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Save the Children Fund (UK)

Name Save the Children Fund (UK) No of Headquarters staff 349
Headquarters London, England No Of Overseas staff 197
Telephone

(44) 171 7035400

No of Local Staff 3,000
Fax (44) 171 7032278 Budget $120 Million (1996)
Formed 1919 Public Donations $56 Million (1996)
Director General Mike Aaronson

CVs to

Leonie London, Human Resources Manager - Programmes, SCF UK, 17 Grove Lane, Camberwell, London SE5 8RD, England.

 

Interview with Angela Penrose SCF (UK)

by Killian Forde

"Several reporters were interviewing a Save the Children aid worker. One of the reporters must have flunked journalism school because he asked a question that went straight to the point. 'Who cares?' he said, looking around at the wretchedness, squalor, muddle, and despair. 'Back in the United States who really cares about these people?' The man from Save the Children started to laugh. He was possessed of Christian charity or Muslim or Jewish or whatever. The idea that someone could look at this suffering and not care was absurd to the aid worker, utterly ridiculous. So he laughed, the only laugh of kindness I've ever heard." PJ O'Rourke, American writer on his visit to Somalia in 1992

The Save the Children Fund, established by the colourfully named Eglantyne Jebb, is the oldest of the contemporary development agencies. Ms Jebb a teacher from a prosperous English rural land-owning family was inspired into action after learning of the suffering of the children of Vienna. It was the appalling plight of starving Austrian children, victims of a blockade after WWl that led her to launch her fund at the Royal Albert Hall, London in 1919. From its foundation Save the Children Fund stated that its aim was to aid children "beyond any consideration of race, nationality or creed" Immediately Eglantyne Jebb faced criticism and hostility from some people in Britain for assisting 'the enemy's children' and she was even arrested for distributing a leaflet urging an end to the blockade without clearing the paper with government censors. Through clever marketing and fundraising SCF(UK) had soon established itself as a very competent and professional organisation. Within its first five years The Save the Children Fund had raised millions and sent aid to countries in Eastern and Western Europe, Africa and Latin America. The Russian Famine of 1921-23 presented another challenge to Jebb and SCF(UK). Many anti communists groups were opposed to any assistance to the Russians. As Russia was then a virtually closed country questions were also raised about the actual extent and severity of the famine. SCF(UK) took the, then, unusual approach of sending a press photographer with a cine camera to film the country and its suffering. Later in response to rumours of aid being diverted to the Red Army SCF(UK) dispatched a photographer to film its feeding centres in operation. In 1924 The League of Nations, the precursor of the United Nations adopted Eglantyne Jebb's Declaration of the Rights of the Child. The Declaration evolved to become the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989.

Throughout its 79 years in operation SCF(UK) has been admired and respected for its ability and willingness to work towards long term goals. From the 1920s SCF(UK) were warning against any quick fix solutions and knee jerk reactions. Projects in Bulgaria and Albania in that decade included the construction of permanent villages for refugees displaced due to conflict. More recently in October of last year SCF(UK) adopted the unexpected position against an all-out ban on child labour at the International Conference on Child Labour in Oslo. They argued that while protecting children against exploitative and harmful work is important, blanket bans on child labour are dangerous. SCF(UK) cited the experience of Bangladeshi textile manufactures four years ago who under the threat of a US ban on goods made by children sacked all employees under 14. Deprived of a much needed income most of the children were forced to take on harmful, less well paid work. The assumption that SCF(UK) would unconditionally support a ban was prevalent an its pragmatic stance on the issue is indicative of its approach on a wide range of subjects.

A household name mainly due to its, high profile emergency work, SCF(UK) prides itself on its long term development work both with the poor in Britain and overseas. SCF(UK)'s emergency projects while responding to the immediate crisis at hand are designed to integrate into and strengthen local institutions and capacities. Their ability to respond appropriately in times of emergency is partly borne out of a policy to only establish emergency programmes in countries in which they understand the context already. This means that from the onset of a crisis they will be equipped with considerable knowledge and experience of the local conditions and thus have a better understanding of the context in which the emergency occurs. Angela Penrose, Save the Children's Policy Director of Programmes explains to Field Exchange "it is the role of local and central government to provide health and education services". Ms Penrose believes that when resources are being brought into a country it is 'vital not to monopolise all these resources within the NGO sector and employ all of he best ministry staff as this results in the weakening of the indigenous institutions".

