As the UK’s first MP of Bangladeshi origin, Rushanara Ali is well placed to champion diversity. The daughter of immigrants, she was brought up in East London, attended state schools (and later Tower Hamlets College), and won a place at Oxford University.
“When I went to look around [Oxford University] I met this Bangladeshi student and I really connected with her,” she says. “Seeing her there and being successful made the place seem more real. She had a common background with me – that helped to diffuse the negatives about Oxford. But not everybody gets to be inspired by people who have something in common with them, which is why I want to help.”
Outside of her role as an MP, Ali looks for ways to open up systems of power and privilege for talented young people from all backgrounds, helping them to access networks through role models and mentors. This is the aim of her charity, UpRising, which she founded in 2008.
“Nothing should be beyond someone’s reach just because of their background,” she says. “Often working-class young people, including graduates, miss out as they don’t have the soft skills employers are looking for or the connections to help them into work. We must do more to bridge that gap.”