Save the Children's UK CEO talks to The Dialogue about the organisation's work and how she's learned to know her own limits. In partnership with Media City Qatar.
The Dialogue sits down with inspirational people from across the globe with links to the Middle East and North Africa. Guy Shone explores what drives these extraordinary individuals.
When Gwen Hines was appointed Chief Executive of Save the Children UK, she happily admits one of the first things she did, was read a bunch of articles ‘about how to be a CEO’.
She told The Dialogue, “There was a lot about getting up at four in the morning and going for a run at lunchtime. All these things, working 24-7. I don't work 24-7. I know my limits.”
Knowing those limits, is something Gwen believes is crucial as the head of a charity with projects all over the world. “It’s a tough career that people do because they’re very, very motivated to make a difference,” she explains. “I’ve been open with staff…from childhood I had periods of depression,” she says.
When you are the CEO, opening up isn’t always easy. Gwen adds, “It took me a long time to actually own up to this…I talk about it because nobody is invincible.”
So what gets her through those tough times? “I like to sit in my garden, and I like to just take time and think about the bigger picture,” she explains. That bigger picture sometimes involves ‘digging a lot of holes,’ a way to physically release some of the angst she may be experiencing.
Dealing with trauma suffered by children is an important part of the work carried out by the charity. While access to psychologists is essential, so too are child-friendly spaces.
“Children come, they play, there are crayons, they can draw, they can just relax,” Gwen says. This may seem simple, but Gwen says it’s crucial. “[C]hildren, because of trauma, they're quiet, they don't laugh, they don't really talk often. And you see the huge benefits a few months down the line when they become more themselves.”
Gwen is clearly inspired by the children she meets and works with, describing them as ‘generation hope’. “You see the difference that a little bit of support can make,” she expresses. But she also likes to find out what matters to them too. “They care about [the] climate crisis. They care about inequality. They care about children all around the world.”
Gwen has been in the Middle East region, attending meetings in Lebanon and Qatar in a bid to explore opportunities for the charity. “We’ve been working with some partners here…to bring funds, to bring influence, to help us to do work there, to help support,” she says.
Partnerships are as fundamental to the charity as good old fashion donations. Gwen reveals that such ties can mean the difference between life and death.
One of its biggest partners is the pharmaceutical company, GSK. Gwen says it’s been pivotal to some projects in Kenya, describing how technology it supplies, is used during childbirth to disinfect the umbilical cord. “[T]hat stopped babies dying when they were new-born,” she says.
Though UK-based now, Gwen spent much of her career abroad, including a stint in Malawi, with her young family. It was there she really began to understand the impact of malnutrition.
“I'd have in my head what a four-year-old child is like. And there were children who were who were much smaller than that because they hadn't been fed,” she says. “[T]hey go to school hungry. If they have…malnutrition, they just can't achieve the same opportunities in life. And it really brings it home.”
Nutrition is clearly key, but when children are severely malnourished, they can’t just be given anything to eat. Gwen enthuses about a peanut-based paste called Plumpy’Nut used by the charity in such circumstances. “[W]hen you feed that to children, when they're gone beyond the stage where they're just hungry and they're beginning to get dangerously malnourished. It is magic,” she says.
Crises come and go, but for Gwen, Save the Children, will continue to do what it’s always done, trying to ensure all children get the best start in life. “Children are children everywhere, with the same rights,” she says assertively. Her hope is that every child is able to grow up and achieve their potential.
You can find out more about the work the organisation does here: https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/