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Save the Children UK has accomplished many of its initial goals in a drive to change the working culture of the organisation but needs to sustain progress, according to a report by an international expert in ethics.

Dr Suzanne Shale, who carried out a review of Save the Children’s workplace culture last year, says it has since proved ‘open, honest and humble about the charity’s imperfections and limitations, whilst still pursuing high ambitions to learn and improve’.

She writes: ‘The current leadership, notably the CEO, recognised the correlation between how employees work together in the charity’s offices and how they meet their charitable objects in delivering services to beneficiaries.’

Last year’s Shale review was commissioned by Save the Children UK after complaints about its handling of allegations against two former senior executives in 2012 and 2015 raised wider concerns about workplace culture. The handling of the historical complaints is being investigated by the Charity Commission. 

Shale’s progress report says Save the Children has embraced an approach in which ‘how we achieve is as important as what we achieve’ and summarises several positive developments at the charity. It has:

  • appointed three new trustees from diverse backgrounds, including expertise in organisational development, thus broadening the diversity of views expressed in board discussions;
  • embedded the values of accountability, openness and collaboration in a programme called Stronger which has involved staff across the organisation in efforts to strengthen working culture;
  • built organisational capacity by recruiting a transformation director and a diversity and inclusion specialist; and wellbeing manager; and
  • fully engaged its board in supporting, challenging and monitoring progress.

Dr Shale highlights the importance of making further progress on critical initiatives the charity has committed to deliver to continue to strengthen its culture. These include:

  • developing a cross-organisational diversity and inclusion strategy, building on staff-led work to increase awareness of workplace inclusion
  • rolling out a refreshed set of employee relations policies and guidance, which are being tested with staff, on how to raise concerns
  • examining good practice on how to measure workplace incivility to bolster new staff survey measures on workplace inclusion and safety introduced in 2019
  • further reviewing and strengthening its HR function.

Shale’s progress report says the Stronger programme is now transitioning into a longer-term People and Culture Strategy. ‘The acid test will be whether the charity sustains into the future the commitments it has made in the past year to supporting its people and enhancing its workplace cultures,’ she adds. 

Steven McIntosh, Executive Lead for Organisational Change, said: “We are determined to deliver a workplace culture which reflects Save the Children’s values and enables our staff to have the greatest impact for children. We’ve made good progress in strengthening our foundations and are putting in place a long-term strategy to ensure this is sustained. Critically, we will ensure this work is co-created with, and accountable to, our staff – and that we’re being transparent about where we are making progress and where further action is needed”.

The progress review was carried out by Dr Suzanne Shale and Professor Murray-Anderson Wallace who led Save the Children’s 2018 Independent Review of Workplace Culture, published here.

Response to the Charity Commission inquiry

In March 2020, the Charity Commission published an inquiry into Save the Children’s handling of historical senior staff misconduct cases, the charity’s response in the media and action taken on workplace culture since. Save the Children accepted the findings in full, has apologised unreservedly to the women affected and has committed to continuing to strengthen its organisational culture. 

Chair Charles Steel sets out Save the Children’s response to the Charity Commission Inquiry and our commitment to respond to it