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Cameroon’s Vera Songwe: An impressive story of a remarkable trajectory to the top

Vera Songwe

Vera Songwe has been the Regional Director Africa covering West and Central Africa for the International Finance Corporation since 2015.

Previously, she served as Country Director for Senegal, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, and Mauritania at the World Bank. Her main areas of interest are fiscal policy, innovative financing mechanisms for development, agriculture, energy and economic governance. She is a member of the African Leadership Network.

Prior to becoming Director, she was a Lead Economist at the World Bank and the Advisor to the Managing Director who oversaw the World Bank Operations in the Africa, Europe and Central Asia and South Asia regions, as well as Human Resources, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

She is a member of the World Bank Group team that recently raised a historic US$49.3 billion dollars in concessional financing for the low income countries of the World as part of the International Development Association (IDA) 16th replenishment. Prior to this, she worked in the East Asia and Pacific Region’s – Poverty Reduction and Economic Management unit, as Country Sector Coordinator and Senior Economist for the Philippines, where she led the dialogue on macroeconomic, fiscal policy and governance issues.

She has worked in Mongolia, Cambodia and Morocco managing different World Bank programs and the economic and growth policy dialogue.

Prior to joining the Bank, Songwe was a Visiting Scholar at the University of Southern California and at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, USA. She has published several articles on governance, fiscal policy, agriculture and commodity price volatility and trade.

Songwe holds a PhD. in Mathematical Economics from the Center for Operations Research & Econometrics from the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium. She holds a BA in Economics and a BA in Political Science from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Songwe grew up in Bamenda, in the northwest of Cameroon, where she attended Our Ladies of Lourdes College, a private Catholic school, and thus formed part of the local English-speaking elite.

After obtaining her B.A. in economics and a B.A. in political science from the University of Michigan, she obtained her PhD in mathematical economics at the Université catholique de Louvain, in Belgium. She later migrated to the United States, where she worked at the University of Michigan for three years.

She accepted a position working for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and simultaneously had a visiting professor’s appointment at the University of Southern California.

In 1998 she joined the World Bank, where she worked in the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management (PREM) unit, covering Morocco and Tunisia. Over the subsequent years, she filled several roles in the PREM unit for East Asia and the Pacific region.


From 2011 to 2015 she was operations manager for the World Bank in Cape Verde, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Mauritania. In July 2015, she was appointed Regional Director of the International Finance Corporation for West and Central Africa.

In 2011, Songwe was involved in Africa 2.0, an initiative to bring young Africans together to aid in the continent’s economic development. She is a scholar at the Brookings Institution,  at its Africa Growth Initiative.

Forbes listed her in 2013 as one of the “20 Young Power Women in Africa”, and the following year the Institut Choiseul for International Politics and Geoeconomics chose her as one of their “African leaders of tomorrow”. In 2014, African Business Review described her as one of the “Top 10 Female Business Leaders in Africa.

In 2015 she collaborated with the newly founded Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme, which pledged $100 million for African start-up companies.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently appointed Vera Songwe as the next Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).She succeeds Carlos Lopes of Guinea-Bissau.

Songwe brings to the position a long-standing track record of policy advice and results-oriented implementation in the region, coupled with a demonstrated strong and clear strategic vision for the continent.

In an interview granted to The Legacy Project, Vera says, “Success means achieving everything you strive for and then more. Yes my definition has changed, from considering success as my personal achievements to my actions that have a positive influence on others.”

She is driven by the pursuit of excellence, a collective excellence. According to her, “Today this means moving the dial in Africa. Working in Africa for Africa and being part of this moment of hope and change. The desire to want to be part of those who contribute in earnest to making Africa a better place. A place we can be and should be proud of.” Says Songwe

As her standing principle, she says “You must do onto others what you expect them to do to you. This is a very simple rule but it is one of the most difficult I find. One does not always succeed but the important thing is to keep trying to live up to it and at the end of every day to ask if you met the goal and how you can do better the next day. This process of self-assessment reminds us we are not perfect but also helps you to keep on trying to improve. It is a positive and constructive affirmation of who I am and want to be.” Vera states.

And on how she occupies her mind she says “I am always and constantly asking myself why I do what I do? What are the results I am looking to achieve? The discipline of having a clear result is sobering but also helps you to focus. For every action I take I have an expected result I hope to achieve. Having daily, monthly, yearly targets and working against these targets has been a very good disciplining tool for me.  But it only becomes binding if you are honest with yourself.”

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