Since the mid 80's more and more development and emergency organisation have been researching and advocating methods of what has become know as early warning systems. SCF(UK) have been no exception, indeed many would say that they have been the most dynamic, focused and inventive of any organisations working on preventative projects or risk assessment. She admits however, that she finds it "extraordinary that substantial amounts of money are invested into these methodologies by donors but to actually get them to respond when these systems are saying now is the point to intervene is extremely difficult".

Unlike many others SCF(UK) has a comprehensive operational programme in its own base country. Ms Penrose admits that working in European countries has thrown up a debate within the organisation about whether SCF(UK)s focus should be on relative or absolute poverty "obviously there are still areas in the world where the absolute poverty is intolerable and we should be concentrating on these, but our working in Europe raises questions about the allocation of resources when they are limited". Ms Penrose points out that the crux of this debate is that SCF(UK) or any development organisation cannot realistically hope to be able to address the needs of all and as she says "the thinner you spread the resources the less effective you can be".

The last decade has seen a substantial shuffle of the African political landscape. The old guard of Mobuto, Amin, Banda all experts at cold war chess playing, embezzlement and human rights abuses have been replaced by a younger more dynamic, independent, and interdependent leaders such as Kagame, Museveni, Kabila, Mkapa. This transformation, will according to Ms Penrose lead to a different relationship between African administrations and NGOs "what ~ee have now is a strong group of new leaders who are entrenched in a different way to the men they replaced. Many of them are very sceptical of the role of International NGOs". Penrose believes that they do not want International NGOs attempting to either "speak for or represent them". This new relationship was seen last year during the Zairian war when according to Penrose "The International NGO community as a whole were very politically naive, they did not see what was happening and were saying some quite provocative things at the end of 1996 about foreign intervention, totally unaware of what was actually going on" which she says was "planned by the countries involved". She continues claiming that these new leaders "knew what was happening, they wanted it to happen and what they did not want or need was European and American NGOs making shallow and provocative statements which did not reflect the reality of what was occurring".

A friend of a friend once went to an interview with SCF(UK). This friend of a friend was technically qualified, had overseas experience and spoke three languages. He fancied a placement in South East Asia, saw an advertisement for an SCF(UK) position in the region and applied. Confident and assured that it was 'in the bag', the friend set off to the interview. The interview was according to him 'harrowing and embarrassing' he said that most of the time he didn't even understand what he was being asked. So much for being tri-lingual! So I asked Ms Penrose what qualities do SCF(UK) look for in prospective candidates. 'Generally we employ very few doctors and fewer technical staff, if you have just spent 2030 years on training and capacity building as we have then it is hoped that people have been trained and capacity built" she explains . "An ex-pat country director will now have to have a range of skills with a high priority in managerial and financial skills, as the financial systems often have to be set up to be accountable to many different donors and sources, the person would require excellent personnel skills, be diplomatic and have the ability to network effectively". Ms Penrose adds that "there still are some openings for technical people but a lot are being filled by local people and we envisage that trend continuing".

For the future Penrose asserts that "we should be looking at what we are trying to provide in emergencies and it is essential that we perpetually analyse the nature of emergencies, as they are changing rapidly". Ms Penrose believes that it is a mistake to "base all ones preparations on the analysis of what has occurred in Africa recently". She believes that whilst the conflicts in Africa will not disappear we are now facing less threat of the huge emergency situations that developed on the continent during the 1990s and feels that "there is going to be a number of emergencies due to environmental damage, particularly in Southern Asia in the near future".

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Reference this page

Killian Forde (1998). Save the Children Fund (UK). Field Exchange 3, January 1998. p14. www.ennonline.net/fex/3/agencyprofile