Learning organization #fail: Save The Children’s PR to defend Blair is almost worse than award itself

Since I wrote my initial post on the Save The Children award for Tony Blair on Sunday, the story has gained some considerable momentum; it has been widely shared and discussed in my social networks-so I probably underestimated how interested many people are in this story and how disappointed they feel with an award for Tony Blair.

So how does Save The Children respond? With, excuse my language, a variety of PR farts, e.g. quoted in the Guardian:
The first question was: “Why would Save the Children chose (sic) to provide one of its most prestigious award – ‘a global legacy award’ to a man accused of being a war criminal?”
In response, Eileen Burke, STC’s director of media and communications in the US, circulated “a line” explaining Blair was selected for the award for debt relief work and the Make Poverty History campaign.
“Otherwise we are not in a position to respond to some of the geopolitical questions below,” she wrote in a separate email.
A development INGO (which stands for international non-governmental organization) is unable to respond to ‘geopolitical questions’ that involve conflict, war and dealings with autocratic regimes in core regions where said organization works and staff members are exposed to many risks and need clear, political statements and support from top leadership.

So as an online petition is nearing 100,000 signatures and 200 staff members have signed an internal protest letter, STC is still unwilling or unable to do one of those things that large aid organizations increasingly like to talk about: Admitting a mistake. From a widely shared BBC News article:
A Save the Children spokeswoman said: "In a global organisation like ours of thousands of people our staff have strong views on a whole range of issues and people and we respect that diversity of views."
That’s your empty call center phrase ‘your call is important to us’. It is adding insult to injury.

In a world full of learning organizations that like to receive ‘360 degrees’ of feedback, celebrate mistakes at fail fares and attend conferences around ‘accountability’ and ‘complexity’ it is seemingly impossible for Save The Children to admit to a mistake.

I think (and I can only speculate here) that admitting to a mistake is difficult-because it may come with consequences in the form of a very well-compensated executive losing her/his job.
That highlights one of the challenges for many large aid organizations: You want to be all corporate and business-like when it suits your fundraising, glitzy awards and shoulder-rubbing with celebrities-but that mindset also comes with responsibilities, e.g. leadership taking responsibility-personal responsibility that politicians, CEOs or sports coaches have to take if things are going not well.

In the meantime, I wish that the Save The Children leadership finds the courage to step up to being a 21st century development organizations-not just a soulless corporate entity that is more worried about Christmas child sponsorship donations than long-term political and humanitarian standing in a world that more than ever needs organizations that work with and for children in conflict and war.

Maybe Clare Short could receive the award instead-if you still want an award for a British Labor politician who has stand up for development and civil rights?


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