Lord Ouseley was born in Guyana in 1945, and came to England when he was 11. He was educated at William Penn School and Catford College, where he gained a diploma in municipal administration. He was appointed as the first principal race relations advisor in local government, and served as Head of the GLC's Ethnic Minority Unit. He later became Chief Executive of the London Borough of Lambeth and the former Inner London Education Authority (the first black person to hold such an office), responsible for over 1000 schools and colleges across the capital. In 1993, he became the executive chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, a position he held until 2000. He is widely credited with having restored the CRE's flagging credibility.
In 2001, he was raised to the peerage of Baron Ouseley of Peckham Rye in Southwark. He is often called upon to chair independent inquiries into racism, be it in the educational system, or the Bradford riots. He is actively involved in the work of many independent and voluntary organisations including the Institute of Race Relations and the Ethnic Minority Foundation. He is non-Executive Director of Focus Consultancy Ltd, Brooknight Security Ltd and Quiktrak.
Herman Ouseley is also the Chair of PRESET Education and Training trust, Kick-It-Out plc (Let's kick racism out of football campaign), Policy Research Institute on Ageing & Ethnicity (University of Central England). He is the recipient of eight honorary degrees.