In defence of Camila Batmanghelidjh

The criticism and personal attack now being directed at the Kids Company CEO is both shocking and unpleasant. The mood changed noticeably when the announcement of the charity’s closure came – with a sudden shift away from a balanced critique of the role of government and the charity, to an outright attack on Camila. I can only think the clamour of sector commentators to stick the boot is was driven by a fear of finding themselves being on ‘the wrong side of history’ now that Government has emerged as the victor of this particular skirmish.

I believe the governance at Kids Company was weak and the trustees were unable or unwilling to hold the staff to account or adequately steer the organisation’s strategy and direction. Did Kids Company make mistakes?

Yes, I am sure they did. Much as you would find if you investigated in forensic detail the actions (or inactions) of almost any large institution – be it a charity, company or government department. [RBS shares anyone?]

We will see whether this was criminal – or as I suspect is more likely, some less than ideal practice that goes on occasionally when you work with people with chaotic lifestyles.

The auditors, regulators, government and the many many well-informed and experienced funders that supported the organisation should all be looking carefully at their own roles in this affair and what they could or should have done to prevent it.

The biggest mistake Kids Company made from what I can see was pursuing unsustainable growth over a period of years. The charity’s turnover grew every year from around £13m in 2009 to over £23m in 2013, as this chart shows.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 15.54.54

In general their income exceeded their spending – which rather flies in the face of some of the criticism I have seen levelled at them – but as they grew their liabilities grew too and the amount of reserves they were able to build up did not keep pace.

Another criticism I have seen is that they were not holding millions of pounds of reserves. And whilst they were clearly not holding enough cash to withstand financial shocks (which sounds a bit like the financial crash of 2008), we should be careful not to legitimise the hoarding of huge amounts of cash that provide no benefit to charity beneficiaries. And if you think this is not an issue have a look at the reserves of some of Britain’s largest charities.

We should be careful that we do not put off young people from becoming social innovators, charity leaders and community activists by demonising Camila over the collapse of Kids Company. She had her foibles but she cared. I don’t think anyone has yet said that she didn’t care (I’ll look forward to that character assassination!) about the kids they were working with or the many others who she wanted to provide support and care for.

Camila challenged the orthodoxy and was attacked for it.

She shamed the politicians that have overseen swingeing cuts to the support of the most vulnerable.

She was prepared to put herself on the line, put her head above the parapet and stand up for what she believed in.

We need more people like Camila even if they are fallible and come with warts and all.


3 thoughts on “In defence of Camila Batmanghelidjh

  1. Yes I agree. Esp about holding too many reserves. However, a charity needs to work out how much reserves they actually do need to hold – to fold and pay redundancy, contract liabilities etc at least. It is good practice to hold this amount or at least work towards it. How can they be ethical in terms of being good employers to their staff if they don’t? I also can’t see that cash flow forcecasts could have been particularly accurate??? It is the trustees responsibility to do this and they don’t seem to have had much of the blame. If two finance managers have left due to the unsustainability of the charity financially, then that was a strong message to Camila and the trustees. Money doesn’t grow on trees esp in today’s sad financial climate. Let’s hope that some good comes out of this – eg if some local authorities change the way they work. Sadly, I don’t expect they will.

  2. Pingback: The attacks on Kids Company are becoming an attack on the charity sector | tobyblume

  3. Pingback: The actions of a few do not meant the charity sector is rotten | tobyblume

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