Dr. Mieko Nishimizu is an economist by training, a banker by profession, and a “leadership mentor” by passion.
Mieko received her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins in 1975 under thesis advisors Carl Christ and Charles Hulten. Her professional career began as an academic at Princeton but was facilitated by a sabbatical year she spent at the World Bank. “I had neither studied development economics, nor knew anything about the World Bank,” says Mieko, “but a good salary for a year of research was just too good to refuse.” She left Princeton in 1980.
Dr. Hollis Chenery, a renowned economist who was then the World Bank chief economist and vice president for policy and research, attached one condition to his offer. Mieko was required to visit at least one developing country, to see for herself what poverty was all about. In a visit to Cairo, she witnessed a young girl dying of simple diarrhoea and dehydration, an entirely preventable death that could have been treated with a homemade solution of sugar, salts and water. Mieko understood instantly what killed her. “Bad governance. Leadership who doesn’t give a damn about the common people” says Mieko. She bid farewell to the academic life and joined the World Bank and its fight against poverty.
Fighting bad governance and nurturing good leaders became the hallmark of Mieko’s World Bank career. “I benefited from the wisdom of outstanding leaders, from all walks of life: village elders, farmers, women of city slums, prostitutes turned social workers, NGO activists, business leaders of social conscience, journalists, students, professors, and even a few generals, parliamentarians, ministers, and presidents… They were my teachers.” She discovered the importance of leadership and a passion to enlist others to join their cause.
Mieko aimed to transform the bank’s bureaucratic culture to one that serves the poor and focused her work on nurturing leaders among her staff, taking them wherever she was assigned and to live the life of the poor people for a week or two at a time. “Who are the World Bank’s customers? The poor people. Certainly not those who walk the corridors of power.” She formed a program known as the Village Immersion Program, a witty pun on VIP.
She continued her change leadership work as the vice president responsible for South Asia and won acclaim among notable Business School professors and other management experts. Dr. Peter Senge of MIT’s Sloan School of Business, and the founder of Society for Organizational Learning, refers to her case in his best-selling classic, The Fifth Discipline – The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization, which the Financial Times called “one of the five greatest business books of all times.” Mr. Ron Ashkanas, a leading management consultant to CEOs on organizational transformation in Europe and America, details her case in The Boundaryless Organization – Breaking the Chains of Organizational Structure, which won the Executive Leadership Award.
Mieko left the Bank in 2003, leaving a major mark, including the Village Immersion Program, and her career at the bank was documented by their Oral History Program. Since 2003, she has continued her passion of nurturing good leaders, in her various capacities, advising leaders in politics and business globally, and through her popular columns and numerous lecture series in Japan. She continues to reside in Washington with her husband, Mr. Wickham, but spends a good deal of time doing her writing work at her second home in British Virgin Islands. She commutes to Japan and to the Kingdom of Bhutan that “refuses to let me go,” and telecommutes to the world, thanks to the internet age.