Meet Vera Songwe, the First Woman to Head UN's Economic Commission in 60-Year History
Home African CEOs Profiles Meet Vera Songwe, the First Woman to Head UN’s Economic Commission in 60-Year History
Profiles - August 14, 2023

Meet Vera Songwe, the First Woman to Head UN’s Economic Commission in 60-Year History

Dr. Vera Songwe is an economist and banking executive from Cameroon. She is the first woman to head the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). She is the UN under-secretary general and the ninth executive secretary of the ECA).

Dr. Songwe’s impressive academic credentials include a Ph.D. in Mathematical Economics from the Center for Operations Research and Econometrics, a Master of Arts in Law and Economics, and a Diplôme d’études approfondies in Economic Science and Politics, all obtained from the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Political Science from the University of Michigan, and she is an alumna of Our Lady of Lourdes College in Cameroon. Ms. Songwe has published extensively on topics relating to development and economic issues.

As the Executive Secretary of the ECA, Dr. Songwe has spearheaded a series of reforms that prioritise “ideas for a prosperous Africa.” These reforms have brought critical issues such as macroeconomic stability, development finance, private sector growth, poverty and inequality, digital transformation, trade, and competitiveness to the forefront.

Dr. Songwe’s significant contributions have garnered noteworthy recognition. Forbes recently listed her among Africa’s 50 most powerful women. She has also been honored as one of the ‘100 Most Influential Africans by Jeune Afrique in 2019 and New African Magazine in 2017, as well as being recognized as one of the ’25 Africans to watch’ by the FT in 2015. These accolades are a testament to her extensive experience in delivering development outcomes for Africa and her longstanding commitment to providing policy advice. 

Dr. Songwe has authored numerous publications covering diverse aspects of development and economic issues, including topics like debt, infrastructure development, fiscal matters, and governance. Her insights are widely disseminated and she contributes to the development discourse through esteemed platforms such as the Financial Times.

Before joining the ECA, Dr. Songwe served as the Regional Director of the International Finance Corporation, overseeing operations in West and Central Africa. Additionally, she continues to serve as a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative. She is also an esteemed member of the African Union institutional reform team, led by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda. Furthermore, Dr. Songwe holds board positions at the African Leadership Network and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, underscoring her commitment to Africa’s progress.

Previously, she held the position of Country Director for the World Bank, where she oversaw development initiatives in Cape Verde, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, and Senegal. She also served as an Advisor to the Managing Director of the World Bank, providing guidance on matters pertaining to Africa, Europe, and Central and South Asia. Additionally, she held the role of lead Country Sector Coordinator within the organisation. 

Earlier in her career, Dr. Songwe made valuable contributions as the World Bank’s Senior Economist in the Philippines. Prior to joining the World Bank, she conducted research as a Visiting Researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota and the University of Southern California.

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