March 1 (UPI) -- On her first day as the new leader of the World Trade Organization on Monday, Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala called on its members to join her in turning around the organization many see as at a crossroads of relevancy.
The first woman and the first African to hold the position of director-general, the Harvard-educated former No. 2 at the World Bank told WTO's general council it will take a unified effort to make the WTO work for all countries and overcome the rash of protectionism by some countries.
"I am conscious that expectations are high and shall do my utmost to move us forward," Okonjo-Iweala said in opening comments Monday. "However, this is a membership-driven organization so I cannot do it without you. I cannot do it without the cooperation of staff and management.
She said each partner has to play its part if the WTO will get results. Okonjo-Iweala said high expectations for her leadership will be shared with high expectations for members to think a different way in how the organization can move forward.
"We have to change our approach from debate and rounds of questions to delivering results," Okonjo-Iweala said. "Many of you put in long hours and a great deal of effort to do good work much of which goes unnoticed. There are excellent people in the capitals doing good work.
"The world is no longer cognizant of this, does not recognize the effort because we are not delivering results at the pace required by our fast-changing environment," she said.
Her priorities include addressing the public health and economic crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, urging a focus on poor countries that have yet to begin vaccination.
Okonjo-Iweala has built a reputation of a determined, no-nonsense hard worker, who twice led Nigeria's finance ministry. She overcame embedded corruption and even the kidnapping of her own mother to install reforms.
That included negotiating $18 billion in debt forgiveness in 2005 for the country and winning Nigeria's first sovereign debt rating.