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Transparency activist Gina Miller receives honorary doctorate from UEL three decades after she was a student

Students outside in community

UK's 'most influential black person' urges students to fight injustice

By Kiera Hay

Transparency activist and businesswoman Gina Miller told graduates of the University of East London (UEL) never to let anyone tell them who they can be and to speak out against dishonesty, injustice and inequality.

“It does not come easy, the society we value, it comes from hard work and it comes from being brave and being courageous,” she said. “To be silent only adds to the lies. It only adds to the weakness. Do not give in to bullying or belittling or bigotry.”

Ms Miller received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from UEL at a graduation ceremony for the University’s Royal Docks School of Business and Law at indigo at The O2.

 She noted that the honour came three decades after she was an undergraduate student at UEL studying law. Due to personal reasons, Ms Miller was not able to complete her degree, but she said the tools she learned at UEL had been invaluable to her throughout her business and campaigning life.

To receive the honorary doctorate now is “extraordinary” and a “great honour”, she said.  

“In the past 30 years I have learned that while we must dare to dream, dare to aim high, we must dare to also face our weakness. True character is not how you face your successes. It is how we face reality, obstacles and failures that defines who we really are,” she said.

Ms Miller was named the country’s most influential black person this month by the Powerlist Foundation for her successful legal challenge forcing Parliament to vote on whether the Government could begin withdrawal from the European Union. 

Born in Guyana, she came to the UK at the age of ten to attend boarding school.

Her professional successes include founding and running a financial services marketing firm that helped launch some of the largest asset management firms in the UK while employing a diverse team and donating a percentage of profits to local charities.

In 2009, she co-founded investment management company SCM Direct, which offers high-quality, low-cost wealth management and emphasises efficiency and transparency. Three years later, in conjunction with that work, she founded the True and Fair Campaign, which fights for transparency on fees and holdings in the UK fund management and pension industry, as well as highlighting dubious practices and calling for an industry code of ethics.

Through her campaigning work, she has contributed text to three European Union Directives, due to be implemented next year, which will result in vastly improved consumer protections and outcomes across the EU.

But she became a public figure when she challenged the UK Government over its authority to trigger Article 50, beginning withdrawal from the European Union, without parliamentary approval. 

The subsequent vitriol directed at her following the Supreme Court ruling in her favour only made Gina more determined to continue her work as an advocate for tolerance and speaking up against threats and abuse against women and ethnic minorities.

“We must find our place in this world,” she said. “We must find our voice. I chose not to let anyone tell me who I could be or how much I could achieve or where I could speak and what I could say. I encourage you to refuse to let others tell you who you can be, she told graduates.

“And when you do succeed, remember that it comes with responsibility, because other people matter and your caring matters. Be prepared to plant the metaphoric tree whose shade you will never sit beneath.”