On Monday, two important events happened just metres apart.
Policy Exchange hosted a conference on the future of Global Britain. As George Freeman MP identified: by falling just after the Prime Minister’s ‘big Brexit speech’ this presented an opportunity for the Government to move beyond the mechanics of Brexit and set out a vision for a truly Global Britain.
At the same time, our Chief Executive Kevin Watkins attended the Safeguarding Summit. Hosted by the Department for International Development and the Charity Commission, this Summit brought together development and humanitarian agencies to address the horrifying stories of the past few weeks and set out a clear roadmap to ensure no one in our care is ever let down again.
In doing so, I was struck by one common theme: the importance of living our values.
The speakers at Global Britain were asked to identify both how UK Aid should be spent and what Britain’s balance between hard and soft power should be. All the panellists agreed that UK Aid must be values-led; driven by where we can make the biggest impact for the poorest people.
But more than that, they agreed that our commitment to aid and development is a demonstration of British values – we are making it clear to the world that the UK is a “big-hearted, open-minded and far-sighted nation.”
It is the projection of these values that makes UK soft power so transformative. Our people and our institutions, and the values that underpin them, are revered around the world – and are the reason people place their trust in Global Britain.
Save the Children, and organisations like ours, also embody British values. The fact that we exist – and that British people donate to us in their millions every year – is a living symbol of just how passionate we are as a nation about helping others.
At the Safeguarding Summit, the Secretary of State for International Development gave a thoughtful yet unequivocal speech on the need for all of us to do better. She challenged us to improve so that “the British public can take pride in everything that is done in their name, in the lives you save, in the hope you bring, and in the immense good you do in this sector.”
It is precisely because we embody these values that as soon as we fail to live up to British people’s expectations, we immediately lose their trust. When we represent such a cherished value – that responding to human suffering is the right thing to do – this is unforgivable.
At the Policy Exchange conference, both Tom Tugendhat MP, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and Sir Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of the British Council described these values as making up ‘Brand Britain’.
Associated with dodgy marketing techniques and image-above-impact, ‘Brand’ has become a dirty word. But the purpose of a brand is to help individuals clearly identify organisations – or even countries – that share their values. And those of us that have a brand, benefit enormously from it.
At Save the Children, the fact that the British public know who we are and what we stand for means that they trust us with their hard-earned cash. It also means we are given permission to operate in some of the toughest places on earth.
At the same time ‘Brand Britain’ is the reason that:
- governments listen to our country’s diplomats, officials and political, business and cultural leaders
- young people study here
- our institutions are respected
- our businesses attract world-class talent.
The values that our nation projects on the world stage are the reason that we still have a seat on the UN Security Council, and they are why countries like China, India and the United States of America still place a premium on a relationship with us.
But have we collectively forgotten that our brand means nothing if it does not represent the genuine values that underpin it?
As a development sector, our first and only concern must now be whether we are living up to our values.
As a nation looking to define who we are on the world stage, rather than worrying about how we look we should first and foremost be true to our values. Core to these values is that we step up and help others – and that we stand up and speak out when the rest of the world turns a blind eye.
We do this because it is the right thing to do. Amid all the recent reasons to feel gloomy, isn’t this fact itself quite marvellous?