Georgina Ryan – paving the path in economic policy and inclusivity

As part of the SA-TIED ‘Breaking Barriers, Building Economies: Women in Economic Policy' initiative, Georgina Ryan emerges as a visionary force driving economic transformation. With a research-driven foundation and a master's in development studies, Georgina's journey has been guided by a commitment to the green economy.

Her path, from academia to pivotal roles in institutions such as Investec, UNDP, and South Africa’s National Treasury, demonstrates the power of collaboration and contextual insight. As we celebrate achievements and contributions of women during South Africa’s Women’s Month, Georgina underscores the significance of organizational culture and collaboration for gender inclusive work environments.

Could you share with us the story of your journey in economic policymaking and how it led you to your current role, including your involvement with the SA-TIED programme?

Ryan: My journey in economic policymaking when I received my master’s in development studies. Research is the backbone of policymaking and I have often felt more comfortable calling myself a researcher than an economist. More than the process for supporting decision-making in the economy, policymaking is about understanding context and thinking through what is appropriate, relevant, and feasible.

I thought I was going to go into the world of management consulting when I completed my master’s, and despite making it to the final rounds of the McKinsey process, I didn’t get the job. That difficult moment early on in my career set the trajectory for some of my most formative work at NGOs and think tanks. The work that has followed has been interesting.

Over the last decade, I’ve been able to focus on policymaking for a more sustainable future. It’s not idealistic and certainly not easy. As a woman in this field, I am acutely aware that the burden of climate change falls more harshly on women who live a very different life to me. The middle- to upper-income classes have driven climate change and policymakers like me have been too slow to demand meaningful action.

Throughout your career, have there been any defining moments or experiences that have influenced your commitment to advocating for gender diversity and inclusivity in economic decision-making?

Ryan: I think it matters who you work for. As mentioned earlier, I was disappointed when I didn’t get the consulting job. In hindsight, the institutions I have worked for have been critical in shaping not only my thinking on matters but my ability, role, and responsibilities in making meaningful impact.

In all these institutions there are incredible leaders that offered me their time and guidance. Organizational cultures that value initiative, teamwork, and collaboration make for healthy learning environments where people, irrespective of their gender, can flourish. I’ve never done my job alone and I never will.

As a contributor to the SA-TIED programme, how has this platform supported your empowerment and facilitated your contributions to evidence-based economic policymaking?

Ryan: The programme has enabled my partnership with a great academic lead, who brings so much experience and wisdom from the academic space. The collaborative approach and bigger, bolder thinking have enabled us to take on the difficult research questions in sustainability. The collaborative approach itself promotes gender diversity and I see it across our projects. 

As someone who has achieved notable success and impact in economic policy, what message would you like to convey to young women considering a career in your field?

Ryan: Writing and publishing your work has value in the policymaking space and it is important to seek out the forums—like publications and conferences—where policy issues are discussed. Evidence, both research and data, is important for policymaking. In addition to the academic grounding that economics courses provide, it is important to understand how companies and markets and agents in these markets work—how regulation and competition works. Value chains, the global economy, and a curiosity about how the world works is vital for effective policymaking. This mindset helps you see things from different angles—to understand what the unions might say, what the tax implications could be, or what the environmental outcomes of an industrial policy could lead to.


Georgina Ryan is the Director of Environmental Economics, Economic Policy at the National Treasury of South Africa.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute or the United Nations University, nor the programme/project donors.