“One of the long-term benefits of the Senior Executive Programme is that it’s enabled me to define what I’m like as a leader much more clearly.”

Inger Ashing

CEO of Save the Children International

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Having always had a passion for advocating for equal opportunities, and years of experience both working for the Swedish government and being a long-standing trustee and volunteer for Save the Children, Inger Ashing was the perfect fit when the role of CEO at Save the Children International came up. Faced with the challenge of creating a new strategy to lead the NGO forward, Inger decided to take the SEP to sharpen her skills and refine her leadership style.
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I was born in the UK but grew up in a town called Malmö in Southern Sweden. From a very early age I started to take notice of children being treated in a way that wasn’t fair; some were denied their rights and some weren’t listened to. I soon became a youth activist, advocating for equal opportunities for all and combatting social injustice. This work went on to guide all the choices I’ve made in my career since then.

It was clear to me that I wanted to have an impact on people’s lives and contribute to a world where everyone had equal opportunities and a fair chance to thrive at whatever they wanted to do. I studied Political Science and Economics at university and then spent two years working in a socially excluded area in my hometown, with a focus on supporting the integration of immigrants and refugees through education, training and employment. I then moved to Stockholm to start work as a research officer at a Swedish government agency focusing on youth affairs. I spent a number of years working for the Swedish government in various positions, including work as a special expert on NEET (youth not in employment, education or training) and as director general for government agencies. In parallel with my work, I volunteered from a young age and became a trustee in Save the Children in Sweden before being elected as board chair; I was also a trustee and a senior independent director on the Board of Save the Children International and Save the Children Association for a number of years. Then the opportunity to become CEO of Save the Children International opened up and I started that position in September 2019, not long before the pandemic hit.

Save the Children International is one of the biggest international NGOs in the world. We have over 25,000 employees working in more than 120 countries across the globe. Our focus is to protect the rights of children most impacted by inequality and discrimination, now and for the future. It’s a combination of long-term development work and humanitarian responses; of course, in recent years the latter has become a bigger and bigger part of what we do.

As CEO, my day-to-day responsibilities include staying on top of everything we do around the world; this could be anything from engaging with our office responding to the crisis in Syria, or advocating for our ability to provide humanitarian assistance. I also engage with governments and donors to ensure we have proper resourcing for various humanitarian situations around the world. We have 30 independent entities at Save the Children International, so a big part of my job is ensuring that we’re being the best we can be as a federation, and building on the strength of our different parts. There’s a lot of internal and external stakeholder management.

“With the challenge I had in front of me, to develop and lead this ambitious new strategy, the Senior Executive Programme felt like the perfect fit.”

“Understanding the perspectives of people from different backgrounds and industries, and how they tackle change and address problems, was great.”

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The opportunity to do the Senior Executive Programme came to me just as we were finalising a very ambitious new strategy for 2022-2024. Our goal in this time is to triple our impact for children, and to do this we need to change how we work as an organisation. I knew the SEP would be focussed on strategy and leading strategy change and execution. With the challenge I had in front of me, to develop and lead this ambitious new strategy, the programme felt like the perfect fit. I knew it was the right time for me to listen to some of the thought-leaders in my field while widening my own understandings and perspectives, and to access tools that could help me lead the change I wanted to see. I’d already defined my purpose before the SEP, but I knew having the opportunity to sharpen it and go back to thinking about what it is, and how to embed it in my day-to-day work, would be great.

The key thing that I took away from the programme, and will probably continue to value as the most important part of participating in it, was the peer learning and networking with all the amazing people that took the SEP with me. We gained so much from speakers and professors sharing their knowledge but it was the peer learning that I’ve benefited from the most. Understanding the perspectives of people from different backgrounds and industries, and how they tackle change and address problems, was great. The whole world is changing but in my sector there has been rapid change so quickly, both from within and from new, external demands and pushes. Being able to reflect on that together with others, and get a broader perspective on how to lead in an ever-changing world, was incredibly helpful.

