Cambridge, MA — Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, chair of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, former finance minister of Nigeria and former managing director of the World Bank, will deliver the graduation address to the Harvard Kennedy School Class of 2020, Dean Douglas Elmendorf announced today. 

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was the longest-serving finance minister in her native Nigeria and the first woman to hold that position. She was also the first female foreign minister of Nigeria. During her tenure, she drove systemic financial reforms and strengthened fiscal transparency to fight corruption. She also negotiated a $30 billion reduction in Nigeria’s external debt. During her time as finance minister, the country’s economic growth rate rose sharply. In her 25-year career at the World Bank, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala rose to the No. 2 position of managing director of operations and oversaw the development portfolio for South Asia, Africa, Europe, and Central Asia.

“Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is a distinguished public leader who has made significant contributions to increasing economic growth and addressing poverty in countries around the world,” said Elmendorf. “Her lifetime of public service and practical experience in achieving effective governance will inspire our graduating students as they set out to make a positive difference in their own communities.”

A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala earned her doctorate from MIT and has been awarded 15 honorary degrees. She was recognized as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes magazine for four years in a row, and as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2019. Currently, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is chair of the board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which has supported the immunization of 760 million children in the developing world against infectious diseases. She is also co-chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. She serves on the Boards of Twitter Inc., and Standard Chartered Bank.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is currently the Angelopoulos Global Public Leaders Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, where she is sharing the lessons she has learned about ending extreme poverty and creating more inclusive societies across the world.

The graduation address will be delivered on Thursday, May 28 during the HKS Class of 2020 Virtual Graduation Celebration.

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James F. Smith