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Save the Children UK's CEO to stand down after five years with praise for 'culture of kindness'

Kevin Watkins is to stand down as chief executive of Save the Children UK this summer after five years in the role.

Watkins, 66, informed Dr Tsitsi Chawatama, the charity’s chair, of his decision earlier this year and announced it to staff today.

In his message to staff, Watkins said he was intensely proud to be part of an organisation defined by its mission for children. “We are all of us temporary custodians of a 100 year-old institution built by our founders on values that reflect the best of humanity – an institution that co-created universal child rights,” he said.

He highlighted Save the Children’s campaigns to protect children in armed conflict, its humanitarian work, and its efforts to tackle pneumonia, the biggest killer of children, as stand-out achievements.

He also emphasised organisational changes aimed at building a culture of kindness, dignity and respect for staff to underpin Save the Children’s ambition for children. 

Thanking staff for their role in aligning the organisation’s culture with its values, Watkins said: “Our culture is grounded in unrelenting ambition for children. But that ambition has to be underpinned by a culture of kindness towards each other, support for staff, and a willingness to challenge systemic disadvantage and discrimination.”

Save the Children is set to launch a new strategy later this year for 2022-24.

“It has been a privilege to work with some of the most brilliant, committed and creative people in our sector on the defining moral challenge of our time – the defence of child rights,’” Watkins said.

“Working at Save the Children provides a daily reminder of the desperate circumstances facing so many children around the world. But it also provides a reminder that change is possible.

“I’ve seen the impact we’ve made together - and I know Save the Children has transformed many, many lives in some of the world’s toughest environments.

“I’ll leave with many memories – some happy, many heartrending, but all of them wrapped in deep gratitude for the opportunity I have had to work with you.”

Watkins, who joined Save the Children from the Overseas Development Institute, previously worked at the United Nations and the Brookings Institution in Washington.

He has led Save the Children through a turbulent time since he was appointed CEO in 2016. Two years later, the Charity Commission launched an inquiry into the handling of sexual harassment allegations against former executives of charity in 2012 and 2015. The organisation withdrew from bidding for government funding until the inquiry ended last year.

“We have navigated some strong financial headwinds and delivered impact for children thanks to the loyalty of our supporters, our brilliant fundraisers, our partners, and our success in diversifying income,” Watkins said.

Over the next few months, as the Board selects his successor, Watkins will be leading Save the Children’s response to the crisis triggered by Covid-19. “There is now a real danger of gains in child survival, nutrition, education and poverty reduction being reversed, leaving millions of children scarred for life,” he said, adding: “That must not happen”.

Watkins said that after leaving Save the Children, he would continue to work on issues at the heart of its mission, including child survival, education and financing for recovery in the poorest countries. He plans to spend more time on research and writing.

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