Uganda's 1st female aeronautical engineer to lead Oxfam International

Winnie Byanyima, incoming Oxfam International executive director. Photo by: Oxfam International

A women’s rights advocate who sets “tough targets” for herself will be leading Oxfam International in April.

Winnie Byanyima, Uganda’s first female aeronautical engineer, will replace Jeremy Hobbs as Oxfam International executive director. Hobbs announced his decision to step down from his position last year. He has been serving as Oxfam International chief since 2001.

Byanyima currently serves as director of the U.N. Development Program’s gender team. She took the role in 2006, after heading the African Union’s Directorate of Women, Gender and Development for two years.

From 1994 to 2004, Byanyima tried her hands in Ugandan politics, where she met her husband, former opposition leader Kizza Besigye. She was a member of the Constituent Assembly that drafted Uganda’s 1995 Constitution. She also served twice as member of Uganda’s parliament.

Byanyima is often linked to embattled Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, whom she has known all her life, she told Hellen Miseda of Standard Digital in an interview in September. She joined Museveni’s National Resistance Army in the 1980s.

Byanyima does “not look far” when setting her goals. In the September interview, she said: “I just set myself tough targets and I strive to achieve them. I always try to do the best now. I do not worry about the future. I always know what I am doing will lead to another door.”

How her philosophy will shape Oxfam International remains to be seen. The organization is set to transition to a single management system this year.

Oxfam International Chair Keith Johnston said that Byanyima exemplifies “Oxfam’s values and ambitions.”

“She brings clear vision fired by her commitment to social justice, the toughness of an able negotiator and campaigner, and leadership based on her capacity to inspire and convene, in many circles, cultures and levels,” he said.

Byanyima, on her part, said in a news release that she’s “very proud to be invited to lead such an important organization.”

“Oxfam understands,” she argued, that “it must be strategic and adaptable in its mission to overcome poverty and reinforce peoples’ rights” in a world where there’s “impatience for change.” 

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.