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'To think this is my day job is amazing' - World Bank GC Sandie Okoro on 'hard-hat' lawyering
The World Bank's new legal chief on lava dams, mind expansion and making the world a better place
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“There are probably lots of people who could do this job that are perhaps better qualified or more experienced than me, but I am not quite sure there was anyone that wanted it quite as much,” says World Bank’s group general counsel Dr Sandie Okoro.
Okoro, who joined the World Bank in February, has held a variety of senior roles in the past, including stints as GC at HSBC Global Asset Management and Barings, but it is fair to say none have piqued her interest in the same way as her current position.
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���There are probably lots of people that could do this job who are perhaps better qualified or more experienced than me but I am not quite sure there was anyone that wanted it quite as much,��� says World Bank���s new group general counsel Dr Sandie Okoro. Okoro even before joining The World Bank in February 2017 had led a varied and high powered career. In 2014, she became global general counsel of HSBC Global Asset Management after leaving investment firm Barings where she was also global general counsel. Prior to this spent 16 years at investment firm Schroders becoming head of legal. However, her impact on the legal industry is not just contextualised by the positions she has held. Also in 2014, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by City University for outstanding achievements in the legal profession citing her passion for tackling issues with diversity and inclusion within the City. At the time, she was the only female lawyer from an ethnic minority in a role like hers at HSBC in the City and helped to set up programmes and mentoring opportunities for ethnic minority law students and aspiring lawyers. This desire to help others has been a driving factor for joining. ���This is going to sound trite but it is true,��� says Okoro. ���Part of the reason for me joining the World Bank was to do something that makes the world a better place. I kind of did some of that in my spare time before joining the bank. But the fact that I can now do something that I love as my day job and get paid for it is extraordinary.��� The World Bank���s aim is to help find ���sustainable solutions that reduce poverty and build shared prosperity in developing countries���. It is made up of five different institutions. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Agency (IDA) are the two arms of the bank which provide financing, policy advice and technical assistance directly to the governments of developing countries. Its other three institutions similarly provide financial assistance policy advice and technical assistance but to private enterprises in the same developing countries. Okoro relocated to Washington D.C. at the beginning of the year to be close to World Bank���s headquarters. However, she meets me at World Bank���s London office as she is returning from a two-week mission to South East Asia to see first-hand how the World Bank impacts the countries it loans to. On the latest trip she visited Jakarta, Bangkok and Hanoi, all of which are World Bank success stories, where the banks development projects have helped to change the countries. Although she concedes her favourite types of projects tend to be those with people at the centre of them, the bank is involved in a raft of infrastructure projects too. ���I had never heard of a lava dam before working here. There is a large volcano on Java that erupted a few years ago which destroyed much of the housing in its path. With World Bank funds they have built a dam so that the next time it erupts it will move the lava flow through this dam. Isn���t that clever,��� exclaims Okoro. The trips also give her a chance to meet the World Bank lawyers who are as Okoro describes doing the ���real hard-hat lawyering,��� and are on the ground facilitating the projects and doing the negotiations. The bank has numerous legal teams around the world, which it describes as its ���decentralised lawyers��� including in locations such as Latin America, South Asia, Delhi, Kazakhstan and one lawyer who is based in Dubai but who twice a month goes to Afghanistan. Regardless of Afghanistan���s recent history of conflict Okoro is adamant she needs to go: ���I want to visit all my decentralised lawyers in my first 18 months at the bank and Afghanistan is an important place for me to go because we have a lot of projects there.��� While on these trips Okoro also spends time meeting government officials, for example while in Vietnam she met the attorney general and minister of finance for the country. One of the transitional challenges that Okoro has encountered in her leap from the private sector to the public sector is the careful protocol that must be followed when meeting with such high profile officials. ���When you are talking to the attorney general, they are representing their country and the country���s needs, wants and development goals. Whereas when you are talking to a general counsel, they are in a microcosm, they are only dealing with their institution. The attorney general literally is dealing with everything. ���So it���s a very different type of interaction and mind-set, which is really fascinating because you make the shift from dealing with things at a micro-level to a macro-level and I am still getting used to that.��� But it is not just these differences that illustrate how big of a gulf there is between Okoro���s new and old roles. The World Bank was set up in 1944 using a set of articles and Okoro explains that when there is a question over the interpretation of the articles it falls to the general counsel. Okoro says: ���The job means I do everything from in-house lawyering right up to Supreme Court equivalent type work. My secret academic is coming out, which is no bad thing.��� Similarly, Okoro highlights that the bank does not adhere to a set body of law from any particular country. The bank as a multilateral institution has its own privileges and immunities coupled with its own rules, regulations and articles. ���How those intertwine is one of the biggest differences I���ve faced since joining. The lawyering in many ways is very sophisticated. I have made the leap from regulation in a heavily regulated environment to another type of heavily regulated environment but in a very different way. One that is self-regulated and combines things like international law and treaty law. So it has been a big mind expansion.��� Despite the clear differences in the new role, her previous experience has helped her make the transition. Part of that rests in her training in common law rather than civil law. Okoro believes it allows her to apply principles based law perhaps more easily than if she had come from a civil background. In a similar manner the stepping stones in her career have also aided her in making the leap. Unlike her previous role at Barrings which was more contained, HSBC like any global organisation has lots of policies and procedures which as a general counsel she needed to navigate though which she finds similar at The World Bank. In respect to this Okoro jokes: ���We have this world presence, so if you sneeze the whole world catches a cold. Therefore you make sure that you don���t sneeze too many times!��� There are approximately 170 people in the legal team across the world which includes paralegals and support staff with the bulk of them based in the bank���s Washington D.C. headquarters. The team is not organised by practice area but rather by country. (NEED TO DOUBLE CHECK THIS). There are operational lawyers in both Washington D.C. and on the ground in various countries supporting the development work. However, there are also lawyers dealing with policy, procedure and contentious matters who are all based in D.C. Due to the fact the bank is a public sector organisation it is hard for Okoro to go into much detail about any upcoming plans for how she wants to mould the legal team but she does allude to the fact that they are looking to modernise the legal team structure. ���Quite rightly, the bank has set themselves a challenging agenda and we as legal need to keep up with that. One of the things that we as a legal team need to is modernise somewhat, in order to be side by side with the bank and deliver its development goals.��� Okoro���s next 18 months are set to be busy, packed with missions to the bank���s development projects, meeting her new team of global lawyers and modernising her legal team. However, the job is clearly one she relishes. ���I got a sense of worth in other roles but it is a different one now. I think at my stage in my career when you want to give something back, it is such a fabulous job and fabulous opportunity to get involved in something so important. To think this is my day job is amazing!���< Knitter: Too few entities/relations are generated compared to number of concepts (only 99% (114/115) concepts are converted).
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