Margaret Douglas

on Monday, 04 June 2012. Posted in Leadership Interviews

Margaret Douglas
Chief Executive of Save the Children Australia

Margaret Douglas BSc, MBA, AmusA, is Chief Executive of Save the Children Australia. Prior to joining SCA in 2000, she was Chief Executive, City of Glen Eira, a Council of 120,000 residents in Melbourne. Previously she held positions in both business and government sectors, including General Manager of a law firm, General Manager, Marketing – Public Transport, General Manager, Marketing – Jetset, Senior Economic Analyst – Hamersley Iron.

Interview with Margaret Douglas:

Why did you choose to work for Save the Children Australia?

Prior to joining Save the Children Australia I had held a number of senior positions in business and government which had involved change management and, for the most part, had enjoyed them. This was a CEO position in an organisation with a goal I could relate to, doing very important work for disadvantaged children and requiring change, in a sector which is at a stage where it needs to consider change.  

What is your personal vision for Save the Children Australia as its Chief Executive?

That Save the Children Australia is the leading ‘Child Rights’ organisation in this region of the world – one which governments consult regarding issues of importance affecting children.  

That it is an organisation which, because of its reputation, high achievements and leading edge organisational practices, attracts the highest calibre people – Directors and staff – who wish to be part of the organisation.  

What are some of the Australian and international programs that you are most proud of being associated with?   Which elements do you identify as having contributed to their success?  

In Bangladesh , we work in a brothel with more than 1,300 sex workers – many of them children – and their 400 children who also live there.  The brothel is a small village of corrugated iron sheds with dirt floors.  Each sex worker and their children live in a tiny room, 2.5 by 3 metres.  At night, the older children often take refuge in shops, the railway station and such places, but the very young children remain on the floor while their mothers entertain clients.  

In 1996, Save the Children set up a primary school close to the brothel.  In the past, by government decree, brothel children were not allowed to attend school or mix with the village children.  Now over 200 children from the brothel attend this school and just on 200 village children also attend.  On completion of primary education, these children – both brothel and village children – can now join the secondary school which is nearby.  

In addition, we have set up a Safe Home to remove girls at risk in the brothel.  Young girls in the brothel, on reaching puberty, were destined to become sex workers, but girls in the Safe Home are now being provided with the opportunity to continue with their education, opening up alternatives to life other than as a sex worker.  

In Lao PDR, Save the Children Australia runs a Primary Health Care project in Sayaboury Province, a remote province in the north-west of Lao. We continue to achieve impressive results as the following health figures show: 



National (2001)

Infant Mortality Rate*  

23/1,000 live births


Child Mortality Rate*  



Life expectancy 

71 years 

 55 years

Maternal Mortality Rate* 



Crude birth rate    



Crude death rate 



(* indicates that Millennium Development Goal has been met in Sayaboury)  

Most of our work until recently has been in Asia and the Pacific, but this year we commenced a program with disadvantaged children in the East Kimberley region, Western Australia .  We believe that many of the techniques which we have developed in working with disadvantaged children overseas, eg working closely with the communities in which we work to develop sustainable outcomes, can be transferred successfully to Australia .  

Elements contributing to our success include -

·        our focus on children and their development

·        active child and community participation in the programs

·        our concentration on ensuring that programs are sustainable, ie when Save the Children leaves, the process continues  

Which particular issues regarding children globally and in Australia do you consider to be the most critical and need addressing?

Save the Children’s credo is to change the lives of children who are at risk, so that these children can ultimately help themselves. In doing this, we place great emphasis on education, believing that education is the way out of poverty. Of course, this also means that we need to address issues such as the health of the children and ensure their protection, but with the intent that children can be educated.  

A specific issue of our time is to address the problem of children affected by HIV/Aids. Much of the emphasis is placed on those suffering from this disease, but many children, while not having HIV/Aids, will be affected through loss of parents/guardians, teachers, doctors and the need for these children often to take on the role of carers for the remaining children. This is an issue which we are addressing as a high priority.    

Does Save the Children collaborate with humanitarian and non-government organisations in Australia? How supportive is the Australian government of the work that your organisation does overseas and in Australia?

Save the Children works in collaboration with humanitarian and non-government organisations in all of the countries in which it operates.  The Australian government supports our work through a number of grants for our work in Australia ,Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Lao  PDRCambodia and Vanuatu .  

What changes do you suggest are needed to improve the effectiveness of governments and international bodies, such as the United Nations, in their approach to reducing the number of children worldwide who are living in absolute poverty?

A good start would be for all governments and the United Nations to commit totally to doing what is necessary to reach the Millennium Development Goals, as agreed in 2000.  All governments need to honour their commitments to 0.7% GDP , and there needs to be effective partnerships between government, international bodies and NGOs.