Newsmaker: Rally driver - Richard Bennett Chair, co-ordination group, Make Poverty History

Indira Das-Gupta

Ask most members of the general public who is the driving force behind Make Poverty History and they will probably name Bob Geldof, Bono or possibly even Richard Curtis. The name Richard Bennett is not one they will have heard of. Indeed, many people in the voluntary sector are not even familiar with his name.

Yet Bennett is the elected chair of the co-ordination group behind what is shaping up to be perhaps the biggest campaign the world has ever seen.

"We were always aiming for something big, but it's probably been a bit more successful than we expected," says Bennett. "We have certainly captured the media's imagination, because I think our basic message is very attractive to a large number of its readers. The fact that a child dies every three seconds from poverty chimes with people's sense of justice.

"I think that fundamental sense of justice has always been there, but people in the UK realise that we have a special responsibility this year because of the G8 summit."

About 15 charities realised that 2005 presented a golden opportunity to try to bring about major policy changes - they first discussed the idea of a sector-wide campaign in 2003. By mid-2004, the group had settled upon its key policy positions, and each member of the newly named Make Poverty History coalition had voted to elect the 15-strong co-ordination team chaired by Bennett.

Each coalition member was given the chance to join working groups in key areas such as media, lobbying and policy. This was a democratic step but, given that there are now 500 members in the coalition, it could easily have turned into a logistical nightmare. With nearly 80 people in the media team alone, surely there must have been the occasional power struggle?

"I can honestly say that has not been the case at all," says Bennett.

"Everyone understands the importance of 2005, and realises it is crucial that we work together. It's a bonus that people have different ways of working because it means they can reach out to different groups. Every member of the coalition has to sign up to our policy and way of working, but within that they have the freedom to emphasise their own individual goals."

There are only three full-time dedicated employees working on the campaign, and Bennett is not one of them. He juggles his duties with his job as general secretary of Bond, the network for NGOs working in overseas development - an arrangement he admits is "good for stress".

As was a recent article in the New Statesman, which claimed that the campaign had been hijacked by New Labour in a move spearheaded by Oxfam - something Bennett is quick to deny. "We all recognise that, although the Government has made important advances, its policies still differ considerably from ours," he says.

Bennett is now focused on the mass demonstration that will take place in Edinburgh on 2 July, four days ahead of the G8 summit in Gleneagles.

It is also the date of Live 8, an event that has already generated acres of media coverage and threatens to overshadow the demonstration.

Bennett says: "Live 8 is the Bob Geldof show while the Edinburgh rally is the Make Poverty History show. Live 8 will be hugely helpful in helping us reach millions, if not billions, of people with our message."

Many people are expecting a great deal from 2 July, but whether the G8 leaders deliver remains to be seen. Bennett says: "We have already seen some changes, but whether we will see significant policy changes depends on how much pressure we can apply. That's why it's important that as many people as possible come to Edinburgh."

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