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Ask the children if foreign aid works

If you based your judgment of British aid on this week’s headlines, you’d be forgiven for thinking things were a bit of a mess. You’d imagine well-heeled charity executives pocketing large salaries while, in the racist words of the MEP Godfrey Bloom, billions of pounds are sent to “Bongo-Bongo Land”, where they pay for expensive sunglasses and sports cars.

You’d probably wonder whether our charities are worth supporting, or if the Government is spending your money sensibly. And you’d have good reason to, if it were true. It isn’t.

The real story of aid, the one you won’t hear from aid sceptics and some newspapers, is one of stunning success. Last year, we saw the biggest ever fall in child deaths from preventable illnesses such as pneumonia and diarrhoea, largely driven by aid investments in vaccines and health.

Since 1990 we’ve cut the number of children dying unnecessary deaths almost in half, from 12 million a year to 6.9 million. The opportunity we’ve created is enormous. If we keep up this momentum, we could be the first generation in history to stop children dying from preventable illnesses and hunger.

– Read about our impact and finances in our 2012 Annual Report

– Read our Accountability and Transparency Report 2012

Millions of children could be protected from malnutrition, and able to go to school. They are children like Mohamad, whose family fled Syria to Zaatari, the sprawling refugee camp in Jordan where Save the Children is feeding 130,000 people every single day. Real children, with real problems, not inhabitants of some imaginary country driving fictional Ferraris.

To achieve all this, the way we work has had to change dramatically. Aid agencies cannot afford to be run in an amateur way, however well intentioned. We need professionals to staff the complex global organisations we have become; experts at delivering aid to tough and often dangerous places and campaigning for the changes the poorest children need. The public understand that.

In the past five years Save the Children’s income has nearly doubled, and over the past year we have recruited 100,000 new supporters. And it is working: last year, we reached a record ten million children.

Working for us will always be a vocation, and we shouldn’t pay as much as the private sector, but we are not ashamed of doing what it takes to get the best people to help our cause.

There will always be those, like Mr Bloom, who are playing catch-up with the world, articulating a vision that is as outdated as it is offensive. But the rest of us should look beyond sensationalist headlines to see the real story. We should be judged on the impact we have on children’s lives. When they are allowed to, the facts speak for themselves.

This article was first published in The Times newspaper on Wednesday 8 August.


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