Philanthropy and Globalization: Save the Children

International non-governmental organizations illustrate especially significant influence upon the philanthropic efforts of international aid. A long-standing exhibit of such influence is the Save the Children. The Save the Children Fund, more commonly known as simply Save the Children, recently celebrated its centennial anniversary. The organization was established in 1919 by Eglantyne Jebb, in response to the suffering and starvation children in Austria and Germany faced following World War I (Save the Children, n.d.a). The fund was launched to raise money to provide aid to these children, and quickly developed a specific focus of addressing the rights of children. The following essay will take a deeper and more critical look at Save the Children, by addressing its relationship to globalization, appraising its localization strategies, and examining outlining its mutual information sharing practices.

Organizational Overview

From its inception following World War I, Save the Children immediately identified work with children to be the sole focus of the organization. This was solidified by the drafting of the Declaration for Children’s Rights in 1924 (Save the Children, n.d.a). Over the course of the past century, Save the Children has expanded from its European focus to a legitimate concept of aid at the international scale. The organization currently provides services to 118 countries across the world, with its heaviest presence occurring across Asia and Africa. Save the Children’s programming falls under the following umbrellas: survival, learning, protection, emergencies, advocacy, and campaigns (Save the Children, n.d.b). 

Considering the level at which Save the Children currently operates, identifying any specific program they offer is difficult. The variety of programs stretch across the needs of individual communities and fluctuates depending on potential factors such as political climate, natural disaster, or simple need identification. To better conceptualize the scope of the agency’s reach, in 2018, Save the Children reached 40.8 million children through their services, most being served by the health and nutrition, emergencies, and nutrition programs (Save the Children, 2019a). Brief, specific descriptions of some of the organization’s accomplishments throughout 2018 can be found in the 2018 Trustee’s Report (Save the Children, 2019b). 


As discussed over the course of the past semester, there are many loaded feelings associated with large-scale philanthropy. These feelings can be expanded to an even more intense level when considering philanthropic efforts on a global scale. Ethics and morality may be brought into question. On one hand, there are incredible economic discrepancies that exist between Western countries and those of the developing world. Similar to the “billionaire question,” one must wonder if there is a moral or ethical duty for countries with the majority of the world’s wealth and infrastructure to redistribute these assets to countries and people that are suffering due to lack of such resources. On the other hand, such substantial philanthropy runs into the question of power, because money, in short, is equal to power, especially as capitalism is being extended further and further. Therefore, international NGOs, especially those that engage in such large-scale operations as Save the Children does, are embroiled in complexity, due to the relationship that globalization and philanthropy play in the organization’s work.

As the organization prepares for a new decade of service, it has evaluated the direction it hopes to take, and as such has released a new global work plan for the initial years of the new decade, and a dedicated ambition for 2030. The 2030 Ambition consists of three objectives: “a) no child dies from preventable causes before their fifth birthday, b) all children learn from a quality basic education, and c) violence against children is no longer tolerated” (Save the Children, 2019c). The organization links this new work plan with its current global campaign “Stop the War on Children” by bringing a stronger focus of services to children affected by conflict, in addition to children who are migrants or displaced, and children with disabilities. Finally, Save the Children has identified 25 countries to have the greatest need or number of children affected. To most effectively align their resource structure to this identified Ambition, the organization will place a special focus on these 25 countries.

This global work plan is further supported by Save the Children’s theory of change. The main messaging behind the theory of change is to build partnerships- with children themselves, in addition to civil society organizations, communities, and the private sector to meet the rights and needs of all children (Save the Children, 2019c). This theory of change places Save the Children and other groups at the center of solving the problem, rather than redistributing the power dynamic to center communities in need as in charge of their aid efforts, which will be discussed in future sections of this essay.

This theory of change, however, does demonstrate the ways in which Save the Children benefits from globalization, as the world has grown more and more connected, facilitating the creation of partnerships beyond borders and languages. These partnerships bring in more than just money. Partnering and collaborating with groups across all sectors (corporate, nonprofit, civil society, and community interest) brings innovation and influence in ideas, knowledge sharing, and capacity-building. Large-scale organizations like Save the Children benefit from globalization in the sense that their ability to “do good” in the world is enhanced.

However, the benefits that Save the Children sees in the organization through globalization should not mean that we overlook reasons why organizations like this even exist. Many of the circumstances the organization responds to come as a result of globalization. Rising levels of conflict, increasing numbers and magnitude of natural disasters due to climate change- these are only a few examples of the detrimental effects globalization has also produced in relatively recent years. While the good Save the Children is accomplishing is undeniable, it should still be fair to remain slightly uncomfortable with the need for its existence, especially once certain strategies of the organization are thought about more deeply.  

Localization Strategies

Upon reviewing various reports that Save the Children has released, I took particular interest in the fact that there is rarely explicit descriptions of specific actions the organization has taken to accomplish all that they have. The organization typically simply identifies the basic idea of the program, and delineates the level of success they reached as a result. Furthermore, there is a glaring lack of news articles about the organization, beyond press releases from Save the Children itself. These observations are notable because the organization is extremely well-funded, and as such has the resources to create a highly developed website and has produced numerous reports and publications about the work it is accomplishing. However, there is very little clarity about what many of the services being provided even are and the role Save the Children plays in providing services to achieve such accomplishable results. While this could be, and likely is, due to confidentiality, security, and competition reasons, in addition to a pure abundance of programs, this did result in moderate questioning of the organization’s commitment to transparency. Beyond transparency, the ambiguity across the organization’s platforms has led to a great deal of inference being made about localization strategies and mutual information of parties. 

