Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I care passionately about global education and health issues and my work brings together the worlds of business, philanthropy, social media and charity campaigning.
I’m President of the children’s charity Theirworld, working to give a better start for the most vulnerable babies and children in the UK and globally. Theirworld is the charity behind the breakthrough initiative for double-shift schooling to accommodate Syrian refugee education in the Middle East. I am also Executive Chair of the Global Business Coalition for Education.
Having spent part of my early life in Tanzania in East Africa, I went to school in London and then studied Psychology at Bristol University. My time is split between London and our family home in Fife.
Even now, I don’t know how I found the time but I did manage to write a best-selling book, Behind the Black Door – which is my account of life in No10 Downing Street. I also worked hard on pioneering the use of social media in government, which was not common at the time. I am an avid user of Twitter and over time have grown an engaged audience of 1.2 million followers, which is a fantastic platform to share the important messages around global education and health issues.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Parts of it. I studied at school and had the opportunity to go to Bristol University and achieve a psychology degree. I do think about what I do as I take each step but have no master plan. I know that I could have taken a number of different career paths but in the end, have found I can use my skills and experience usefully in campaigning for change where it is sorely needed for women and children. I am extremely committed to what I do at Theirworld and there is a lot of planning across our whole team to improve the impact of what we do.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
The greatest challenges for me have been losses in my personal life. Losing a child is the most devastating thing (Gordon and I lost our first child Jennifer at just 10 days old in January 2002), but I have learned that there is strength to be found in adversity.
When the worst thing imaginable happens to you, then it is far easier to find the courage to take on difficult challenges and be unafraid of the barriers to success, and even the fear of failure.
On a typical workday, how does you start your day and how does it end?
My days vary enormously so it is hard to describe a typical one. In London, I can work from the Theirworld office and travel around the city to meet people to talk about our work, whether supporters, partners or youth campaigners. I tend to start the day very early so I can cram in as much activity as possible, and I do the same when I am travelling to visit our projects in Lebanon or Kenya or Nigeria, or attend United Nations’ meetings in New York. I always use the time in London or New York to catch up with friends and love going to the theatre at the end of the working day.
When I am back in Fife at home, my days tend to be revolve more around school runs and family meals but I can get more done at my desk writing and catching up correspondence. It is an equally productive time but a different dynamic to the day.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?
It is vital to have role models. I strongly believe that if you can see it, you can be it. Women need to see other women succeeding and striving in all kinds of career choices. Diversity and representation is vital so that we can see each of ourselves everywhere in whatever our dream job might be. Mentoring can be a useful way.
My role models in my life have come in many different guises through my education, working life and friendships, but I often cite my own mother as a key role model and mentor for me. Dr Pauline Macaulay was a teacher and head-teacher of a North London school, a working single parent for many years (before meeting my equally remarkable step-father, Patrick), a champion of multiculturalism and a prize-winning quilter and quilt=making social anthropologist. She ran her first (and admittedly last) marathon aged 65 and completed her PhD just after her 70th birthday – so a great believer in life-long learning and still going strong at age 80 ready for her next challenge. Luckily for me I did not have to look far for someone to look up to.
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
In the UK, we must end the pay gap and address the desperate poverty gap that excludes so many women from fulfilling their potential and denies them equality.
Around the world, every girl needs to have the chance to go to school and unleash her potential. She deserves to do that in a safe environment and never to have her life chance thwarted by early marriage, trafficking or child labour.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I don’t know how to judge that. The work is not done, the goals not achieved but the willingness to try remains.
I am happy to have seen the success of campaigns, whether unlocking the funding to save the lives of lives of mothers and infants in pregnancy and childbirth to seeing more than 10 million people sign the Education for All petition calling for world leaders to provide the funding and political will to enable every child to go to school.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
This year at Theirworld we are focused on the golden opportunity to deliver the G20 world leaders’ promise of considering a new international financing facility for education. It would mean that funding was no longer the barrier.
In the future, there is no greater challenge than bringing hope to millions of children who face a life without the chance to thrive, learn and flourish. It the priority for many campaigners this year and beyond and Theirworld will join that push for change. We need to reach for the high hanging fruit that allows what is seemingly impossible to become probable – and to simply find a way for every child to go to school and learn.