She is African and holds one of the most powerful jobs in the world. Known as Nigeria’s ‘Iron Lady’, she was appointed the World Bank’s Vice President and Treasurer in September last year. Prior to that, Oteh served as Director General of Nigeria’s Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), where her tough decision-making skills helped transform the country’s capital markets.
In November, she was honored with the Impact in Leadership award by FORBES WOMAN AFRICA.
Oteh, who was also a nominee for the FORBES AFRICA Person of the Year 2015, tells us successful women should pave the way for others.
How has it been working at the World Bank, in Washington DC?
It’s been amazing, If I had to live anywhere away from home, it would definitely be in Washington DC.
First and foremost, it is such a great time to be returning to development, because between the time I left [the United States], back in 2005, and now, I’ve seen significant progress in the world.
I also think we need lots of resources to address development challenges. In July 2015, global leaders got together and said, we need to move from talking about millions to trillions and the fact that people recognized that is important, this is what we need to do something about.
The second thing is, the World Bank is truly the leader on all these issues. The world is looking at it because it’s an institution that is AAA-rated; it has a footprint across the world.
They’re also looking at the World Bank, not just to use its own resources, but to be able to carry the people along, to capitalize the private sector to be involved in development. Innovation and creativity are very important.
Considering the recent commodity slump in a few African countries, how can African economies see sustained economic growth without an over-reliance on natural supplies?
We are in transition in Africa, our leaders recognize our economy must be diversified and understand our most important aspect is our people and not what we dig out of the ground. Our leaders are focusing on how we can make sure we diversify our economy, how do we make sure we focus on manufacturing and other things that will enable us and protect our country from depending on one sole commodity.
In a sense, even though it’s been a difficult period for a lot of oil-exporting countries, we are in a period where leaders have been very focused on ensuring that in the future we can be more dependent on other things and not just oil and other natural resources. It’s a real opportunity, that’s how I see it.
We have the youngest population in the world; at least 62% of Africans are below the age of 40. Investing in young people is very important because it’s what ensures that entrepreneurs who are making a difference are able to continue to do so.
Your take on the recent revelation that it will take over 100 years to close the global economic gender gap?
I don’t know why it would take 100 years, I pray it doesn’t. I think there’s been such significant progress made by women in leadership positions demonstrated by capacities; we’ve global leaders, such as the World Bank VP, who’s very keen to give women an opportunity; women like Indra Nooyi, who has managed to distinguish herself, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, who has been an amazing candidate.
The point is when we are given tasks as women, we do a good job, and the impact made by women in society is much more than an impact of investing in her. We’ve also had supportive men at different levels and so I’m certain it shouldn’t take 100 years.
How do feel about receiving the Impact in Leadership award?
It’s very special. There are a lot of women who have distinguished themselves across Africa and it’s really an honor to be named a woman who has had significant impact in Africa.
Your advice to young women who want to be where you are today?
First, seek to be the best and only that the best is good. Secondly, always remember that integrity is key, never compromise on your standards, and never compromise on your values. Thirdly, invest in yourself, crave knowledge, read, read and read.
Plans for the future?
I’ve just started my dream job and I want to focus on being the best treasurer the World Bank has ever had.
I want to make sure I do my bit in ensuring the World Bank achieves its goals. I’m looking forward to an even greater year in 2016.