Bachelor of Arts) degree in economics and a masters in City Planning from Harvard, as well as a Ph.D. in regional economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to Britannica. After getting her degrees, she worked as the Chair of the Board of Gavi, and the Vaccine Alliance, according to the World Trade Organization. 

According to the World Trade Organization, twice in her life, Okonjo-Iweala worked as Nigeria’s Finance Minister, once from 2003-2006, then from 2011-2015. In her first term as Nigeria’s Finance Minister, she led negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors, which led to the elimination of $30 billion of Nigeria’s debt. In her second term, she led reforms to Nigeria’s financial accounts to make them more transparent to fight against government corruption. Also in 2006, she worked as Nigeria’s Foreign Minister. Okonjo-Iweala was the first woman to hold both positions, according to the World Trade Organization. Following her time as Nigeria’s Finance Minister, she worked at the World Bank until 2011.

According to Britannica’s Brian Duignan, during her time at the World Bank, “led several World Bank projects to assist poor countries during the global financial crisis of 2007–08 and the world food-price crisis of 2008–09” (Duignan). She was admitted as the World Trade Organization’s Director-General in 2021.

According to the World Trade Organization, currently, Okonjo-Iweala is Chair of the Board of African Union’s African Risk Capacity, the African University of Science and Technology, as well as the Nelson Mandela Institution.

She has earned multiple awards including the Global Leadership Award multiple times. Additionally, she has been named one of the 50 Greatest World Leaders by Fortune, as well as the Top 100 Women in the World and the Top three Most Powerful Women in Africa by Forbes

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala continues to teach women to break glass ceilings and not to apologize for being who they are.

I chose to write about Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala because up until this year, I had not heard of her before. Okonjo-Iweala has led to countless accomplishments for women and specifically women of color, but she isn’t often spoken about. I can only hope that her story inspires more people, and it allows them to not be afraid to be who they are. 

“Don’t take a backward step. Don’t shy away from taking up space in the world. Don’t assume you are too junior or that people are too busy. Reach out and network,” Okonjo-Iweala said.

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