Newsmaker: Straight talker

Alex Haxton Director of operations, World Emergency Relief

- Prepared to say what others won't about the Make Poverty History campaign.

There might be mutterings behind the scenes that the involvement of celebrities in the Make Poverty History campaign has done more harm than good, but World Emergency Relief's UK chief Alex Haxton is one of the few prepared to stick his neck out and say so on the record.

"Bob Geldof said he gave the G8 'ten out of ten for aid'," says the director of operations at the overseas development charity. "Absolute crap. It wasn't even new money. Geldof's a well-intentioned guy, but he sucked up to world leaders too much and did us a major disservice with his comments.

We have had people asking if they still need to give because they think the G8 solved everything."

This kind of directness characterises Haxton's speech, and his frustration at others' unwillingness to speak out is tangible. "I was at a meeting of members from the MPH coalition recently, and about 90 per cent were critical of the involvement of celebrities," he says. "The campaign allowed itself to be diverted and the Live 8 concert was imposed upon us."

One of Haxton's greatest criticisms of the campaign, and the Live 8 concert in particular, is that the voices of the people it was supposed to help have largely gone unheard. Earlier this year, the Grow Up Free From Poverty coalition, of which World Emergency Relief is a member, commissioned a survey to gauge how children living in poverty in Guadeloupe and the Dominican Republic see their plight.

"We asked 4,000 children what they thought they needed to escape poverty, and what they would say to their president if they got the chance," Haxton explains. "I believe the vast majority of people in the developing world have the solutions to their problems; they just don't have the resources. The danger is that we think we are doing such a great job that we forget to ask the people who actually matter what they think."

The charity places equal significance on the views of donors. In addition to the research into public opinion on the MPH campaign, in April it conducted a survey of people who gave to the Asian tsunami appeal and found that 51 per cent of them were concerned about how their donations were being spent.

Haxton says: "The Disasters Emergency Committee is not in the best position to give donors feedback about how their money is spent. It only thanked donors at all because of pressure from the sector. As a smaller organisation, we are able to thank everyone who donates to us for the first time and send a more personalised letter to those who give more than £35. That communication is vital. Without it, you risk losing the donor."

The charity's research also revealed how generous people were. "Some gave more than they could afford," says Haxton. "Our study showed that 30 per cent felt they couldn't afford to give again this year."

Under Haxton's direction, World Emergency Relief has gone from strength to strength. In 1999, when he worked for the charity as a consultant, it supported six projects in five countries and made grants totalling £250,000. Last year, the charity ran 45 projects in 26 countries and its income was just under £30m, including the value of corporate gifts in kind. "Of every pound we receive, 91p goes directly to a charitable cause," he adds. "We keep admin costs down by working with local partners on the ground."

Haxton admits things have been tougher since the tsunami. He says: "A lot of charities have struggled since it happened, but most don't want to admit it because they think they will be seen as failures and people will be even less likely to give to them." One thing Haxton could never be accused of is reticence.

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