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Gita Gopinath, a US national of Indian origin, has been appointed the first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in a surprise turn of events that would have otherwise seen her leave the multilateral lending agency next month to return to academia.

Gopinath’s appointment, announced late Thursday, will see the Kerala-born outgoing chief economist occupy the highest position at IMF after the managing director.

After a three-year stint, Gopinath was slated to leave the IMF to return to Harvard University. Prior to her appointment at the Fund, she was the John Zwaanstra Professor of International Studies and Economics in the economics department of Harvard.“I am honoured 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," Gopinath said in a Twitter post.

She will start in her new position on 21 January after the departure of the current first deputy managing director (FDMD), Geoffrey Okamoto, early next year. “Both Geoffrey and Gita are tremendous colleagues—I am sad to see Geoffrey go, but, at the same time, I am delighted that Gita has decided to stay and accept the new responsibility of being our FDMD. Especially given that the pandemic has led to an increase in the scale and scope of the macroeconomic challenges facing our member countries, I believe Gita—universally recognized as one of the world’s leading macroeconomists—has precisely the expertise that we need for the FDMD role at this point. Indeed, her particular skill set—combined with her years of experience at the Fund as Chief Economist—make her uniquely well qualified. She is the right person at the right time," IMF’s managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, said in a statement.

Georgieva noted that Gopinath’s contribution to IMF’s work has already been exceptional, especially 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." She also said Gopinath, the first female chief economist in IMF history, has garnered respect and admiration across IMF’s member countries and the institution, with a proven track record in leading analytically rigorous work on a broad range of issues.

Under Gopinath’s leadership, IMF’s research department made contributions, including in multilateral surveillance through the World Economic Outlook, developing a new analytical approach to help nations respond to international capital flows and her recent work on a plan to end the covid crisis by setting targets to vaccinate the world at a feasible cost, Georgieva said.

Gopinath was a visiting scholar at both the IMF and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, member of the economic advisory panel of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, economic adviser to the chief minister of Kerala, and member of the Eminent Persons Advisory Group on G-20 Matters for India’s finance ministry.

She received her PhD in economics from Princeton University in 2001 after earning a BA from the University of Delhi and MA from the Delhi School of Economics and the University of Washington. She joined the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business in 2001 as an assistant professor before moving to Harvard in 2005. She became a tenured professor there in 2010.

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