Prof. Dr. Pinelopi „Penny“ Koujianou Goldberg


Chief economist of the World Bank, Professor of Economics at Yale University, USA

DAAD Scholarship 1981–1986

Prof. Dr. Pinelopi „Penny“  Koujianou Goldberg Christina Felschen

When Penny Goldberg was appointed chief economist of the World Bank in Washington, D.C. in 2018, it was not the first time she had had dealings with the institution. 30 years earlier she had applied for an internship there – but was rejected because she did not have a PhD. This setback only spurred her on, however, and her ambition took her from Freiburg in southern Germany to the American universities of Stanford, Princeton, Columbia and Yale, and finally to Washington after all.

We were aware that we would only have real opportunities abroad.
Penny Goldberg

A Greek born in 1963, Goldberg did not take up the position to revolutionise the world – or the World Bank – but she does want to help make the world a fairer place through the bank’s work. For example, she wants to help as many people as possible to free themselves from extreme poverty – focusing particularly on minorities and women. Just like her sisters, Penny Goldberg attended the German School in Athens and learnt German, French and English. In 1981, she won a DAAD scholarship that allowed her to study in Freiburg for five years. “We were aware that Greece is a small country and that we would only have real opportunities abroad”, Goldberg explains.

She ended up in Freiburg quite by chance. “The economics curriculum was very similar at all German universities at the time. So I simply picked the most beautiful city.” When she moved to the USA, she quickly realised how different the cultures of learning are in the US and Europe. “In Freiburg I had been used to addressing my tutors as ‘Herr Professor’. When I matriculated at Stanford this old guy in a bike helmet came in through the door and the administrator said: ‘Penny, may I introduce you to Ken?’” Ken turned out to be the Nobel prize winner Kenneth Arrow. “I couldn’t even get out a complete sentence. And yet he was the most modest and most friendly person one could imagine.”

Today that describes her to a T: modest and friendly. To her co-workers she is “Penny”. Anyone who spots this petite woman in the hallways or lift at the World Bank would hardly imagine that she is one of the most influential people in the building. She is also introducing a different corporate culture: in her World Bank blog, she wrote that her resolutions for 2019 included travelling only once a month and sleeping eight hours a night. What she wishes for the world is the same as what she wishes for herself: growth and a career, yes! But not to the point of total exhaustion.

Christina Felschen

Last updated: 2019-07-19