Rob Fenn

Rob Fenn

Head of Human Rights and Democracy Department, FCO

15th October 2012 London, UK

Blog Action Day 2012: Eradicating Polio everywhere, forever

“Whatever!” Somewhere between childhood and adulthood it becomes embarrassing to say “I want to save the world” – and pretty uncool to admit even to wanting to change it for the better.
Good schools delay the onset of cynicism. A really good school might be able to inoculate children against cynicism for life. The International School Brunei – “ISB” – has teamed up with Standard Chartered Bank (“Here for Good”), to devise a scheme called “Polio Points” which is going to change the world, one ampoule of vaccine at a time.
Launched this month by the Crown Princess of Brunei, “Polio Points” is a way to harness the uncynical enthusiasm of ISB students for doing good. As a parent of the Hogwarts generation, I haven’t had to explain the concept of earning points to my boys. But there really does seem to be something magical about the way good deeds, intelligent risk taking, acts of kindness or bravery – in classroom, playground or rainforest – can be transmuted into polio vaccine for children in Pakistan.
One magic ingredient is “corporate social responsibility” – something Bruneian society admires, and which the British banks operating here, HSBC and Standard Chartered, practise with verve.  Another part of the potion is ISB’s determination to ensure that a small school in Borneo thinks globally. This year, ISB’s “Borneo Global Issues Conference” heard from the Lord Mayor of the City of London on the subject of responsible capitalism; and from a charismatic young Australian, Hugh Evans, on how we could “Make Hunger History”; and how we were “this close” to eradicating Polio everywhere – forever.
That struck a chord with students and staff. In the months since the conference they came up with the concept, made their pitch to Standard Chartered, and are now busy amassing “Polio Points”. An NGO, the Global Poverty Project, is finding them a charity in Pakistan to administer the vaccines; and Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Brunei has generously offered to sponsor a visit to his country for a delegation from the school, to see their “Polio Points” in action.
At the end of the ceremony which launched the scheme, ISB’s youngest “Polio Points Ambassador” stood up and said: “I want to change the world”. She can.
For more information on “Polio Points”, visit

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About Rob Fenn

Rob Fenn has been Head of the FCO’s Human Rights and Democracy Department
since March 2014. His last formal responsibility for human rights was in
the mid 1990s, when he served as UK Delegate on the Third Committee of
the General Assembly in New York (with annual excursions to what was
then the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva). Recent celebrations of
the twentieth anniversary of the creation of the post of UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights – a resolution he helped pilot through the
GA – came a shock. The intervening 20 years have flown: in Rome
(EU/Economics), in London (Southern European Department), in Nicosia
(Deputy High Commissioner) and latterly in Bandar Seri Begawan.
Julia and their two sons loved Brunei, where British High Commissioners
are made especially welcome. The family’s activities included regular
walks in the pristine rainforest, expeditions upriver to help conserve
the Sultanate’s stunning biodiversity, and home movie making (in Brunei
it is almost impossible to take a bad photograph).
all those saturated colours, Rob worried that the move back to Britain
might feel like a shift into black and white. But the reunion with
family, friends and colleagues, and the boys’ brave reintegration into a
North London school, have been ample compensation. Julia’s main regret
is that, now she walks on Hampstead Heath, she no longer has an excuse
to carry a machete (“parang”).
problem is summed up in two types of reaction from friends outside the
office. On hearing that he is “in charge of human rights and democracy
at the FCO”, some think it sounds like a vast job: what else is there?
Others think it sounds wishy-washy: not in the national interest. Rob’s
mission is to take the Foreign Secretary’s dictum that “our values are
our interests”, and help his colleagues translate it into action in a
world so varied it can contain both Brunei’s clouded leopard and the
civil war in Syria.

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