Kevin Watkins - The 'massive wonk' who will take over at Save the Children

The current chief executive of the Overseas Development Institute, Kevin Watkins, takes over at the end of September

Kevin Watkins
Kevin Watkins

On the face of it, Kevin Watkins, the newly appointed chief executive of Save the Children UK, could not be more different from his predecessor, Justin Forsyth.

Forsyth is a former adviser to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and it is difficult not to see the New Labour knack for polished presentation on his slick personal website.

Watkins, on the other hand, is described as "a massive wonk" - albeit one who can "combine grasp of detail with genuine outrage" - by Duncan Green, a senior strategic adviser at Oxfam, who met Watkins when they both worked at the Catholic Institute for International Relations in the 1990s.

Reflecting on Watkins's sector career, Green says: "He's on an interesting journey from researcher to organisational heavy hitter."

Watkins, 61, currently executive director of the Overseas Development Institute, spent seven years working for the UN, 13 years at Oxfam and two years at the Washington DC-based policy body the Brookings Institution.

Both Green and Rebecca Winthrop, director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, say Watkins has one of the sharpest minds in international development - but, Green adds, he is also a man without arrogance.

And although he might not be a natural PR person, over the years Watkins has learned to channel what Winthrop describes as his "very energetic" nature to put his message across.

"He is a dogged, even remorseless lobbyist," says Green, but in recent years, he adds, Watkins has "become more expansive, adding charm and charisma" to his repertoire.

As a leader he's widely respected, Green says, able to remind colleagues of the mission when it becomes "buried under the treacle of meetings, emails and internal processes".

And Save the Children seems to be a fitting choice of organisation for Watkins, who has two children aged six months and three and a daughter in her twenties, according to the Save announcement of his appointment.

Among the numerous reports, blogs and articles in which Watkins has had a hand, education and opportunities for children crop up repeatedly. They are, says Green, his "abiding passions", and Watkins's hope will be "to see his fierce commitment to child welfare and rights reflected in Save's work".

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