Online Exhibitions & Stories

Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry

Rewriting Women into Maritime History
President of the World Maritime University

Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry

Location: Malmö, Sweden

An Ocean Educator

Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry's extraordinary journey is an unyielding testament to the power of perseverance and the transformative force of education. Hailing from a humble background on a small island, she defied the odds and soared to remarkable heights, leaving an indelible mark on the maritime world.

Growing up in a close-knit family, she faced challenges early on when her mother passed away at 45, leaving her father to care for their 11 children. Despite these hardships, their unity and her father's influence as an educator propelled her forward. From an early age, Cleopatra’s father instilled in her a sense of ambition and resilience. He encouraged her and her siblings to seize every opportunity that came their way and pursue higher education.

Through the generosity of scholarships, Cleopatra embarked on an educational journey that would shape her destiny. From the University of the West Indies to the prestigious halls of the Graduate Institute of International Studies, she absorbed knowledge, honed her legal expertise, and pushed the boundaries of her capabilities. Scholarship after scholarship affirmed her worth and ignited a fire within her to give back, recognising that her achievements were made possible by the benevolence of others.


With an impressive educational background, Cleopatra’s expertise in law led her to the International Labour Organization (ILO) shortly after completing her doctoral studies. The ILO, as the oldest institution within the United Nations system, offered her a job that would shape her career for the next three decades of her life, where she advocated for justice, equality, and empowerment. Her passion for education and gratitude for the opportunities she received propelled her to give back to society. She recognised the pivotal role that donors played in her journey and remains committed to helping others as a result.



When an opportunity arose at the World Maritime University (WMU), Cleopatra fearlessly embraced the challenge, setting a new course for her journey of inspiration. As the university's president, she breathed life into her vision, revolutionising maritime education and transforming the lives of countless students. Aware of the pivotal role of the oceans in our existence, she championed the establishment of the Global Ocean Institute, an embodiment of her unwavering commitment to preserve and protect our precious marine ecosystems. With fervour and determination, she empowered students from developing nations to rise above limitations and contribute to the betterment of our world.

As her term at the WMU drew to a close, Cleopatra’s relentless drive and insatiable thirst for impact only grew stronger. Undeterred by her humble origins, she aspired to take on the mantle of Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization, a position of immense influence and responsibility. She sought to shatter preconceptions and rewrite the narrative, proving that the power of a small island nation could resound across the global stage.

Cleopatra’s story is one of resilience, gratitude, and an unwavering commitment to education and service. From a small island community to senior leadership positions, she has overcome obstacles and made a significant impact in influential maritime organisations. With her eyes set on new horizons, she continues to inspire and uplift others, proving that with determination and dedication, no dream is too big to achieve. 


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Written by Carly Fields

© Emilie Sandy Photography, 2023