Bernard Ginns: Contrasting lifestyles of charity CEO and Ebola victims

THE CONTRAST was unfortunate, to say the least.

The well-remunerated chief executive of Save the Children was telling readers his idea of a perfect weekend in London, complete with tapas for brunch, gelato ice cream for dessert and dinner at an authentic little Italian restaurant with “very special” malloreddus with pork ragu and pumpkin tortellini.

Meanwhile, in another world, Sierra Leoneans are dying from the Ebola virus and Save the Children’s relief efforts in the impoverished West African country are coming under fire from local campaigners.

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On Sunday, Andrew Harding, the BBC’s Africa correspondent, reported growing concerns that the charity’s facility in Kerry Town is seriously behind schedule and lacking a sense of urgency.

The facility is the centrepiece of Britain’s contribution to the fight against the deadly disease which has so far claimed the lives of nearly 7,000 people and infected more than 16,000.

According to the BBC, just 14 of Kerry Town’s 80 beds are currently occupied, some four weeks after opening.

“It’s very, very, very slow,” Charles Mambu, director of Sierra Leone’s Health for All coalition, told the BBC.

“Our only hope was in Kerry Town. Why is it not fully occupied? We are not happy with what’s happening here. We call on our former colonial masters - you have to do more.”

Back in London, Justin Forsyth, chief exective of Save the Children, featured in the FT Weekend’s glossy supplement that serves as a guide to luxury for the wealthy elite.

Mr Forsyth was waxing about Saturday nights out at the Royal Opera House and late-night dim sum and cocktails at Hakkasan, a Michelin Star award-winning restaurant, Sunday morning trips to the bakery to buy fresh bread and pains au chocolat, fresh from the oven.

The supplement was auctioning items to raise money for Save the Children. Donated by luxury companies, the 83 lots have a combined value of £530,000. A respectable sum that would no doubt go some way to help the charity achieve its noble aims.

But a quick glance at Save the Children’s annual report for 2013 shows that it would fail to cover the £874,000 cost of the combined gross salaries and emoluments of Mr Forysth (£139,500) and his top team of eight executives.

I doubt I would be raising this as an issue had it not been for the unfortunate juxtaposition of the tragically slow international response to the tragedy unfolding in Sierra Leone and its neighbouring countries and the comfortable London lifestyle presented by the magazine interview.

Of course, Save the Children has to maintain a public profile to attract donations, and it has reportedly managed to increase income by £50m per year since 2010, an admirable performance in a tough economic climate.

There is no doubt that Save the Children does lots of good work around the world, but it does its image no favours with this kind of lifestyle publicity. Leaders in general need to be very careful about how they portray themselves.

A spokeswoman told me Save the Children runs programmes that directly reach 45m children in more than 120 countries each year, giving them a chance at a better future, and to run an organisation like this takes leadership, experience, knowledge and skill.

She added: “We cannot and should not compete with the private sector in terms of salary, but we do need to attract the best people to enable us to continue reaching the neediest children on earth.”

The spokesman said for every £1 raised, the charity spends 88p directly helping children, 11p raising the next £1, and the last penny goes on governance and other costs – including executive salaries.

She added that the team at its Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone has worked day and night in difficult conditions to build it from scratch.