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Helen Grant OBE is a British politician who has served as the Member of Parliament for Maidstone and The Weald since 2010. A member of the Conservative Party, she succeeded Ann Widdecombe, who was first elected in 1987.

Helen was the first black woman of mixed heritage to be elected as a Conservative MP and selected as a candidate to stand for a Conservative-held parliamentary seat.

She first served in government as jointly Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities (2012–2015) and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (2012–2013). She also became Minister for Sport and Tourism in 2013, a post she held until after the 2015 general election.

In January 2021, she was appointed as Special Envoy of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Girls' Education. We sit down with Helen to find out more about her increidble achievements.

All information and links were correct at the date of original publication on
22 Oct 2023

Tell us a little about yourself and your career so far?

My father is Nigerian, my mother is English and my family name is Okuboye. I’m extremely proud of my British and my Nigerian Heritage.

I was born in London but grew up in the far northern city of Carlisle. It was the 1960s and its right to say that there was a fair amount of prejudice surrounding me but I also had the love and support of three strong matriarchal women - my mother, my grandmother and my great grandmother.

They believed in me and instilled within me the importance of working very hard and aiming high, and being proud of who I was.

It was from this foundation that I progressed through High School and University and then I began my career in law and then into the world of politics.

What sparked your interest in politics and what path did you take?

My political journey started fairly late. I had been a family lawyer for 23 years and I loved the work enormously, but sometimes you reach a stage in life when you need a change and a new set of challenges and this is where I found myself in the mid-noughties.

In 2006 David Cameron had just become leader of the Conservative Party. He was charismatic, fresh and young and he promised to redress the gender and diversity imbalances within the party.

He spoke of compassionate conservatism and he sent out messages of hope and change that resonated with me.

So I joined the Conservative Party, applied to be a candidate and (after a lot of hard work and a steep learning curve) I became the first black female conservative MP at the 2010 General Election and, in 2012, the first black female conservative Minister.

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Throughout your political career, you have been a strong advocate for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I). Could you share with us one of the initiatives you have championed to promote a fairer society and increasing gender and BAME representation?

As the former Minister for Sport and Tourism, one of my key focuses was championing girls and women in sport.

Sport played a very important part in my life, growing up. At school I was captain of the school tennis and hockey teams, and represented my county in Hockey, Tennis, Athletics and Cross-Country.

I later became under-16 Judo Champion in North of England and Southern Scotland.

It is not just the mental and physical health and fitness that sport can provide, but all of the life lessons too – like leadership, teamwork, discipline and respect.

Championing female participation in sport therefore came very naturally to me as one of the main focuses of my work as Minister.

Among other things I:

Your commitment to giving a voice to BAME women in political, business and corporate spaces is commendable. Can you tell us about a specific instance where your efforts have made a significant impact in creating a more inclusive and diverse environment?

My most wide-ranging contribution has been in my role as the Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Girls Education.

My role is to champion 12 years of quality education for every girl on the planet. This is one of the best ways of tackling many of the major issues facing the world today, such as poverty, climate change and inequality.

Investing in Girls’ Education is an absolute game changer – if we want to change the world for the better, girls’ education is a great place to start.

A child of a mother who can read:

  • ·is 50% more likely to live beyond the age of 5 years,

  • twice as likely to attend school themselves and

  • 50% more likely to be immunised.

Girls who are educated are more able to choose if, when and how many children they have.

Girls’ education is therefore vital to women and girls, and also in levelling-up society, boosting incomes and developing economies and nations.

What are your dreams for girls in education?

I am passionate about girls’ education and have fortunately had many opportunities to visit the fantastic work we’re doing around the world with our partners to advance girls education.

Destinations have included:

  • Uganda – March 2021

  • Nigeria – April 2021

  • Ghana and Sierra Leone – May 2021

  • Nepal – October 2021

  • Bangladesh – Nov 2021

  • Dubai – December 2021

  • South Sudan – Jan 2022

  • USA - New York and DC – March 2022

  • Nigeria - May 2022

  • Jordan – June 2022

  • Sierra Leone – March 2023

  • Ethiopia – June 2023

  • Tanzania – July 2023

Meeting and speaking with the young girls, with their whole lives ahead of them, and seeing the direct impact our work has, and the passion these girls have for education is an amazing experience.

I am proud that we are helping to deliver school-based training in many countries to improve the teaching of literacy and numeracy: giving children the critical skills they need and allowing them to go further to more advanced learning.

Ensuring girls get these essential, foundational learning skills, means these young girls can have the skills required to fulfil their own potential.

What are the biggest challenges facing girls and their education?

Many children around the world are unable to go to school for a myriad of reasons, such as poverty, climate change, conflict, ill health or disability. There are also a number of additional gender-based reasons why girls don’t go to school, such as violence, sexual violence, pregnancy, forced marriage, early marriage, Female Genital Mutilation, human trafficking, gender bias – where boys are prioritised.

The pandemic has also been a huge challenge. It’s been one of the biggest educational disruptors in our history – affecting 1.6 billion children at its peak in 2020.

Many of these children are girls and many will never return to school, or even start school - all creating a very real risk of a lost generation of girls.

We must work hard, and together, to stop this from happening.

What has been your greatest career achievement so far?

Becoming the first Anglo-African female Conservative MP and Minister was a special achievement and at the time broke down another glass ceiling – allowing others to follow.

If you could give your 10-year-old self a word of advice, what would it be?

Believe in yourself, and don’t let the doubters and haters put you off track.

What would you say has been the secret to your success?

My faith, working hard, aiming high and having a very supportive family.

A huge thank you to Helen for finding to sit down with us. You can keep up-to-date with Helen via her own website or across social media like X (formerly Twitter) where she's @HelenGrantMP
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