NOI – The Bespectacled Woman in the African Attire

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Many years ago, there was a little girl with big brown eyes that were so innocent, yet held a lot of wisdom. She didn’t know yet what she wanted to be when she grew up, but she knew she wanted to be great.

Growing up lonely as a child whose parents were always busy after the next academic pursuit, she longed to be able to see the world as her parents did.

For her secondary education, Delta state born Dr Ngozi attended Queen’s School in Enugu, St Anne’s School, Ibadan and International School, Ibadan. She then proceeded for undergraduate studies at Harvard University, in the United States of America, where she graduated Magna cum Laude with a degree in Economics. She went on and bagged  a PhD in Regional Economics and Development from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States.

NOI as she is popularly referred to, served twice as Nigeria’s Finance Minister from 2003-2006 and 2011-2015. She also served briefly as Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2006. She was the first woman to hold both positions. She has over 30 years of experience working in Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America, and has a career spanning 25 years at the World Bank as a development economist, where she worked on economic development programs and policy reforms in middle and low income countries.

On March 1st 2021, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala assumed duty as the Director General of the World Trade Organisation. This came after attaining the consensus of the 164 WTO members. The WTO reported that NOI had the deepest and broadest support among the membership. Regardless of her vast international exposure, she still speaks with a detectable Igbo accent and loves putting on African attires consisting of a blouse, skirt and a headgear. You can hardly miss her in high-profile gatherings; just look out for the bespectacled woman in the African attire, it will most likely be Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala.

Dr Ngozi is married to Dr Ikemba Iweala, a neurosurgeon and together, they have four children and three grandchildren. Women like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala motivate us greatly and affirm the fact that that when girls and women are provided access to quality education and other opportunities, they can be anything and everything – elegant in stilettos and confident in steel toes.

There are millions of potential Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s out there. They are the girls who go to under-resourced secondary schools with torn school uniforms and empty stomachs, but are determined to get an education nonetheless.They are the girls in communities where culturally, a girl or woman is not allowed to aspire for much and are at the risk of early marriage and child labour. But they persevere, remain determined and keep the hope of a better future alive.

Girl-child education is by far, one of the greatest contributors to the advancement of any nation. According to the World Bank, girls education is a strategic development priority. Better educated women tend to be more informed about nutrition and healthcare, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and their children are usually healthier, should they choose to become mothers. They are more likely to participate in the formal labor market and earn higher incomes. All these factors combined can help lift households, communities, and countries out of poverty.

With access to good and quality education, that little wide-eyed girl has travelled around the world and is solving global problems. Emerging as the Director-General of the World Trade Organization, makes her the first woman and the first African to occupy this position. She has evolved into a woman who is changing the world and inspiring us all.  Governments around the world continue to gather to soak up her knowledge, men revere her and women stand in awe of her. Dr NOI, is an enigma who has stayed the course and is winning the race on every front.

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