GPG delivers specialist technical advice through a core group of retained Associates, who are former Ministers, Members of Parliament, senior civil servants/parliamentary staff and academics. In this profile series in interview form, we seek to highlight the expertise and work from these high-level professionals that we get to work with on a daily basis. Meg Munn was a Member of Parliament in the UK Parliament and served on the Education and Skills Select Committee, and the Procedure Committee. She was a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office between 2007 and 2008, and Minister for Women and Equality between 2005 and 2-07. She is now an independent governance consultant working internationally on parliamentary processes, political party development, gender mainstreaming and women’s leadership.
Why did you decide to work in politics?
My Dad was on the local council in Sheffield and so I was around politics as a child. I heard a lot of political discussions and came to see politics as important and a way to improve people’s lives, so it was perhaps not surprising that I chose to join the Labour Party at the age of fifteen. I studied languages at university and then had a career in social work. I was a local councillor for four years, but that was not a paid role. It was only at the age of 40 that I decided to seek election to parliament. After fourteen years as a Member of Parliament, I decided not to seek re-election and now have a number of different roles.
Give us a short overview of what you consider to have been a key moment in your career. What brought you where you are today?
In October 2010 Greg Power (founder of GPG) came to see me in my office in parliament and asked me if I would go to Iraq for a project, and that was the start of my engagement with GPG. I knew Greg from his time working in parliament and got to know him better as we both worked in the area of parliamentary strengthening. Since then, I have worked with GPG and other international organisations such as UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and OSCE-ODIHR (the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) in many different countries with political parties and parliaments.
What one thing about working in politics do you wish was different?
Change in any walk of life takes a long time. Achieving change in politics is no different, whether that is increasing the number of women active in politics or developing a democratic parliament after decades of dictatorship. At the start of a project, there needs to be both an understanding of how change happens and its slow pace, so there aren’t unrealistic expectations about outcomes.
What work have you done with GPG, and which particular project with GPG stuck with you the most?
I have worked on many different projects, some long term and sometimes just contributing to one event. I’ve worked in Fiji, Iraq, Jordan and Tanzania and Zoomed with Uzbekistan and Armenia. Last year I worked on developing a training programme for encouraging male allies to support women’s political participation.
A three-year project on decentralisation of government services in Basra is particularly memorable. The relationships we built with local politicians and their staff led to significant change; with the development of new structures and processes to support an effective decentralisation process. It took a lot of persistence as the ideas were new, but through the growing trust and the different experiences, progress was achieved.
How would you describe the impact of your work with GPG?
As I said, change doesn’t happen quickly or easily but when it does the impact is first seen in the individual politician or staff member. They understand things differently, and do things differently, leading to changes in parliaments. In a nutshell, I would say that GPG improves the capability of politicians and parliamentary staff to achieve the changes they want to see.
Beyond GPG, tell us about an organisation or a programme you feel successfully contributes to strengthening representative politics and parliaments around the world.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is the global organisation of parliaments. I often use their fantastic resources to support the work of parliaments. They also have a number of programmes and projects around the world – for example, I have worked with them in Djibouti, where we focused very successfully on increasing the number of women MPs and are now starting to support them to become more effective in parliament.