The changing face of humanitarianism

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save Children International, spoke about education and the refugee crisis at the 2017 Allen Hope Southey Memorial Lecture.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt

The theme of responsibility was on that permeated an address by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International and former Prime Minister of Denmark, at Melbourne Law School on Wednesday 29 March.

Joined in conversation by Erika Feller, Vice Chancellor Fellow at Melbourne School of Government, to discuss the role of governments and civil society organisations in upholding and advocating for human rights around the world, Thorning-Schmidt was at MLS to deliver the Allen Hope Southey Memorial Lecture.

Thorning-Schmidt began her address to the crowded lecture theatre by telling the story of the founding of Save the Children.

Save the Children was founded by Eglantyne Jebb for the purpose of supplying food to starving children in Austria in the shadow of the First World War. It was Eglantyne that then went on to draft the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

“[The Austrian children of World War I] were the children of the enemy and Eglantyne managed to provide not only for them, but also found a global child rights movement.

“We have to follow in Eglantyne’s footsteps.” Thorning-Schmidt said.

With more than 65 million displaced people in the world today, Thorning – Schmidt stressed the importance of avoiding complacency in the face of this global refugee crisis and of the need for society to step up

“We can break the cycle of poverty, exclusion and deprivation,” she said.

“We can transform the experiences and perspective or prospects of those who are children today and who will shape the world in the future.

“To do so we have to start living up to our international obligations to protect these children.”

As CEO of Save the Children International, Thorning- Schmidt oversees humanitarian and development programs that reach 55 million children in approximately 120 countries.

In a wide ranging conversation, Thorning-Schmidt and Feller touched on issues of global politics, the role of the market economy and the increasing importance of not-for profit efforts. However, a key issue that continued to emerge was the importance of addressing children’s education needs.

“We steal their future by putting them in a situation together as a world community where they have to leave their home... If we then also take their education away from them, somehow we steal their future twice.” Thorning-Schmidt explained.

“If we leave these children without education we will create generations of children that did not get access to their education.”

Thorning-Schmidt went on to discuss the efforts of Save the Children and other humanitarian organisations in promoting the education of children.

“What we are doing in Save the Children and with other NGOs right now is calling for step change in children’s education during crisis.

“We have a global commitment by UN member states to get displaced children back to school within a few months.” Thorning Schmidt outlined.

“And that is one example of the advocacy that we have been pushing.”

Directing her final thoughts to the students in the audience, Thorning Schmidt took the time to encourage the young people in the audience to be part of the journey in advocating and upholding the rights of children.

“You have a responsibility. Our future relies on young people.” Thorning-Schmidt said to the students in attendance in closing.

The Allen Hope Southey Memorial Lecture continues to be made possible due to the generosity of the Southey family.

By Tess McPhail

Find out more about MLS events