From India’s girl next door to IMF chief economist: The journey of Gita Gopinath

Days before the US Independence Day, on 2 July 2021, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Chief Economist Gita Gopinath was among the 34 immigrants honoured by a prestigious American foundation Carnegie Corporation – as a person "who has enriched and strengthened" the US society and democracy through her contributions and actions.

In 2018, when it was announced that Ms Gopinath would be the next chief economist at the Fund, it created ripples of joy across India – the world’s second most populous country. And this joy grew manifold when it came to the province where she spent her childhood – the south Indian state of Karnataka. Yes, it had to be. Afterall, the person with whom you shared lot of commonalities, had become the first woman to be the Chief Economist at the IMF, and only the second Indian after celebrated former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan.

And the burden of fame is heavier in a country like India – it doesn’t take minutes for people to deify you once you get famous. With this glorification comes the burden of living up to the expectations of 1.3 billion people – some of whom might have radically different opinions than you.

When it comes to Ms Gopinath, she seems to have balanced it all. She has managed to steer away from unnecessary controversies, she has kept herself focused, and is still being adored by Indians as much as she was two years back.

Ms Gopinath was born in 1971 in Kannur, Kerala, India. The younger among the two sisters, she, however, grew up in Karnataka – in Mysuru district. Probably, when she started her schooling at Nirmala Convent in Gokulam, Mysuru, none of her classmates would have guessed that Ms Gopinath would make it so big in life. That godification of her, hasn’t brought an iota of arrogance into her. She is still in touch with her school friends and is “incredibly close” to them. Social media seems to have helped her remain in touch with them and speak to them often.

After her schooling at Nirmala Convent, Ms Gopinath did her pre-university from Mahajana Pre-University College, Mysuru. Then she moved to Indian capital city of New Delhi and attained her bachelor of arts from one of the most celebrated colleges in India – Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University. This was followed by a masters degree in economics from Delhi School of Economics.

She received yet another Master’s degree from the University of Washington in 1996. She followed it up with a P.Hd in 2001 on dissertation titled "Three essays on international capital flows: a search theoretic approach." She was also awarded the Princeton's Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Research Award during her doctoral study at Princeton.

Two decades after her completion of doctorate, Ms Gopinath is now probably one of the most important economists in the world.

In 2001, Gopinath joined the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business as an assistant professor. Interestingly, Gita’s predecessor at IMF, Mr Rajan has been a professor at Booth School of Business for almost three decades now.

After nine years at Booth School, she moved to Harvard and was appointed as a tenured professor. Gita Gopinath is currently the John Zwaanstra Professor of International Studies and of Economics at Harvard University. And this is not the end of the positions she has been holding.

She is co-director of the International Finance and Macroeconomics program at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, a member of the economic advisory panel of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Economic Adviser to the Chief Minister of Kerala state (India), among many other responsibilities.

Despite her busy schedule, Ms Gopinath manages to take a vacation to India almost every year and stay with her parents in Mysuru. Back home in Mysuru, she is like any other girl-next-door who likes to hang out with her elder sister. Her father TV Gopinath, who lives in Mysuru, has been helping farmers in the region, with the aim of uplifting them.

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