Helen Louise O'Connor

Senior Climate Change & Environment Adviser, UK Department for International Development

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Believe in yourself, you are amazing.

What do you do?

Using science, evidence and knowledge from those on the ground, I develop, support and implement policies and programmes focused on helping those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change - especially women, girls and people with disabilities across Africa and Asia.

Why did you choose this field?

When I was at school I wanted to work in the environment - my end of school yearbook had a comment from a friend which said "one day you will be a greenie with an -ology degree". I loved nature, was inspired by Rachel Carson and Jane Goodall and wanted to study and understand the world around me, and what was happening to it. I studied biology and was inspired by my lecturers to love evolution, the amazing complexity of life and the natural cycles of environmental change. I went on to study environmental policy just before the Kyoto protocol was signed. I remember the debates about how the rich in the west could continue to grow and yet create the space for millions across the world to raise their standards. I knew at that point I wanted to work on climate change and to enable the poorest and most vulnerable to be supported in their efforts to improve wellbeing.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

In terms of my own achievement, to show that women can become seniors in their field, competing and expressing themselves in confidence when surrounded by men (often being the only woman in the room) - becoming the person of influence you can be rather than feeling anxious and concerned about how it's just you as a sole woman in a room. For other achievements, the amazing way in which the price of solar photovoltaic cells has dropped and thus enabled electricity to be in the reach of millions of people around the world.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love using the science and the evidence on climate change to inform our investments and policy decisions - I love that the consensus on climate change is so strong that we are now faced with an opportunity to act - an opportunity we must take to secure the health and wellbeing of the planet and the people who live on it. I love the challenge that this brings but recognise that I am lucky to be in a position to hopefully influence change and help take us in the direction we need to go.

Best advice for next generation?

You can be the change you want to be - that famous quote is so true. The opportunities which are there now are immense - women bring skills and a way of looking at the world which is so important, and so important to apply to science and it's use in making the world a better place. Believe in yourself, you are amazing.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

“It always seems impossible until it's done.”

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