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January 7, 2012 12:49 am
Camila Batmanghelidjh, 48, founded and runs Kids Company, a charity for vulnerable children in London.
How did childhood affect your views on charity?
I was born into a wealthy Iranian family during the time of the Shah. My grandfathers were a paediatrician and a self-made multimillionaire. I inherited the former’s value system and the latter’s entrepreneurial skills.
Why did you set up Kids Company?
As a psychotherapist, I met young children who were terrified by school holidays. They saw school as a sanctuary. So I set up centres to look after them.
What caused the London riots?
They were not a surprise. There are 1.5m children being abused and neglected in Britain. They live in unsafe environments, constantly feel frightened, yet have scant possibility of escape through meaningful employment. The children can’t do anything. The adult world has to. But the government won’t address the issue because children don’t have the vote.
Does that justify theft?
The narrative was that the nation is greedy. People made great show of children lusting for Nike trainers. It’s the adult world that produces these products, runs the advertising campaigns, tells everyone that these are must-haves, then puts them at unaffordable prices. We’ve arrived at a point when the human being is the commodity. It’s not what people do, it’s what they look like. Children are demonised while the adults, who created the products and the culture, and do the demonising, get knighthoods.
What can be done?
These children have no effective parents. The government needs to step in and care for them at an early stage. By “caring” I mean robust boundaries that deliver solutions. Kids Company puts resources in and gets about 97 per cent of high-risk kids back into education and employment.
So charities are more effective?
Social innovation happens predominately through charities because they can innovate solutions that match problems. The next step is that these social innovations are picked up by the mainstream.
What would you like to see change in the charity world?
We’re veering towards donors deciding what charity’s clinical output should be. An industry is evolving to measure charities’ performance and dictate policy. This is dangerous. I’m all for accountability, but the measurements must be well thought out. Charity-monitoring organisations need to gain the humility to understand that analysis based on a business-oriented world-view is very limited.
Should the head of a charity earn £100,000 plus?
I don’t take that kind of salary, and don’t expect that any vocational charity worker’s value system would demand it. However, some charities have become like corporate companies and a different type of chief executive is needed.
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