WATCH: Backstage with… Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (part 1)

Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a Harvard and M.I.T. graduate and a Nigerian economist.

During her terms as the finance minister, Nigeria’s GDP has displayed a 6.87% growth. She was vice-president and corporate secretary of the World Bank before leaving in 2003 to become the Finance Minister. Within 2 years she signed a deal that paid off Nigeria’s multi billion dollar debt and has since become chair of the International Development Association. She also co-founded the NOI-Gallup polls, the Makenda Fund, and the Center for the study of African economies. CEO and Executive Editor Teresa Clarke sat down with Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to talk about her experience of returning to Nigeria after studying abroad, the demands of her job, and how she won the battle against cancer.

“Don’t expect people to be there waiting for you with open arms, because people are people. They say, well, we have been here toughing it out,
who does she think she is to waltz in from the World Bank or the U.S.
and think she knows more than us?”

“I have to say that work-life balance; I’m not the best example because I think
I may have tilted a lot to work, but what happened? Why did my children who are wonderful, lovely human beings in their own right, I know I’m totally biased, but they are good human beings.”

“It was a rough time of my life, for three years I had two surgeries, chemo for months, radio, you name it and my husband said to me at the time: You know those with an optimistic approach are the ones that survive.”

TRANSCRIPT of Backstage with Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala 

TERESA CLARKE, AFRICA.COM – “You were trained overseas, your education was overseas, your first job was overseas, a lot of Africans that I speak to who have been trained overseas find it difficult to go home and have credibility with the local people, they feel that they have been, they’re out of touch in some regard.

How have you been able to make that transition so seamlessly and to be so well received by the Nigerians?”

Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – NIGERIAN FINANCE MINISTER – “First of all I’m proud of any Nigerian, any African who’s been trained abroad and decides to go home because we need all the talents we can get. Yes, it’s not easy; the first thing is not to have an attitude that people are going to welcome you with open arms, because that’s not the way it is.”

Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – Fitting in whether it’s a culture wise dress was I, was not so difficult, but the other thing was to also say to myself, “Don’t expect people to be there waiting for you with open arms,” because people are people, they say, well, we have been here toughing it out, who does she think she is to waltz in from World Bank or the US and think she knows more than us? The attitude still exists, there are still people who resent that, but for me I am mindful of it so I am humble, I’m grateful, I feel it’s an honor, if not, you know my job it would be tough.”

Her message to the African Diaspora?

Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – Don’t put up with mediocrity. Be patient with the lack of institutional capacity to do things. Be patient with people’s attitudes that may not necessarily be grateful to you. Just encourage yourself every day because people may not encourage you. Just be single minded and if anybody has a problem with that it’s their problem, that’s the way I feel. The same with being a woman, if you have a problem with me being a woman and trying to do things it’s your problem it is not mine, I’m going to be doing what I’m doing.

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