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A wave of hope

I wanted to start this note by taking an extreme liberty.

I’ll be stepping down as CEO at Save the Children UK (SCUK) this summer. This was one of the toughest career decisions I’ve ever had to make. SCUK is an extraordinary institution. It’s staffed by people who are driven, super-smart, and deeply motivated by a commitment to child rights. We have loyal and engaged partners and friends (including you!). We are part of a movement that reaches millions of children who need our solidarity. And we engage with the UK public, governments, and international institutions, to make a difference for children – and to give children a voice.

I know many of you have great day jobs – but, trust me, being CEO at SCUK is the job of a lifetime.

So, here is the liberty. Our Board of Trustees has just started the process of recruiting my successor. They want to find someone who is passionate about our cause to lead SCUK into an exciting new phase. I would appreciate it so much if you could think about potential candidates, alert your networks, and help SCUK recruit a new CEO.

As we all watch the heart-rending images and read the news coming out of India, it strikes me that this was a tragedy foretold. 

The warning signs on medical oxygen were visible for weeks. Despite the country’s highly developed oxygen manufacturing capabilities, the government ignored those signs – and lives are now being lost on a scale that is hard to comprehend. 

Our Save the Children colleagues in India are working against the torrent of new cases, distributing PPE and hygiene kits and providing counselling in over 1,000 villages across 14 states. But the danger now is that the crisis unfolding in India will be repeated in other countries. It is clear that the international response to Covid-19 sorely under-estimated medical oxygen needs. If vaccines are the light at the end of a tunnel, oxygen is the critical essential medicine that keeps people alive on the journey through the tunnel. Given the obscene inequalities in access to vaccination, many of the poorest countries are in the early stages of that journey. For those of you with an interest in the widening vaccine gap, I recently co-wrote a piece on this with Graça Machel, Gordon Brown and Ken Ofori-Atta.

I’ve also been working with Every Breath Counts, led by Leith Greenslade, to draw attention to the scale of the oxygen crisis, identify countries at risk, and support an emergency response. I would really encourage you to get behind the campaign for an emergency action plan on medical oxygen. Once the pandemic has abated, I hope that medical oxygen will figure more prominently on national and international health agendas to provide a sustainable supply of oxygen, closer to the children who need them.

Here in the UK, the government has continued to apply its wrecking ball approach to international aid.

Just a few short months ago, the Prime Minister declared himself a champion of girls’ education by pledging to lead the world in getting every girl 12 years of quality education. Last week, his government cut aid to education by over 40 per cent. Other cuts include deep reductions in spending on nutrition and humanitarian emergencies linked to droughts, floods, and extreme weather events in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. This is the same government now calling on the world to step up efforts on climate adaptation ahead of the COP26 climate summit. Some of Save the Children’s work in lifting the veil on the potential impact of the aid cuts is here, and we’ve also joined forces with over 70 other organisations to ask members of the public to join us in a #WaveOfHope ahead of the G7 and demand the just and green recovery we deserve.

To end on a positive note, I had my first meeting with SCUK’s inaugural Youth Advisory Board last week.

It was a reminder of just how imaginative, creative, and clear-sighted children are when confronted with the type of challenges Save the Children works on. After an hour’s grilling covering my job, SCUK’s history, our organisational structure, our approach to child rights, poverty in the UK, and other issues (I was on the ropes at various points), one of the Board members, a 12 year old, asked me: “What did you want to do as a career when you were young, was it similar to what you do now?”

It left me with a bit of a lump in the throat. I can’t remember what I wanted to do when I was young (beyond playing for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club), but I know for sure I couldn’t have arrived at a better job than the one I now hold.

That brings me back to where I started. I’ll be writing again before I leave, but please do help this brilliant organisation in its search for my successor!