On 23 March 2012, Ocampo was nominated by Brazil as a candidate to lead the World Bank. Ocampo's native Colombia declined to endorse his bid, however, and with limited backing he withdrew from the race on 13 April 2012 and swung his support behind Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Ocampo graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1972 with BAs in Sociology and Economics, in 1976 he received his PhD in Economics from Yale University with his dissertation Capital accumulation and international relations.
From 2008-2010, he was co-director of the UNDP/OAS Project on “Agenda for a Citizens’ Democracy in Latin America”. In 2009, he was a Member of the Commission of Experts of the UN General Assembly on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System.
In the political realm, he served in 2003-2007 as the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. As such, he chaired the UN Executive Committee on Economic and Social Affairs and headed the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), which produces a wide range of research and analytical work on development issues, leads the follow-up to the major UN Summits and Conferences, and provides substantive and organizational support to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the General Assembly.
Previously, from 1998 to 2003 he was Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and from 1989 to 1997 he held a number of high-level posts in the Government of Colombia, including Minister of Finance and Public Credit, and as such, Chair of the Central Bank's (Bank of the Republic) Board, Director of the National Planning Department, and Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.