For Martenstyn, who has been involved with Save the Children since he was a teen, working for the benefit of Africa’s young people has been a time of great optimism and hope. In his year at the helm, £12 million has been raised for key projects.
Where exactly do Africa’s children need the most support?
We have to anticipate – and meet - the impact of Covid-19 on vulnerable children. I am concerned about the devastating impact this virus will have in Africa, and the support that is urgently needed. During our AGM it was obvious our work on the board is even more crucial than before – the focus is now Covid-19.
Africa is about family and community – what, based on your experience, can Africans teach the world?
The energy, commitment, culture, and enthusiasm of Africans have always impressed me, as does their community spirit. Their drive to succeed, their commitment to empower the next generation to better themselves, and their determination to ensure their children grow up healthy, educated and safe from harm has always been a constant positive.
Poverty always comes with so many related issues – if you could work through this list what would your top three priorities be?
One priority is to tackle malnutrition. We know that malnourished children have lower immunity and would be severely affected by Covid-19, for example. This, along with pneumonia, which is the single largest cause of death in children worldwide.
Secondly, it is important to keep children safe from harm, from war or civil strife. Protection is important and this includes keeping girls safe from child marriage and FGM.
Thirdly, education: ensuring all children get the best start in life. To beat poverty, a good education is key. I think that is true with all children across the globe – education is vital. As Malala Yousafzai said, “One child, one book and one pen, can change the world”.
If you could go back in time and redirect history, what would you change for Africa?
One of Save the Children’s enduring concerns has always been managing the consequences of ongoing conflict and the impacts on children. Africa has had too much conflict and too many wars. I would redirect history, so nations learned from the lessons of such conflicts and avoid such conflicts. So, I could hopefully go back in my time machine and act as a supreme mediator and prevent the conflicts that have obviously had an impact on this vibrant continent, and especially its children.
Is there any one country in Africa that has a special place in your heart?
One of my final acts and visits as chair of the Africa Advisory Board was to see the work being done in Cape Town in South Africa. It was an unforgettable experience. Cape Town has a special place in my heart because the people embraced our board with open arms. The visits to the Naspers Labs centre and being invited into the projects to meet the children at school has most certainly changed my life, and for the better. Belinda Bowling, Social Impact Director (Naspers), was our guide during the Lab visit, and it’s a day I will never forget.
What is next for you with Save the Children?
I will continue to support the Africa Advisory Board in any way I can, as I will do for the team at Save the Children working on the Africa fundraising initiative. I’m also on hand to help the new chair, Evaline Momanyi, who has made an incredible start. I know her energy, passion and talent will bring our board to even greater heights. Being invited to chair this amazing board has certainly been one of the proudest moments of my life, and I’ll never forget the support provided. So, I will be cheering them on from the back of the room, rather than the front! I was also invited by Save the Children chief executive, Kevin Watkins, to lead an initiative surrounding climate and the impact this will have on future generations. Obviously Covid-19 has taken over the focus but I hope to pick that back up with Kevin when we are through this pandemic.
I have been with Save the Children for 24 years now and so it will always feel like family to me. Before becoming chair, I organised many activities based fundraising events, and I have a feeling another event is long overdue.
In his thanks to Martenstyn and the Africa Advisory Board, via videolink to the AGM in Cape Town in March, Save the Children’s global chief executive Kevin Watkins said they had helped set the direction for the charity.
“I want to thank all of you for the amazing commitment you have shown our organisation and that you’ve shown Africa over the last year. Creating the Africa Advisory Board is one of the most important things that we’ve done in the time that I’ve been at Save the Children. Not only are you already delivering really significant benefits for children, but you’re signalling our direction of travel as an organisation...A huge thank you to all of you.”
Martenstyn is the managing director of the legal finance group Vannin Capital in London. Save the Children is supported by Africa Legal. Co-founder Scott Cowan also serves on the charity’s Africa Advisory Board.
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