A globally recognized thought leader and serial entrepreneur, Dr. Eleni Gabre-Madhin has recently joined the United Nations Development Program as the Chief Innovation Officer in the Regional Bureau for Africa. She is the architect and head of timbuktoo, a bold new initiative to mobilize US$ 1 billion private-public capital for investing into youth tech and tech-enabled startups across Africa. Prior to this, she served as chief happiness officer of blueMoon, Ethiopia’s top private incubator, and founded blueSpace, a highly successful co-working space company. Previously, Eleni conceived, designed, and ran the acclaimed Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX) between 2006 and 2012, achieving $1.2 billion annual trading in three years, impacting the livelihoods of over 15 million small farmers.
With a career spanning both private and public sector, Eleni has served as senior economist at the World Bank, the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, and UNCTAD in Geneva. Eleni holds a PhD in Applied Economics from Stanford University, an MSc in Agricultural Economics from Michigan State University, and BA in Economics from Cornell University. Her doctoral research was awarded Outstanding Dissertation by the American Agricultural Economics Association in 1999 for her seminal work on Ethiopian grain markets.
Eleni was awarded the prestigious Kiel Institute Global Economy Prize, category Business, in June 2023 (alongside Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala), recognized as Top 50 Disruptors of 2020 by The Africa Report, Ethiopian Professional of the Year Award, 2019, Abyssinia Award recipient 2018, Devex’ Top 5 Women Global Women of Impact on Development in April 2016 (alongside Kristalina Georgieva and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala), and Africa’s Top Woman Pioneer, Innovator & Entrepreneur of 2015 by the Wharton Business School Africa Club. She was named among the 125 Global Women of Impact by Newsweek in April 2013, among 100 Most Influential Africans by New African in 2012, and received the prestigious Yara Prize for Agricultural Transformation in Africa and the African Banker Icon Award in 2012. She was named among 50 Women Shaping Africa by The Africa Report in 2011, nominated Outstanding African Businesswoman in 2010, and selected as Ethiopian Person of the Year in 2009.
Extensively featured in global media, her life story was captured in the PBS hour-long television documentary The Market Maker in 2009, and she has been quoted extensively, including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Financial Times, The Guardian (UK), The Economist, Der Spiegel, Japan Times, Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg, Reuters, CNN, BBC, RAI Italia, France Arte, African Business, The African Report, among others.
Eleni is a sought-after public speaker and currently serves as Chancellor of the African Brand Leadership Academy (South Africa), as a member of UNDP’s high-level African Influencers for Development, and as Board member of CNFA in Washington DC. She has previously served as board director of the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences, the ONE Africa Policy Advisory Board, and as Non-Executive Board Director of Syngenta Corporation from 2013 to 2017.