Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who has recently been announced as the 2020 African of the Year by Forbes Africa, is a woman of many firsts. From a 25-year career as a development economist at the World Bank, to serving her country Nigeria as (the first female) Minister of Finance, Dr Okonjo-Iweala is now a finalist for Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), where she will be the first African (and first woman) to hold such a post. She is also currently the Chair of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, working with a team that is developing the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator which will help make COVID-19 vaccines available to poor countries.
The African of the Year award goes to “a change-maker who has demonstrated true leadership excellence, has a prominent presence on the world stage, and whose influence has played a significant role in Africa’s development.”
During my tenure as the CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation (2014-2019), I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on several occasions. I admire her courage and capacity to deliver on the economy in Nigeria. She was a formidable force at the 2014 World Economic Forum on Africa held in Abuja, focussing on job creation and inclusive growth. She saw that as a leading nation in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria will play a crucial role in trade and governance.
Her energy and commitment to Africa was unrelenting, as she continued the crusade for African economic growth after the change in the Nigerian government in 2015. I recall meeting her to share the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme and the Foundation’s agenda to empower African youth through entrepreneurship, to which she gave her unconditional support.
She embraced the Foundation’s economic philosophy of Africapitalism – that a vibrant African led private sector with significant participation from entrepreneurs is the key to unlocking Africa’s economic and social potential. She endorsed our belief in building resilience for the long term in Africa. She said, and I quote from Africa’s Business Revolution, “the most successful businesses are ones that take the long view. There are real risks, although I think they are exaggerated. But long-term opportunities are abundant, and the returns are significant. So, business must come in willing to be in it for the long term – and be willing to take the risk and look at the real fundamentals.”
She is passionate about community investment as a critical success factor for business in Africa, pushing African businesses to embrace corporate social responsibility to engage with the communities in which they are located, and they service.
Our last meeting was in Davos in 2018, where, as its Chair, she was hosting the GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance roundtable with Aliko Dangote and Bill Gates, and welcomed Dr Elumelu, Trustee of TEF and CEO of Avon Medical to join the board. I am privileged and honoured to have met this smart, proactive, beautiful, extraordinary public servant during my time spent in Africa.
Indeed, we celebrate Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as an icon of leadership, a woman who continues to inspire and make Africans proud.
More from her interview with Forbes Africa here.