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It is a smart thing to work with and for children: An update from our CEO

Like all of you, I’ve been reflecting on the deeper and lasting changes that will come with Covid-19. The pandemic has delivered a devastating shock that could fuel resurgent populist nationalism; or revive multilateralism. Government spending and debt could lead to a new wave of austerity with disadvantaged children paying the price; or it could be leveraged to decarbonise growth and reduce the low pay driving families into poverty. We could be entering a decade in which the extraordinary advances in human development stall and then unravel; or we could make the 2020s a ‘decade of delivery’ for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Whether we arrive in the best or the worst of times depends on our success in forging new partnerships and coalitions for change. I’m grateful Save the Children is working with many of you in our common endeavour to support a recovery from the crisis.

Covid-19 is not the only tectonic shift now underway. The Black Lives Matter protests that followed the killing of George Floyd have fundamentally changed the national – and global – conversation on racism. Across the UK half of Black people report experiencing racism in public places, with a similar proportion experiencing some form of racism at work. Black colleagues and colleagues of colour at Save the Children are part of that experience. The issues they raise go to the heart of wider questions we must address on anti-racism, allyship and solidarity. Our leadership team has set out some initial commitments to this – and we will report back on progress every few months.

A few more reflections and updates

Last month the UK government took the decision to merge the Department for International Development (DFID) into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We warned against this move. DFID has a distinguished track record in leading from the front on international development – and we want to help ensure that the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) continues to deliver the best possible results for the world’s poorest and most marginalised children. With the UK hosting next year’s G7 and a climate change summit, the government has an opportunity to demonstrate global leadership – and we’ve set out some ideas on this here.

Last week the UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee launched a humanitarian appeal spanning seven countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. These are countries in which our teams are struggling to respond both to direct Covid-19 effects and to the collateral harm inflicted on child and maternal health services, nutrition and education. At the time of writing the appeal has raised £13.5m and rising. That extraordinary generosity says something about the public’s capacity for compassion and generosity even amidst great personal hardship.

Also last week, Save the Children launched a major campaign aimed at preventing a global education emergency. Education is a cause close to my heart; there is nothing as powerful or transformative in a child’s life as a quality education. During one of my first field visits in 2017 I met a young South Sudanese boy called Daniel in a refugee settlement in Uganda. Daniel stood out because he was the only pupil with an exercise book – a science book which he showed me with great pride. He was 14 years old and had fled from his village when it was attacked by a militia. He walked for three days to get to Uganda with no shoes and no possessions... except for that book. He explained to me that he had fled his village via his school to grab the book. “I need the book because I want to be a scientist,” he explained to me.

I’ve thought a lot about children like Daniel as Covid-19 has mutated from a public health crisis into a global education emergency: over one billion children are still out of school because of lockdown. For many of them, this could mark a permanent setback in education. These children are at the heart of our campaign, which focuses on three urgent priorities. They are set out in our report here - do add it to your summer reading list! And better still, get in touch if you would like to be involved.

Not to end on a parochial note, but on Monday we published our annual report. During what has been a tough period on many fronts, I’m incredibly proud of what my colleagues have achieved. As a global movement, Save the Children directly reached some 38 million children in 2019, delivering life-saving interventions, providing education, working to keep girls out of early marriage, and protecting children affected by war.

As 14-year-old Purity, one of our Girl Champions from Nigeria says in her introduction to the report: ‘World leaders should understand that children are the future, and that future starts today. It is a smart thing to work with and for children.”