5 Things to Know About Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala 

Named one of the world’s most influential women by Time magazine, Nigeria’s finance minister cut her teeth at the World Bank and is a fierce advocate for cleaning up corruption in her nation’s economy.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala 
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala  Mychele Daniau/Getty Images 

Time magazine released its annual list highlighting the world’s 100 most influential people. A few of those named were no-brainers—music icon Beyoncé, film mastermind Steve McQueen, Pope Francis and President Barack Obama—but why is Nigeria’s finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, listed among these luminaries?

Ai, yi, yi—where do we begin?

1. She’s eradicating Nigeria’s debt.

In the novel Half of a Yellow Sun, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie incorporates historical events into the fictional tale and explains how Nigeria’s new economy, at the brink of its independence, was inherently weak because of all the predatory loans forced upon them by Great Britain and the other European colonizers.

Okonjo-Iweala’s work addresses the residual effects of those sorts of practices today by meeting with world leaders to persuade them to eradicate Nigeria’s debts incurred from the Cold War era. Her success in this effort might affect other West African countries with similar predicaments. She’s got a great traveling buddy who has tagged along on a few of those trips: U2’s Bono. He wrote Okonjo-Iweala’s profile in the Time magazine issue and gushed about how she’s a great boss: “I couldn’t be prouder to work for her.”

2. She’s a student of the world.

Slots for international students at Ivy League schools are scarce and highly coveted, yet Okonjo-Iweala—born and raised in Nigeria—graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and went on to earn a Ph.D. in regional economic development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

She’s received honorary doctorates from prestigious schools around the world, including Brown University, Amherst College, and institutions in Ireland and Jamaica.