by Hauwa Gambo
People have wondered what the former minister of Education and vice president of the World Bank, Obiageli Katryn Ezekwesili would be up to after leaving the Bank. Well, the widely admired leader could only go higher.
The Open Society Foundations today announced that it has asked Mrs. Ezekwesili, a world-renowned expert on economic reforms and economic governance, to lead its new Africa Economic Policy Development Initiative. The initiative was created to build on the strong growth performance of Africa over the last decade and the emergent urgency for structural transformation of economies to expand benefits to the poor majority through policies that boost private sector jobs and incomes.
The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities in more than 100 countries, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health and education.
Operating from Abuja, Ezekwesili will advise the leaders and policy makers of these countries on their economic strategy and policy reforms that can help boost investment and create job growth in the Mano River region. The initiative over the next three years will expand to include other countries across Africa.
“We heartily welcome this initiative by the Open Society Foundations and are eager to seize the opportunity to receive the valuable policy advice and support from Oby Ezekwesili,” said President Alpha Condé of Guinea, one of the three countries on which the Africa Economic Policy Development Initiative will focus initially. “We benefited from Ezekwesili’s rich experience and policy expertise when she was at the World Bank and helped us considerably in advancing our country’s economic reforms and development priorities.”
The initiative, which will help develop leadership in public policy and economic reforms within governments, will leverage African expertise in the Diaspora to strengthen state capacities in various sectors of economies in Africa.
“I am delighted for Oby to join our team working on Africa,” said George Soros, chairman and founder of the Open Society Foundations. “My foundations have long been committed to fostering economic development in post-conflict countries and nations transitioning to democracy.”
In her role as senior economic advisor, Ezekwesili will oversee the creation of a public policy advisory center in Abuja that will collaborate with Paul Collier, the professor of economics who focuses on developing countries, and others to provide economic policy solutions to pro-reform governments starting with Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. She also will help establish a separate Africa-wide graduate school of public policy, based in Nigeria, that will collaborate with leading universities including the School of Public Policy at the Central European University.
“Oby has dedicated her career to the proposition that governments in Africa, as elsewhere, can achieve equitable growth when they are open, honest, and disciplined,” said Christopher Stone, president of the Open Society Foundations. “Oby gets things done. She is the right person to lead this new initiative.”
Before joining Open Society, Ezekwesili was for five years the vice president of the World Bank in charge of the Africa region. She was responsible for operations in 48 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and supervised a lending portfolio of over US$40 billion. From 2002 to 2007, she worked for the Federal Government of Nigeria as presidential advisor in charge of public procurement reforms; chairperson and implementer of the first ever, country-led Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative; minister of Mineral Resources; key member and Governance task team leader of the widely acclaimed Presidential Economic Team; and minister of Education.
Ezekwesili has a long track record in the transparency, accountability, good governance, and anti-corruption movement worldwide having been one of the co-founders of Transparency International nearly two decades ago.
Ezekwesili previously served as director of the Harvard-Nigeria Economic Strategy Program in Boston and Abuja. She holds a Master’s in international law from the University of Lagos, a Master’s in public policy and administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and is a chartered accountant.