Photo by Chris Farber

Posted in: news

21st March 2019

Meet B Team Leader Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

What inspires you?

Citizen and community-led action is a constant source of inspiration for me. The power and impact of citizens and communities taking action always leaves me feeling energized and excited about whatever challenge I’m taking on. Throughout my career, I’ve worked in service of these movements, striving to create the mechanisms and space that help people realize and actionize their full power. It’s been the most clear and consistent guiding point across the work I’ve done.

Which B Team cause are you motivated by most? How are you helping to lead on this issue?

The B Team’s Governance cause is incredibly important to me. I’ve spent much of my life fighting corruption and working to build strong, effective and well-respected institutions. As Finance Minister of Nigeria, I helped bolster the country’s governance and increased transparency in the process. During my time in office, we began publishing, in national and local newspapers, the revenue streams of all levels of government. Sharing that information sparked an accountability revolution. When people weren’t paid, roads weren’t built or there wasn’t chalk in classrooms, people could easily call for action from their representatives. Demand for this information was so overwhelming, I came to think of these papers as “the most boring best-sellers ever.”

This response is what made me realize just how important it was to take this fight to a global level. And how transparency and accountability form the foundation for addressing the many other issues our world faces. These efforts are essential to successfully carry out The B Team’s other causes. Our world urgently needs ambitious climate action. But governments will not be able to take action without strong tax revenue. Poor governance and corruption continue to hurt women more than men. It halts women’s progress toward equality and silences their efforts to organize and defend human rights. To fully realize The B Team’s agenda, we need strong, united action on the Governance front.

What convinced you to take on this challenge? Why do you believe that it cannot be achieved without business engagement and leadership?

I’ve seen firsthand how corruption has halted development, growth and opportunity across communities. I could not stand by and just watch without taking action. While I’ve helped make progress on this challenge, I’ve also experienced the sometimes painful consequences. I’ve learned that when you fight corruption, people are going to attack you. They’ve attacked me and my family. They want you to give up. But I knew I couldn’t do that—I had to stand up.

And it’s critical for business to stand with me, and others, in this fight. Business cannot and must not be part of the problem. Corruption and poor governance do not create healthy operating environments for companies. So business has a vested interest in taking action, but it also has the power to send strong signals to governments that open, free societies are what they want and what they need. Business also has a responsibility to hold itself accountable to all of its stakeholders, including its employees and operating communities. With trust in crisis around the world, business has a duty, but also an opportunity to lead on these issues.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned on this journey?

This work cannot be done alone. In my time spent in office as Finance Minister and in the roles I’ve held with Gavi, The World Bank and more, I’ve always been surrounded by a strong team. And it’s why I joined The B Team. We need each other and our unique strengths, experiences and perspectives to create real and lasting change.

What is the first thing you read every morning?

The Financial Times.

What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur seeking to start a new company today?

Dream big but, while you’re racing in the short-term, don’t forget to ensure you’re building for the long-term. Core to this mindset is establishing a set of principles for any journey you set out on. Clearly defining these will help to guide you toward operating transparently, responsibly and in a manner that builds trust among all stakeholders.

If there is one big change you could make in the world today, what would it be?

Crackdowns on civic rights and civic space around the world are increasingly alarming. I would guarantee these fundamental freedoms for all citizens. While this should be non-negotiable, we’re seeing two billion people living in societies where civic space is considered closed.

The power of citizens who are free to organize, report, advocate and inform is undeniable. We must create a world where people can recognize this power and fulfill it. We cannot sit idly by while thousands are continually silenced, harmed and even killed.

If you were given an extra day next week, how would you spend it?

Catch up on sleep and exercise in the gym.

What one thing would you change to help more companies go further, faster, towards sustainable business?

We need gender balance and parity across all institutions—especially business. Gender inequality is one of the most pernicious inequalities around the world. Only five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. None of the multilateral development banks have ever been led by a woman. Men two-three times more likely to hold senior management positions. And progress toward board diversity is glacial, particularly for women of color.

We know women are disproportionately impacted by corruption, climate change and civic rights crackdowns among others. And we also know of the economic and social opportunity that lies in achieving gender parity. The latest estimates puts this reality more than 200 years away. Clearly we cannot wait that long.

This interview is part of a series to help you get to know The B Team Leaders, what they are working on and what they are passionate about. You can read Richard Branson’s interview here, Yolanda Kakabadse’s interview here, Sharan Burrow’s interview here, Bob Collymore’s interview here, David Crane’s here, Christiana Figueres’ here, Arianna Huffington’s here, Guilherme Leal’s here, Mats Granryd’s here, Oliver Bäte's here, Mo Ibrahim's here, Joshua Oigara's here and Isabelle Kocher's here.