Baroness Valerie Amos of Brondesbury has had a meteoric rise in public life that has seen her make history with a number of ‘firsts’

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Valerie Amos became the first black woman cabinet minister when she was appointed Secretary of State for International Development in 2003 under Tony Blair. Her entry on to the front benches followed her elevation to the House of Lords in 1997, when she was made a life peer as Baroness Amos of Brondesbury. She went on to become leader of the House of Lords in 2003, a post she held for four years.

In 2005 Blair nominated her to head the United Nations Development Programme, its global development network, focusing on key areas of development, including poverty reduction.

After serving as Britain’s High Commissioner to Australia in 2009, she was appointed Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator for the United Nations, where she remained until 2015. While carrying out this role she visited war-torn Syria in 2012. She is now director of SOAS, London University, the first black woman to hold such a post.

Valerie was born in Georgetown, British Guiana, in 1954 but has lived in the UK since the age of nine. She read sociology at the University of Warwick and studied at the Centre of Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, then led by social theorist Professor Stuart Hall.

Having held several key roles in the equality and diversity sector, including the women’s unit at Camden Council in London, in 1989 she became chief executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission.

In 1995, she co-founded the consultancy Amos Fraser Bernard and became an adviser to the South African government on public service reform, human rights and employment equality.

Following her peerage, she was appointed Parliamentary Undersecretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, with responsibility for Africa, the Caribbean and the Commonwealth.

Her promotion to International Development Secretary came after the incumbent Clare Short resigned in protest at the invasion of Iraq. Thereafter, Valerie toured countries in the continent of Africa that held rotating membership of the Security Council, encouraging them to support the intervention. She left the cabinet when Gordon Brown took over as prime minister.

Other positions held by Valerie have included deputy chair of think tank the Runnymede Trust, board member of the Sierra Leone Titanium Resource Group and director of Hampstead Theatre.

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