MAKERS UK Cause Spotlight: Baroness Amos
Immigrating, aged nine, to suburban south-east London from what was British Guiana, Baroness Valerie Amos "grew up with a passionate belief in social justice, equality and internationalism." However, these values weren't always present in the predominantly white community where her family put down roots. As well as being on the receiving end of curiosity and harassment, Baroness Amos, always knew she was different, especially when she became the first black student at her grammar school.
Amos has spent much of her career pioneering in roles heretofore inaccessible to black women. After working in local government, heading up the Equalities Commission as a passionate campaigner and consulting Nelson Mandela’s first government in South Africa in 1994, she was one of two black women in 1997 to become the UK’s first ever female black peers and then, by, 2003, was the first black woman to sit in a government cabinet. By 2003, Baroness Amos was the first black woman to be leader of the Lords and Lord President of the Privy Council.
Taking up the role of UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief in 2005, she continued her work as a decades-long advocate for women, minorities and the world’s most vulnerable and impoverished.
Amos' experience is so extensive and ongoing that she cannot pick one moment that defines her career. However, working with the UN to administer relief to those in greatest need has been a notable challenge. As well as assisting in brokering a peacekeeping deal in Syria: "I was seeing so many people in really, really vulnerable conditions. I saw a woman in Ethiopia who had walked to try to get away from a famine and had lost all of her children along the way. She had come from Somalia. Seeing children in stages of malnutrition, it just brings you to tears."
Traveling two of every three weeks to work in areas of humanitarian crisis, Baroness Amos helped administer relief to the suffering "at a time when humanitarian affairs and the humanitarian consequences of conflict and natural disasters were just increasing year on year, and it was a huge challenge."
Yet this provoked her to work harder: “It really spurred me on. It’s the thing that spurs on everyone that works in humanitarian affairs because you feel like you can make a difference in a world that is so politicized."
In 2015, Amos was anointed Director of SOAS, a university dedicated to research on Africa, Asia and the Middle East. One of the big draws for Baroness Amos is that it: "teaches and researches regions from the perspective of those regions." However, she soon realized another first she had made, ahead of any man in the U.K: "I discovered after I was appointed that I was the first black person to run a university in the United Kingdom. I was absolutely staggered by that."
In this role, she hopes to help provide the insight necessary for governments to bring in the change that she spent her life working hard to enact and embody: "the world needs to know more about the work we’ve done and the insights we have. It would be great if some of our political leaders actually took note of some of the history we have studies. We have a huge role to play and I want to be a part of that."
Her strengths abound, but being able to provoke and push for change is something that both she — and the world — have come to value the most. As she recently told The Guardian: "People often look at a politician and don't think you're any good at running things. I think I am good at that."
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