You can Rise Above the Culture; the Glass Ceiling is yours to Shatter
“Investing in Women is smart economics, and investing in girls, catching them upstream is even smarter economics.” Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala
“Table Shakers” are people who never cease to surprise us and this Phenomenal Woman keeps shaking the table of our imaginations. She is the perfect example of the never-ending possibilities that lie within a woman. She is one of the leading figures in the Finance world today. Just some months back, she shocked the world by becoming the first African and first woman to become the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and this made many young Nigerian women take to the internet to do a “Ngozi Okonjo Iweala challenge” to celebrate her.
Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala is a Nigerian American economist, fair trade leader, environmental sustainability advocate, human welfare champion, sustainable finance maven, global development expert and Ted Talk Speaker. She is known as the “Woman of First”. This Jewel was born on June 13, 1954. She studied Economics at Harvard University and has a PhD in Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She is a proud wife and mother.
“I believe that when you find problems, you should also find solutions.” Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala
She has been widely recognized as a problem solver who mostly solves problems wherever she finds herself and she is an active corruption fighter. When she served as the Finance Minister, she could start a home-grown economic reform program to tackle corruption and this led to the stabilization of the economy and the increase in growth rate. She also led the negotiation that resulted in the cancellation of 60% of Nigeria’s debt with the Paris Club. While she worked in the World Bank, she was the Vice President and Corporate Secretary; she was once the Director of Institutional Change and Strategy and she helped with the formulation of the World Bank Policy. For her notable works, Euromoney awarded her the Finance Minister of the year in 2005, she was also given the Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award in 2011, the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award in 2014 and many other awards.
When she took up the position of the Director-General of WTO, her speech showed her trait as a problem solver. According to the BBC, she said that the WTO needed a shake-up, and this left many people in anticipation of the kinds of tables she will shake this time around.
”I can take hardship. I can sleep on the cold floor anytime. I can also sleep on a feather bed.” Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala.
Everywhere she goes, she proudly represents her country, Nigeria, and even when accepting awards and taking up top positions, she is always dressed in Nigerian attire. Because of her passion for her country, she gave up her lucrative World Bank Job, left her family back in Washington and came back to Nigeria to live a simple life that differs greatly from the life of typical Nigerian Ministers.
Taking up various roles in the Finance and Political World has not been the smoothest road, as she also had her share of difficulties, but she could overcome them and today she is a shining rare Jewel, representing African Women in influential positions of the world. During her political journey in Nigeria, at some point, her mother was kidnapped, and they threatened her that she had to resign her position and pay a ransom but she stood her ground, did neither of the requests and they released her mother. From being in politics, she rose to the second-highest position at the World Bank.
“Life really went backwards. My parents lost everything, all their savings because we had to run from the Nigerian side to the Biafran side. We were Igbos.”
Her family were victims of the Biafra war and she experienced poverty. She was even separated from her parents for almost a decade as they were abroad. This encounter with poverty built her drive to chase poverty from Nigeria and this could be seen in the reforms she led while occupying the position of a Minister in Nigeria. One reform included her plan to uncover money meant for construction and schools. She was able to stop the movement of fake workers and pensioners who were stealing public funds. She also fought against the government subsidy in Nigeria that could bring about more corruption.
In an interview with one.org, she stated that:
When women get top posts, even in developed countries, people somehow think they have too much power.
You will be judged more harshly, and people expect more of you as a woman.
So it’s not easy, but does that mean that you should shy away from doing those tough things if the opportunity comes?
The answer is no…
She often preaches about the importance of educating the girl child, because she believes that “educating our young girls is the foundation for Nigeria’s growth and development”.
Although she is an economist, she is also a notable writer as she even co-authored a book with Tijan Salah titled “Chinua Achebe, Teacher of Light: A Biography. Her other books include “Transparency and Accountability in the Management of Public Funds: How Sensibly Must African Countries Stand and The Debt Trap In Nigeria: Towards A Sustainable Debt Strategy.
Currently, she serves as the Chair of the Board of the African Union’s African Risk Capacity (ARC). She is also the co-Chair of the Commission on the New Climate Economy. Ngozi is a member of many boards and groups. Forbes listed her as one of the most powerful women in the world. Fortune lists her as one of the 50 Greatest World Leaders and Times lists her as one of the 100 top Most Influential People in the world.
Although her origin is a country where women were rarely allowed to take their stand, she took her stand and fought the necessary battles she had to fight. What culture is restricting you? You can rise above it; you can break the glass ceiling as she did. You are a woman and your potential are limitless. You are a rare jewel and you just need to allow yourself to shine.
Written By: Joyce C. Nwezeh Obi-Akejelu (Writer, Social media manager and graphic designer with Africa4AfricaWomen/Assert/PAWES).