During the programme, we were paired in small groups which meant we had an opportunity to get a more in-depth understanding of other businesses. I teamed up with people who were working in start-ups and in traditional industries, and working in this way helped me to understand how different we are in context, but also how much we have in common when it comes to leading and needing change. These sessions gave me perspectives that I don’t have in my day-to-day work environment. I normally spend most of my day, as we all do, having conversations and meeting people from within my own industry, or a similar industry. Seeing problems that I’m facing being described and tackled in these smaller group sessions gave me so much to learn and reflect on. I’m really humbled and grateful to have been able to meet these amazing people. We all have very strong purposes and I’m sure we will be able to drive the organisations where we work to new heights. It was really incredible to widen my own perspective and understanding

I gained a greater understanding of what I need to think about when I’m leading strategy and change. Today we always talk about empowering our people, which is what I think we definitely need to do. But sometimes we forget that for people to be able to fully succeed and co-create in that empowered environment, we need to be much clearer with the framework that that strategy is providing. Within what framework are we giving our people empowerment, and if so, within what framework are we empowering them to lead? I’ve reflected and taken on a lot of things around that on board.


“I think you benefit the most from being really open to your own development, and being vulnerable and spending a lot of time on self-reflection.”

“The programme has made me aware of the need for focusing more on the horizon, and spending less time on the here and now.”

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Doing a programme like the SEP takes a lot of time and energy, which encourages you to take a step back and reflect on who you are and whether you’re in the right place. It gave me more clarity on how I can add value to my organisation and the role I have. I think you benefit the most from being really open to your own development, and being vulnerable and spending a lot of time on self-reflection. Doing the SEP is all about having an open mind and continuing to learn. I am sure that a number of the conversations we had will stay with me for a long time. I don’t see it as a programme I completed last year and that’s that; a lot of these things will be ones that I go back to and continue to reflect on and use.

Many of us don’t reflect on how we come across to others, so we don’t give them the tools to be able to work with us effectively. Working in a multicultural organisation as I do, I’ve questioned what being Scandinavian and working with people from different cultures means for my approach to leadership, in my expectations, and in my communication. I’ve learned to be clearer to other people about who I am, what to expect and how we can work together successfully. I also immediately took on a lot of the tools I learned about my own leadership during the SEP. One of the long-term benefits of the programme is that it’s enabled me to define what I’m like as a leader much more clearly, which will help both myself and the people I work with to make the most out of my experiences.

The first week of the programme was all about who you are as a leader, with a lot of exercises and peer feedback, so I quickly gained a much better understanding of myself. Some of my strengths as a leader are that I’m transparent and inclusive. As someone who leads a federation of independent entities, one of my core strengths is my ability to bring people together. I also come into this leadership role with a lot of credibility; I’ve done this type of work for most of my life, having been a child and youth activist throughout my upbringing. I am absolutely committed to transforming Save the Children International as an organisation, and I am a person who really likes new challenges. I’m not afraid of change; I think it’s something that is needed. As a leader, I know that I’m capable of taking this organisation into its next phase.

In terms of leadership, the programme also helped me to reflect on my strengths, as well as the areas of improvement that I need to address in order to be more effective. The programme exposed me to a lot of challenging conversations and new ideas and new ways of thinking. This helped me understand which areas of myself to invest in, which will make me a more complete leader as I take this on and learn from my own experiences, as well as the experiences of others.

The programme has made me aware of the need for focusing more on the horizon, and spending less time on the here and now. Most of us spend a lot of time focusing on what’s next in the short- and mid-term, but we don’t dedicate enough time to thinking about the longer-term challenges that we’re facing. Another long-term benefit of the programme is that it will help me to be a more reflective leader. I think that was a wake-up call for many of us in the programme, and it’s a perspective that I’ll take with me for a long time. Of course, as CEO I need to be on top of the day-to-day business and what we do as an organisation, but more importantly I need to focus on a vision for the future, and making sure we are moving towards it.

The programme has also had an impact on me personally as well as professionally, especially with regards to the peer network and peer learning. I’ve taken away a lot of great things from that. I’ve also learned more about myself and widened my perspectives; I see these as long-term reflections, I’m always going back to my notes and making sure I stay connected to what I learned during the programme.


“Doing the SEP is all about having an open mind and continuing to learn. I am sure that a number of the conversations we had will stay with me for a long time.”

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