From Middle-Class Mysuru Girl To No. 2 At IMF: Gita Gopinath’s Inspiring Journey

Gita

Gita Gopinath is now the first deputy managing director (FDMD) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and will assume the role under present managing director Kristalina Georgieva. We trace her meteoric rise from being a girl from a simple Mysuru family to being a world-class economist.

Indian-American Gita Gopinath has been promoted to the position of first deputy managing director (FDMD) at the International Monetary Fund, from her earlier position of chief economist of the global financial lender. She will assume the role under present managing director Kristalina Georgieva, and will be succeeding current FDMD Geoffrey Okamoto.

Gita, who was the first woman to serve as the IMF’s chief economist, has been praised by Georgieva for the exceptional work she has done amid COVID-19, as well as for her “intellectual leadership in helping the global economy and the Fund to navigate the twists and turns of the worst economic crisis of our lives.”

Given her keen sense of research and ability to tackle complex problems, she has been awarded at several platforms. In 2018, Gita was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Econometric Society and a year later, she was named as one of the Top Gobal Thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine. In 2019, she was felicitated with Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by the President of India, which is an award constituted by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs.

Gita, who is looking forward to the new position, tweeted, “I am honored to become the IMF’s First Deputy Managing Director. With the pandemic, the work of the Fund has never been more important. I look forward to working with my brilliant colleagues to help our membership face these important challenges.”

This is the first time ever that two women will be at the helm of affairs at the institution. Georgieva has also referred to Gita as the “right person at the right time” for the leadership role.

From Mysore to Massachusetts

Gita
Gita Gopinath

Gita was born on 8 December 1971 during the Bangladesh war in Kolkata, and her family moved to Mysore when she was nine years old. She was enrolled at Nirmala Convent, a school she joined in class 4.

Her father T V Gopinath is a businessman, whereas her mother V C Vijayalakshmi ran a play school. Speaking about her daughter’s success, Vijayalakshmi once said, “Gita is just my child, even though the world considers her to be a VIP today. Regardless of her tight calendar, she considers me each night. What more would I be able to request?”

Gita married Iqbal Singh Dhaliwal, who is currently the global executive director, Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab based in Massachusetts.

Gita completed her school education in Mysore and went on to get a BA degree from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University (DU) in 1992.

Gita
Gita’s parents at Mysuru.

She then enrolled at the Delhi School of Economics where she met Iqbal. In 2001, she joined the University of Washington, Seattle, for a five-year PhD programme and it was here that her professor recommended her to Harvard and Princeton, stating she was the best student they had had in 20 years.

She completed her PhD from Princeton University in 2001 and was placed under the guidance of eminent economists like Kenneth Rogoff and former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

In this interview to The Week, Gita’s father said, “The girl who used to score 45 per cent till class 7, started scoring 90 per cent. I never asked my kids to study, and had not put any restrictions on them. Their friends came home, stayed over to study and play. Till SSLC, both my girls used to go to bed by 7.30 pm and wake up early. After school, Gita joined Mahajana PU college in Mysuru, and pursued science. Later, though her marks were good enough for engineering and medicine, she decided to do BA (Hons) in economics.”

In this video interview, Gita shares some interesting tid-bits about her life. When asked about what her ability to consume spice is, she is quick to say it is rather high. She also talks about the changing landscape of India and about how she stumbled upon choosing to study Economics, which was “purely accidental.” Between 1989-1992, India was also experiencing a financial crisis and it was then that Gita’s interest in the subject blossomed, after seeing the IMF step in.

Inner strength, confidence in her own ideas, and the ability to push through are attributes that Gita says have held her in good stead.

(Edited by Divya Sethu)

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