Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Save the Children CEO: 'Wanting to do good is not enough'

From Becky Anderson, CNN
June 4, 2013 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jasmine Whitbread is the first international chief executive of Save the Children
  • The charity raises $1.6bn a year and works in 120 countries
  • In 2011, the organization helped 125 million children.
  • Our bottom line is children's lives, says Whitbread

Leading Women connects you to extraordinary women of our time -- remarkable professionals who have made it to the top in all areas of business, the arts, sport, culture, science and more.

(CNN) -- With a budget of $1.6 billion a year, a global staff of 14,000 and operations in 120 countries, Jasmine Whitbread could be in charge of a multinational corporation.

In fact, she is head of the charity, Save the Children International.

As the first global chief executive of the world's largest kids' not-for-profit, she leads the organization with the business acumen and astute professionalism of a Fortune 500 company.

Founded at the beginning of the 19th-century by two sisters devoted to protecting children, its mission is to respond to humanitarian crises from Oklahoma to Syria.

But in the long term, the organization's remit is centered around improving the way children are treated across the world.

Jasmine Whitbread, the first international chief executive of Save the Children
Jasmine Whitbread, the first international chief executive of Save the Children

"We want to play a role as a catalyst to really challenge some of these fundamental wrongs that can't be allowed to continue into the 21st century," says Whitbread.

And with Whitbread at the helm, the charity is doing just that. In 2011, Save the Children increased funding and expenditure by 10% and helped 125 million children.

Read: 'Don't give up on gender equality'

"Children shouldn't be going to bed hungry, they shouldn't be missing out on a basic education, these things are not expensive, they are not hard to solve."

There's no room for vague ideas of "wanting to do good" in a charity like Save the Children.

"We are just trying to help here," she says. "I have heard that refrain from too many organizations and too many quarters where that help is actually doing harm so, I'm under no illusion that just the will to do something good (is) enough.

"We've got to be incredibly professional, we've got to be very impartial in our work and not be drawn on one side or the other.

"You can't just expect to be praised for doing good, you've got to be running a professional organization."

We can't afford to be sloppy and just trying to do the right thing.
Jasmine Whitbread

Alongside her visits to crisis-hit countries, she has met with business leaders at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.

Read: Who were the real "Gatsby" women?

"I do think it's a business where our bottom line is children's lives," says Whitbread, 49.

"We have to be the most efficient we can possibly be, we can't afford to be sloppy and just trying to do the right thing."

To engage with business leaders in Davos, Whitbread needs to emphasize the economic case for the charity's work.

"If I went around talking about children, I don't think that I would get very far," she says. "But if I talk about young people, democratic dividend or the fact that many of these countries are now emerging markets with increasingly young potential workforces, business people can relate to that. It all depends on how you pitch it."

WEF is not only an opportunity to make the business case for the welfare of children, but it's also an ideal forum to strike up relations with companies keen to give back and be a part of the solution.

This includes accepting pro-bono work from the likes of Boston Consulting Group to forming corporate partnerships with Bulgari, GSK, IKEA, Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever.

Save the Children has been criticized in recent years, accused by some of being inefficient after Haiti's 2010 earthquake.

I do think it's a business where our bottom line is children's lives.
Jasmine Whitbread

"If there is genuine criticism then we look at ourselves and say 'Ok, how could we be better coordinated? How could we be more efficient?'"

However, she added: "Haiti was such a difficult place to be working with in the first place. Children weren't going to school, children were going to bed hungry before the earthquake. We didn't do a good job of managing the very high expectations that weren't going to be met.

Watch: A crusader for children worldwide

"We have got enrollment in school up to rates that were never the case before the earthquake, so I also think that sometimes the criticism can be unfair."

Whitbread grew up on the outskirts of London and -- apart from a spell volunteering in Uganda in her 20s -- she worked in business until the age of 36.

In 1999, she left her job with Thomson Financial and moved her young family to Senegal in west Africa to become regional director for Oxfam.

After six years with Oxfam, she made the switch to Save the Children, first as chief executive of the UK branch, and in 2010, became the organization's first international head.

Since taking the post, Whitbread has worked to merge much of the work of the not-for-profit's 30 national organizations.

It is not a job that affords much rest. Just back from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone, Whitbread is about to leave for North Korea.

"I try and keep the trips quite short because I do want to get home and spend some time with the family," she says.

"One of the great things about the work that I'm doing now is it's appropriate to bring one of my kids along sometimes. So my daughter came with me to India, my son to China, they've seen quite a bit of the world."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 1, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
In 2007, Arianna Huffington collapsed at her desk. Suffering from a broken cheekbone, the editor-in-chief decided to change her workaholic ways.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1623 GMT (0023 HKT)
Meet Mo Abudu, the talk show host portraying a very different Africa. As a glamorous presenter, she also heads up Ebony Life TV network, based in Nigeria.
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
Their job is capturing the most horrifying images on Earth -- keeping their eyes open, where others must look away. Meet Kate Brooks and Gerda Taro, the war photographers of today and yesterday.
March 25, 2014 -- Updated 1819 GMT (0219 HKT)
Gloria Steinem speaks onstage during Equality Now presents 'Make Equality Reality' at Montage Hotel on November 4, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
As Gloria Steinem turns 80, Kathleen McCartney highlights the remarkable life of the feminist so far.
March 8, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
CNN hosted a Tweetchat on gender equality with special guests including Nobel Peace prize laureate Tawakkol Karman. Here's what you missed.
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1059 GMT (1859 HKT)
From shaving her head for climate change to opting for a sustainable business model, Vivienne Westwood is simply unstoppable.
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1502 GMT (2302 HKT)
In what would be a dream come true for her alter ego, Carrie Bradshaw -- Sarah Jessica Parker has turned her love of fashion into a new shoe range with Manolo Blahnik.
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
The Facebook COO's latest headline-making action is a new "Ban Bossy" campaign, which aims at getting rid of the word "bossy."
March 18, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Meet Gail Kelly, the woman who started as a bank teller -- and now runs the banks.
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 0546 GMT (1346 HKT)
What kind of politician is slashed in the face with a knife, and upon waking up in hospital the first thing they ask about is the election campaign?
February 26, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
Former U.S. State Deparment Anne-Marie Slaughter says Brad Pitt is 'posterchild for engaged fatherhood'.
February 25, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
Cast your eye across a line-up of world leaders and it might look a little something like this: Man in dark suit, man in dark suit, man in dark suit, Angela Merkel in fire engine red two-piece.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Meet Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, the chairperson of French commodities giant Louis Dreyfus Holdings, with a net worth estimated at an eye-watering $6 billion.
February 17, 2014 -- Updated 1138 GMT (1938 HKT)
YouTube has a new boss and she has a "healthy disregard for the impossible" -- according to Google CEO Larry Page. Here are five things you didn't know about her.
ADVERTISEMENT