Save the Children's Jonathan Glennie says he was warned against criticising major funders

The charity's director of policy and research made the disclosure at an event last month

Jonathan Glennie
Jonathan Glennie

Save the Children’s director of policy and research has said he has received emails warning him "to shut up and be careful" when criticising large organisations that fund the charity.

Jonathan Glennie made the remark at an event hosted for students last month by a volunteer group of the charity Giving What We Can, which aims to get people who want to do good to use donations in the most useful way. Third Sector was not present at the event but has heard a recording of it.

"Save the Children at the moment is growing very fast, in part because of our political relationships," Glennie told delegates. "We have some very radical things to say, but we’re also quite close to power - we work with corporates and with governments of all stripes.

"When you're very heavily financed by a big organisation, you do think twice about criticising them. I've had emails from people telling me to shut up and be careful."

Glennie was responding to a question from an attendee who asked whether there was a contradiction in an organisation that advocated for social change accepting funding from governments and big businesses. "Yes of course," said Glennie. "There’s great tension."

But he said that the longer he worked in the field, the more he respected people for working with organisations they might not agree with and accepting money from them.

"Save the Children works in countries where there are often unsavoury regimes. We should rightly be under pressure to speak out against those kinds of things, but the minute you speak out, then you might get banned from the country, you might get all sorts of security issues to deal with for your staff.

"Zimbabwe was a case in point in recent years. How much do we criticise Mugabe? And how much do we continue to respond to the needs of the people who are suffering in Zimbabwe?"

Glennie also said Save the Children had come under pressure in recent years to deliver projects rather than engage in building long-term relationships with the communities that benefited from its aid work.

"Large NGOs like Save would once have seen themselves as part of a global movement for change with relationships with communities helping them make their decisions," he said. "The pressure now is on to deliver projects. We've got to demonstrate what we're delivering. The danger is that we become a service delivery outfit."

He said that a large proportion of the charity’s funding came from various governments, hedge funds and pharmaceuticals companies. If it was not careful, the charity could end up delivering other people’s strategies, rather than building relationships and advocating for structural changes.

He said charities like Save the Children felt like they were under significant pressure to demonstrate they were spending aid effectively, partly because the government itself felt this pressure as a result of the fall of public support for spending on overseas to one of the lowest levels he had seen.

A spokeswoman for Save the Children was unable to say who the emails Glennie referred to were from. "Debates are always had on funders and all decisions Save the Children makes has to deliver the greatest impact for children," she said.

"In all our partnerships we reserve the right to advocate on issues that we feel strongly about, regardless of the view of our partners."

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