Who is Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Save The Children’s new CEO

Former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt was recently nominated as CEO of the world’s leading charity protecting children worldwide.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt is the new Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children International. The former Danish Prime Minister will lead the biggest international umbrella organisation working to protect children in 120 countries worldwide as of 4 April.


Political career

Thorning-Schmidt grew up in Copenhagen and started her career in the European Parliament as Member for the Party of European Socialists. She was elected to the Folketing, the Danish Parliament, in 2005, and became the first female leader of the Danish Social Democratic Party. As the country’s first female Prime Minister from 2011 to 2015, she is remembered for her achievements in the fields of economic growth, education and increasing employment rates, as well as for her commitment to tackling climate change. In 2013 the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) granted her the Gift to the Earth Award, its most prestigious recognition, for the country’s “ambitious climate achievements and its commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy across the entire economy by 2050”.

Development interests

Many may see Thorning-Schmidt’s appointment as head of Save the Children as a surprising change following a lifelong career in politics. However, her interest in development dates back to her term in office as PM, when she increased humanitarian aid funding to 0.83% of Denmark’s GDP. In the last few years she has been a key player in promoting education worldwide as Champion of the United Nations’ Global Education First Initiative, a movement introduced by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to bring governments together to promote access to and improve the quality of education globally.


Honoured by her new appointment, she called it her dream job: “Children’s protection, rights and development have always been close to my heart, and I look forward to doing everything I can to help us deliver on our bold but simple ambitions: that no child under five dies from preventable causes, all children get access to quality education and that no child should live with violence and abuse”.


Bridging a gap or blurring a line?

This is not the first time we see a politician turning into a non-profit executive. Former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband is now CEO of the International Rescue Committee and ex-US President Bill Clinton founded his own charity, the Clinton Foundation. As has happened in the past, some may question the independence of humanitarian work if undertaken by once representatives of donor governments. On the other hand, political power and diplomatic experience may contribute to increase governments’ humanitarian engagement.

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