The eldest of four daughters of a farming family based in the Waikato region, Helen graduated with an MA (Honours) from the University of Auckland in 1974, majoring in politics.
As a teenager Helen became politically active, protesting against the Vietnam War and campaigning against foreign military bases in New Zealand.
Elected to parliament in 1981, Helen’s particular interests included social policy and international affairs. A strong supporter of nuclear disarmament, she pursued a policy of peace-making within the Pacific region. She set herself the task of making New Zealand the first ecologically sustainable nation, describing this as “central to New Zealand’s unique national identity”
Helen Clark resigned from Parliament in April 2009 to become the first female head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). She was recognised for her managerial style of leadership, working to reform the administration and bureaucracy of UNDP, with an emphasis on greater transparency in the organisation. She left her post in 2017 at the end of her second four-year term.