Meet Catherine Chinedum Aniagolu-Okoye, Ford Foundation new regional director
Catherine Chinedum Aniagolu-Okoye, known as ChiChi, is the regional director of Ford Foundation, West Africa. She oversees all of the foundation’s grantmaking in the region and leads the team to promote human rights, democracy, and social inclusion in West Africa.
She has over 20 years of experience leading a variety of country offices in Nigeria for a range of international development organizations. In this capacity, she has devised strategies, led offices, managed diverse staff sets, and engaged within regional and global organizational settings.
Her work has covered various topics, from improving governance and reducing poverty to advancing transparency in the extractives sector and furthering women and girls’ empowerment through engagement with civil society and the public and private sectors. With over 20 years in the social change sector, Aniagolu-Okoye is a respected leader on the African continent and brings many years of extensive experience leading diverse international development organizations, managing country programs, donor projects, and country strategies in West Africa and across Africa.
As regional director, she will oversee the foundation’s local team, external relations, and administrative operations in West Africa. She will also lead on program strategy development and implementation in the region, focusing on advancing democracy, human rights, and social inclusion for all, especially youth, women, and people with disabilities.
“I am delighted to welcome ChiChi to the foundation. Her international experience and leadership, and her expertise in navigating civil society circles will be invaluable as our work in West Africa grows,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “ChiChi’s reputation as a strong operational leader and an African feminist will bring a critical perspective to our work to help address some of the region’s most pressing opportunities and challenges.”
Throughout her career, Aniagolu-Okoye has designed and implemented strategies at regional and global organizations on critical social issues such as improving governance, reducing poverty, advancing transparency in the extractives sector, and furthering women and girls’ empowerment—all through engaging civil society as well as the public and private sectors. Chichi succeeds the late Innocent Chukwuma, who served as regional director from 2013 to 2021 and helped the foundation build its brand in the region and establish solid partnerships with donors, civil society, and public and private sector leaders.
Catherine Chinedum Aniagolu-Okoye was born in Abia State in 1968. She received primary schooling from Umuahia, Enugu, and Lagos and, upon completion, went to Federal Government College Ilorin.
For her Bachelor’s Degree, she went to the University of Nigeria Nsukka (1983-1987) and then to the University College Cork, Ireland, where she undertook the M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in the subject in 1993 and 1998, respectively.
She has over 20 years of experience building Civil Society capacity, training, project design, and management and monitoring and evaluation, which has enabled her to develop exceptional organisational, planning, and reporting capabilities.
She has gained significant experience in senior management working on donor-funded projects and programmes oriented towards grant-funding support to Civil Society Organisations and Non-State Actors. She worked as the Deputy Programme Director on a €57 million, EU-funded “Support to Reforming Institutions Programme” (SRIP) (2006 to 2011). In this role, she was responsible for co-managing activities designed to initiate reform and strengthen public finance institutions and Civil Society in 6 Focal States in Nigeria.
Her work as Director Oxfam in Nigeria (2012 to date) and for CIDAs Programme Support Unit in Nigeria (2011 to 2012), where she was responsible for research and analysis of the Non-State Actor sector and overseeing grant funding to NSAs of €2.3million and US$2million respectively.
Aniagolu-Okoye is also a former Ashoka Innovator for the Public’s Representative for West Africa (2000 to 2006). This role managed a US$3million portfolio dedicated to identifying, training, and nurturing Civil Society Organisations considered social entrepreneurs. Before returning to Nigeria, she was a lecturer at the University of Limerick in Ireland, teaching Sociology of Development to undergraduate and post-graduate students of the Department of Government and Society. She was also a lecturer in the Sociology Department of the University College Cork and a Researcher at the Centre for European Social Research, Cork, Ireland.
She has produced several education materials which are presently used in training in Nigeria. ChiChi also sits on the board of several citizen sector organisations and has received awards for her work with civil society. ChiChi holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University College Cork in Ireland. She is happily married and blessed with children.
Before Ford Foundation, ChiChi was country director of Technoserve, an international NGO that provides business solutions to poverty with women at the heart of the work.
Before this role, she was country director for WaterAid in Nigeria. She provided grants to CSOs to advocate for improved access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services. She strengthened civil society networks, including one focused on journalists dedicated to telling WASH stories. Prior she led Girl The effect, an initiative of the Nike Foundation, focused on girls’ empowerment and served as country director for Oxfam/Nigeria. In her capacity as Oxfam country director, she led strategies to reduce inequalities through tax and gender justice initiatives, including the VOICE program that addressed gender violence and focused on transparency in the extractives sector. She is the founder of the South Saharan Social Development Organization, a board member of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, and an Africa Policy Advisory board member of The One Campaign.
She recently sat on a panel with his excellency Vice president Yemi Osinbanjo at The Nigerian Economic Summit. She interviewed him on climate change, women’s rights, and the laws that protect the most vulnerable.