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Reflections on 10 years by Ros Davies

At the end of December 2017 I retired from Women and Children First after more than 10 years of leading this wonderful NGO. 

I’m sorry to leave, but look back on our achievements and forwards to the charity’s future with great pleasure.

When I was appointed as Chief Executive in mid-2007, Women and Children First was a little known, project-driven charity which most people thought was a department of the UCL Institute of Child Health.  I have seen it develop into a highly respected and extremely successful international development organisation operating in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  We have gained a significant reputation for punching above our weight, and together with our local implementing partners we’ve saved well over 5,000 maternal and newborn lives.

Over the last 10 years, income increased more than seven-fold from less than £200,000 to £1.4m in 2016.  This enabled us to do much, much more.  The most exciting and important achievements included spreading our work from Bangladesh, Malawi and Nepal, to reach communities in Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Uganda in Africa, India and Myanmar in Asia, and Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador in Central America.  We established almost 5,000 women’s groups during that time and benefited a total population of around five million people.  

As well as working with more people, Women and Children First collaborated with the UCL Institute for Global Health in a series of field trials to test the effectiveness of our women’s groups approach in reducing newborn mortality.  The series of seven trials in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Malawi culminated in a meta-analysis of their results.  This analysis, published in the Lancet, showed that, given certain conditions on the ground, the women’s groups’ approach can reduce maternal mortality by half and newborn mortality by a third.  The approach received a recommendation from the World Health Organisation – a major boost for an NGO which has just four staff.  

In the UK, we also had significant success in spearheading advocacy for maternal and newborn health.  Between 2008 and 2013 our advocacy work included taking part in the All Party Parliamentary Group for Population, Reproductive Health and Development’s Hearings into Maternal Morbidity, facilitated submissions from our partners in Bangladesh, India and Malawi to the International Development Select Committee’s Inquiries into DFID’s aid programmes in those countries and made submissions into consultations for UK political party election manifestos and the World Bank.  We formed and led the Manifesto for Motherhood coalition which brought together over 30 NGOs, professional associations and academics to advocate to the UK parliamentarians on reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent issues.

It is very good to know that maternal and newborn deaths have decreased on a global level in recent years, but much remains to be done.  Of the more than 130 million pregnancies and births occurring each year, an estimated 303,000 result in the mother’s death, 2.6 million in stillbirth and another 2.7 million in a newborn death.  I am therefore pleased to know that Women and Children First’s excellent work will continue under the leadership of the new Chief Executive, Mikey Rosato.

Mikey, who joined Women and Children First at the beginning of 2014, brings extensive senior level management experience, having managed high performing teams in both the UK and Malawi. As Director of Programmes and Technical Assistance since 2016, Mikey has lead on the delivery of successful international development programmes reaching up to two million people a year. He also brings strong experience in strategy, business planning, policy development and fundraising, and has in-depth knowledge of current issues in global health. 

Mikey has dedicated his career to acting on inequalities to achieve a world where all women, children and adolescents in all settings are able to realise their rights to good health and wellbeing.  I have no doubt that he will lead Women and Children First successfully towards this goal.