Internationally known as “Africa’s Iron Lady,” Nobel Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a leading promoter of freedom, peace, justice, women’s empowerment and democratic rule. As Africa’s first democratically elected female head of state, she has led Liberia through reconciliation and recovery following the nation’s decade-long civil war, as well as the Ebola crisis, winning international acclaim for achieving economic, social, and political change.
Recognized as a global leader for women’s empowerment, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize for Peace in 2011. She is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the United States’ highest civilian award – and the Grand Croix of the Légion d’Honneur ¾ France’s highest public distinction — for her personal courage and unwavering commitment to expanding freedom and improving the lives of Africans. President Sirleaf has been named one of Forbes’ “100 Most Powerful Women in the World,” the most powerful woman in Africa (Forbes Africa, 2011), one of six “Women of the Year” (Glamour, 2010), among the 10 best leaders in the world (Newsweek, 2010) and top 10 female leaders (TIME, 2010). In 2010, The Economist called her “the best President the country has ever had.”
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected President of the Republic of Liberia in 2005, two years after the nation’s bloody civil war ended. Her historic inauguration as Africa’s first democratically elected head of state took place on January 16, 2006. She was re-elected in November 2011. During her two terms as President, she focused on rebuilding the country, mobilizing over $16 billion in foreign direct investment. She also attracted more than $5 million in private resources to rebuild schools, clinics, and markets, and fund scholarships for capacity building. She successfully negotiated relief from $4.6 billion in external debt and succeeded in lifting UN trade sanctions, which allowed Liberia to once again access international markets. She increased the national budget from $80 million in 2006 to over $672 million in 2012, with an average annual GDP growth rate of more than seven percent.
In May 2012, she was appointed Co-Chair of the United Nations Secretary General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, tasked with crafting a roadmap for global recovery and sustainable development ¾ the Sustainable Development Goals. In June 2016, President Sirleaf was elected the first female Chairperson of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for a 12-month term.
Prior to her presidency, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf served as Assistant Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and as Director of its Regional Bureau for Africa, with the rank of Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, a post she resigned to contest the 1997 presidential elections. She was the first African woman Vice President of Citibank assigned to the Nairobi, Kenya office.
President Sirleaf has been awarded honorary doctorates by more than 15 institutions, including: Tilburg University (Netherlands), the Nigerian Defence Academy, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Harvard University, Rutgers University, Yale University, Georgetown University, the University of Abeokuta (Nigeria), the University of Minnesota, Furman University of South Carolina, Brown University, Indiana University, Dartmouth College, Concordia University, Langston University, Spelman College, and Marquette University.
Born Ellen Eugenia Johnson, President Sirleaf is the granddaughter of a traditional chief renowned in western Liberia and a market woman from the southeast. She holds a Master of Public Administration (MPA) from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. She also earned a degree in accounting at Madison Business College in Wisconsin and received a diploma from the University of Colorado’s Economics Institute.
President Sirleaf has written widely on financial, development, and human rights issues, and in 2008 she published her critically acclaimed memoir, This Child Will Be Great. She is the proud mother of four sons and grandmother of 12.