Newsmaker: Children at heart - Mark Waddington Chief executive, War Child

Mark Waddington's first decision upon joining overseas aid charity War Child as chief executive last year was to dispense with its fundraiser and spread his duties among all the staff.

"I know this can be suicidal for most charities, but I didn't want to confuse people by telling them our core message while at the same time pushing them for donations," he says. "We want to get people's hearts and minds, and if they engage with our project and its philosophy, they'll support us."

Susanne Garnett, executive director of Village Aid, where Waddington worked for eight years as Africa project manager, describes him as someone who "thinks outside the box". Waddington says he just wants to make sure War Child's mission is not overshadowed by making fundraising too much of a priority.

His main aim now is to bring the charity back to its core vision: that no child should be a victim of conflict, a message reaffirmed in War Child's new report, Your War is Not with Me. "This isn't an academic piece of research but a collection of testimonies by children who have been caught up in conflict," says Waddington.

The report was published last week to coincide with the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression on 4 June. Waddington hopes it will get young British people interested in their own rights and those of children worldwide. It was sent to educational organisations such as the Secondary Heads Association, with which War Child wants to collaborate to raise awareness of child rights as stated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"Talking about War Child is a way of getting young people in the UK to discover and engage with their rights," says Waddington. He believes that, in the long run, this will help War Child build up a network of support for its work.

Yet Waddington says sticking to the charity's core aim is easier said than done. He says it is easy for NGOs such as War Child to be distracted by other problems such as famine or poverty when working in the field.

But staying focused on its mission does pay off, bringing tangible results.

In August last year, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the charity's local partners stormed an airport where children were being enlisted by the regular army to fight on the Rwandan frontier. "Some people were wounded but we were able to demobilise 450 children," says Waddington. "It then took us seven months to reunite them with their families."

War Child also works in Afghanistan, where it negotiates the release of children from adult detention centres and supports kindergartens for children born in prison. It has been in Bosnia since 1993 and runs a music therapy programme for children traumatised by conflict.

The charity's work overseas is linked to the success of War Child Music.

This website attracts 250,000 music fans every month - they can download tracks written exclusively for it by bands such as Radiohead.

"We've always had a good relationship with the music industry," says Waddington. "Sales of these tracks generate between 15 and 50 per cent of our income, depending on the year." He adds that it is thanks to this source of revenue that War Child was able to go into Iraq just a few weeks after the end of the conflict in 2003.

But Waddington is keenly aware that this privileged relationship can't be taken for granted and that War Child staff have to be constantly on the phone to music companies to get support. "We're trying to make charity a bit more funky," says Waddington. "Charities' websites often don't look great. I mean, who would Google the word 'charity' in their spare time?"

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