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Elizabeth Adu

Elizabeth Adu

Former Deputy General Counsel for Operations at the World Bank
Former Board Member, Center for International Forestry Research

My Story, Your Inspiration

Very early in my career at the World Bank, I bonded with the very few African women professionals who were working there. There were about five of us, including Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (now Director-General of the WTO) and Maria Kiwanuka (a former Minister of Finance of Uganda). This group provided mutual support, advice, mentoring and guidance on how to navigate through the World Bank. This group developed into the World Bank’s African Women’s informal network, which has grown to become a major partner in the discussion on racial discrimination and diversity in the World Bank. It was important to ensure that my voice was not silenced, by insisting even when my advice was being ignored that I wanted my views recorded.

As the first African Woman Deputy General Counsel for Operations at the World Bank, I had oversight over the legal and policy issues with respect to all projects and programs from all the regions that the World Bank operated in. It required interacting with senior management and the members of the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors. One of the highlights was working with an amazing team of operational lawyers in moving forward the World Bank’s agenda. For example, working on the approval of the conditional cash transfer program in Brazil (the Bolsa Familia) which has become the model for conditional cash transfer programs not only in Latin America, but also in Africa and Asia.

I ended my career at the World Bank as Director of Operations for Latin America and the Caribbean. Thus, moving to a direct role in the operations of the region and moving much closer to the countries. This period was enlightening about how much Africa has in common with Latin America in terms of culture, cuisine and development challenges. I was humbled by the connections I was able to make with people because of what we had in common. This made achieving our common goals much easier.

My general advise: It is important to constantly reach beyond your comfort zone and undertake challenging assignments. This is what enabled me to thrive at the World Bank and to continue to find the work interesting and fulfilling.

Seek diverse sponsors and mentors to help you in your career. It is also important that as you advance in any institution you also invest in mentoring the next generation.

Continuous learning and development are essential for everyone and that continues to this day.

After I retired from the World Bank, my appointment to the Board of the Center for International Forestry Research, introduced me to the world of forests and their impact on climate change. A new learning opportunity and chance to interact with a group of specialists and to learn from them.

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