In terms of localization strategies, a fair assessment is that Save the Children appears to engage in limited to partial localization. Although the organization does not list their specific localization strategies, nor does it outline any sort of management structure to programs and projects, one can infer from the information included in annual reports and trustees’ reports that Save the Children does engage the communities and affected people it serves in some decision-making surrounding how to best utilize the aid being provided. However, the organization consistently refers to its use of best practices and effective programming, while centering the knowledge that organization has as superior to the community knowledge within the groups being served. This exertion, potentially over-exertion, of power is a theme that has come up frequently throughout class, but most recently in the discussion surrounding Kylicka’s (1996) reading about liberalism and minority rights. The actions of otherwise good-will intentioned liberal units must be monitored to ensure that they do invalidate the cultures and practices of groups that they are trying to aid. This can occur by allowing groups in need to simply have a voice about decisions that affect them.

It cannot be denied that evidence-based practice and validated programming are essential to providing high quality service, in addition to avoiding further human rights violations. However, one can infer that the organization has taken the stance of presenting themselves as being the best and only source of knowledge of how to address problems in spaces that are not their own. It does not seem as though, to date, Save the Children has allowed people in the communities being served to contribute equally or collaboratively to decisions being made about funds designated to help them. This may be a difficult feat to achieve, because the organization is so large and receives significant funding with likely highly specific restrictions from various sources. An additional challenge to increased localization is the organization’s intense targeting of children for its programming, since this may not be a process that is feasible for children to engage in. However, the value in soliciting a greater amount of community feedback and influence in the decision-making process should not be something that Save the Children overlooks. In most situations, a community has the greatest amount of knowledge of what is truly needed to reach the most marginalized populations.

It is important to note that in the 2018 Annual Review, there is mention of increasing localization action (Save the Children, 2019a). It is a brief blurb that doesn’t actually speak to concrete plans the organization has made to define what increased localization action would look like, but it seems as though the organization has become even slightly aware that this is a pressing need to be addressed in the imminent future. This blurb does mention, however, the fact that Save the Children contributed to the creation of the Grand Bargain at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, and subsequently became one of the 21 NGOs to sign it. Designed as a commitment between major donors and humanitarian agencies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian efforts, some of the focal points of the Grand Bargain include: greater transparency, more support and funding to local and national responders, and including people who receive aid in decisions that affect their lives (Inter-Agency Standing Committee, n.d.). Despite its lack of demonstration, the endorsement of this commitment may be a step forward for localization strategies of Save the Children. 

Mutual Information

Considering the vast amounts of information that must be shared between INGOs and the people they serve, it is challenging to seek information about how the groups are mutually informed when one is uncertain of what information could be mutually shared. The clarity of this question should be re-assessed. However, this challenge is made even more complicated by the scale of Save the Children, and the magnitude of information that must be communicated across various platforms to different locations and groups. One should not expect that an organization operating at the level that Save the Children does would have explicitly outlined the practices the organization uses to share information mutually between the INGO and the local communities it serves. As such, there is little to no information to be found about how communication occurs in programs or at response sites.

One mechanism that Save the Children does use for communication is its consistent release of reports and publications. These vary in content from reports about current campaigns and the impact and success of different programs to organizational management reports, such as annual reports from each fiscal year and the trustee’s reports (Save the Children, 2019a; 2019b). Release of these types of reports increase the accountability the organization has to its stakeholders and potential donors or volunteers. Additionally, they hold the organization accountable to itself, to ensure that efforts do not slow or taper off, regardless of potential challenges that may be faced during a campaign or program. 

Since these reports are web-based though, it is not particularly likely that someone in a community that the organization is serving would have access to these reports. The question then remains of what the lines of communication look like from organizational management to those working on the ground to the people being served. While this remains unknown, potential improvements to community could come through improved localization strategies. Improving localization allows people in marginalized communities to develop and maintain a voice in the decision-making process. Beyond this, it also opens communication channels for each group to bring ideas to the table and work collaboratively.


There is still much that remains unknown about the Save the Children Fund- its localization strategies, specifics of how actual programs are being run, how mutual information is shared throughout the organization and to the people it serves. Nonetheless, the work they are accomplishing is indisputably good, even if it may come as a result of the positive and negative aspects of globalization. As with any humanitarian agency, progress should always remain the goal. For Save the Children, one potential method of progress would be moving away from a model of work that centers the institutional knowledge of the organization and instead moving closer to a model that values the strength and knowledge a community already possesses within itself.

Inter-Agency Standing Committee. (n.d.). About the Grand Bargain. Retrieved from


Kymlicka, W. (1996). Multicultural citizenship: A liberal theory of minority rights. In Multicultural citizenship. Retrieved from Oxford Scholarship Online.

Save the Children. (n.d.a). 100 years for children. Retrieved from

Save the Children. (n.d.b) What we do. Retrieved from

Save the Children. (2019a). Annual review 2018 [PDF File]. Retrieved from

Save the Children. (2019b). Save the Children International: Trustee’s report, strategic report, and financial statements for 2018 [PDF File]. Retrieved from

Save the Children. (2019c). Closing the gap: Our 2030 ambition and 2019-2021 global work plan [PDF File]. Retrieved from

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