India-born economist Gita Gopinath took over as the International Monetary Fund’s chief economist, becoming the first woman to occupy the top post, PTI reported. Gopinath joined last week and becomes the second India-born economist to hold the position after former Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan.

Gopinath, the John Zwaanstra Professor of International Studies and Economics at Harvard University, succeeded Maurice Obstfeld, who had announced in July that he would retire at the end of the year. She also serves as the financial adviser to the chief minister of Kerala.

Announcing Gopinath’s appointment on October 1, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde described her as “one of the world’s outstanding economists with impeccable academic credentials, a proven track record of intellectual leadership and extensive international experience”.

In an interview to the Harvard Gazette, the Mysuru-born Gopinath called the appointment a “tremendous honour” and credited Lagarde with naming a woman to the post. “There were strong and eligible women in high posts over the years, but I think you needed someone like Lagarde to make this decision,” Gopinath said.

Gopinath said the perceived retreat from globalisation is one of the top challenges confronting the IMF. “This has not happened in the past 50 or 60 years, when the world moved toward lower tariffs and increasing trade across countries,” she said.

The Harvard professor said that she would like the IMF to continue to be a place that provides intellectual leadership on important policy questions. “Among the research issues that I would like to push, one would be understanding the role of dominant currencies like the dollar in international trade and finance,” she said.

“While the trade has reduced global poverty and raised livelihoods, its consequences for inequality, and on whether the rules of engagement are fair, are real concerns that need to be addressed,” she said.

Gopinath was born in India in 1971. She is a US citizen and an Overseas Citizen of India. She received her PhD in economics from Princeton University in 2001 after earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of Delhi. She earned her master’s degree from the Delhi School of Economics and the University of Washington. She joined the University of Chicago in 2001 before moving to Harvard in 2005.