Lagarde: ‘Guardedly Optimistic’ on Global Economy, Self-Confident in Leadership

Photograph by Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

Christine Lagarde. left, Catherine Levy, and Francois Delattre.

Updated with fundraising total, Feb. 6 at 1:40 pm EST

Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund’s managing director, was held accountable last night — by a room full of teenagers.

“How did you do it?” asked Sarah Curtis, an eleventh-grader at Lycee Rochambeau, curious about Lagarde’s ascent to the top as one of the world’s most powerful women.

“I’ve had enough confidence in myself to both take risks  and re-engineer myself,” she said at the National Building Museum,where she helped raise $115,000 for Lycee Rochambeau, a French-language immersion school in Bethesda. Md., for scholarships.

The students sat at tables with leaders, including Rep. Tom Petri, a Wisconsin Republican and former chairman of the Congressional French Caucus, and Francois Delattre, France’s ambassador to the U.S., whose sons attend the school.

Lagarde said her success would not have been possible  without her education, which included a stint at the Holton Arms School in Bethesda, and her family. “That’s the beauty of education — it teaches you to constantly learn,” she said, adding:  “I speak with a bit of knowledge about education because I am the daughter of two professors.”

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world,” she said, quoting Nelson Mandela.

Delattre cited Lagarde as the “best example of the combination of French and American education.”

“At each and every turn, I didn’t necessarily have all it took, but I was prepared to learn,” Lagarde said of the various posts she’s held, including that as a lawyer at Baker McKenzie, a corporate sponsor of the event, and as France’s finance minister. “I’ve always worked with people. I know that I have some leadership skills, and I encourage you to learn those skills because they will serve you right.”

Before the three-course meal, Lagarde, wearing her trademark shawl, greeted guests during a cocktail hour. She said she had walked into the museum with “some trepidation.”

“The last time I walked into that room was in October 2008 as France’s finance minister and a nasty financial crisis had landed on these shores,” she explained. “It was a big gathering of the entire financial community of the world, and the sentiment on that day could not be further from the sentiment tonight.”

Before taking questions, she gave the audience an update on the world’s economy. “It makes us guardedly optimistic,” she said, referring to the 3.7 percent growth the IMF is forecasting for 2014. “For the first time in January we revised our forecast upward, so this is a good sign.”

The U.S., European and Japanese economies “are picking up,” she said. “Low income countries, like those in Africa, are thriving in the main.”

Another student asked what she did to help women around the world as the IMF’s first female director. “We are increasing the number of women economists and the number of women in management,”Lagarde said. “What I do always, because I spend about half of my time visiting countries around the world, is spend at least two or three hours with a group of women, and I will tell you, this is the meeting where I learn the most about the true economic story of that country.”

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