David Miliband's new world: From Westminster to the International Rescue Committee in New York

He's got all the contacts, but is the former minister's life in Westminster any preparation for one of the biggest jobs in the charity sector?

Career changes can be fraught with difficulties for once-successful politicians, accustomed to the trappings of power that come with high office. But David Miliband will find plenty that is familiar to him when he assumes the helm at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the New York-based non-profit humanitarian organisation founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein to help Germans suffering under the Nazis.

Its offices in the Chanin building on East 42nd Street might not be as grand as George Gilbert Scott's Foreign Office on London's King Charles Street close to the Thames – built to impress visiting foreign dignitaries as "a kind of national palace or drawing room for the nation" – but, in global reach and clout, it rivals any other non-governmental organisation, for profit or not.

Mr Miliband will already be familiar with its upper ranks, including a board of overseers that counts the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and no less that three former US Secretaries of State – Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice – as members. He will also be able to draw on the counsel of current and former business bigwigs from JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Pepsi, Intel and McKinsey, to a name just a few.

When Mr Miliband was named as the organisation's next president and chief executive, the IRC press release included a message from the former President Bill Clinton, who said he had known the one-time contender for the Labour leadership for almost 20 years.

And though the job doesn't come with a country retreat like Chevening, he is likely to earn enough to afford a comparable Manhattan pad. The incumbent, former Columbia University president George Rupp, is paid just under $400,000 (£263,000) a year from the IRC plus around $52,000 more from the IRC and related groups, according to disclosure forms on the charity's website. He may have lost the war for the Labour leadership but he now earns a lot more than his brother, Ed, might expect to earn if he ever becomes Prime Minister – and also more than Barack Obama banks every year as President of the United States.

From New York, Mr Miliband will be responsible for a sprawling international operation, active in more than 40 countries. Known for its rapid response to humanitarian disasters – arriving on the scene, according to its own account, within 72 hours – it is also active within the US, with offices in 22 American cities.

"This group is one of America's premier international aid charities," said Daniel Borochoff, the president of CharityWatch, a US group that scrutinises and ranks charities

In terms of numbers Mr Miliband had a bigger canvas at the Foreign Office – more than 14,000 employees across 270 diplomatic offices – but the charity is active in the same conflict zones that he dealt with while he was Foreign Secretary: Darfur, for example, and Kenya.

In the former case Mr Miliband was working in South Sudan as recently as last year, when he reportedly helped broker an advisory role for the Africa Governance Initiative charity run by his former boss Tony Blair. Mr Blair's Faith Foundation, meanwhile, has an office in Sierra Leone, where the former Prime Minister remains popular owing to his role in bringing a long-running conflict to an end, and where the IRC also works.

Mr Miliband's new colleagues are similarly involved in Iraq, where, a decade on from the invasion for which he voted as a member of the Blair government, around 1.3 million people remain displaced – living "in prolonged limbo", as the IRC said this month. "This is a major displacement crisis," Mike Young, the IRC's regional director for the Middle East, said on 19 March.

Back in 2007, the IRC's UK branch was among the signatories to a letter addressed to Mr Miliband, who was then at the Foreign Office, expressing its concern about the UK's "very weak performance" dealing with the crisis of refugees and internationally displaced persons in Iraq.

"We would urge you to work alongside your colleagues in the Home Office and the Department for International Development to push for a much more robust recognition of the UK's obligations to all persecuted Iraqis, both as an active party in Iraq and as a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention," read the letter, which was also signed by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Refugee Council.

Although Mr Miliband was not foreign secretary when the American and British forces invaded Iraq, he was in government; and he remains associated with the policy, which raises questions about whether the IRC, which last year had around $390m in operating revenues, is compromising its independence by hiring him. The charity depends on the co-operation of foreign governments when it swoops in to lend a helping hand. There is a risk that, with Mr Miliband at the helm, it will be seen as an instrument of Anglo-American foreign policy, not as an independent charity.

"I don't know if it would make things worse," Mr Borochoff said. While some have questioned the appointment, he points out that according to the latest figures the US government was a key source of the IRC's funding.

"I don't think bringing in a [former] UK Foreign Secretary would make them look any more biased than they already do, if you want to look at it that way," he said. "If they had appointed Israel's Foreign Minister then maybe it would have made things harder in the Middle East. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to hire someone [like Mr Miliband] who has good relationships in government over here, which is what you need in this case."

According to a report on IRC from Root Cause, a non-profit research and consulting firm, only 14 per cent of its funding came from private sources. Home government grants and contracts, in contrast, accounted for 44 per cent of its sources of funding. Foreign government grants and contracts made up 27 per cent, while around 11 per cent of the charity's money came from UN agency grants and contracts.

"They have a very large budget, and very widespread operations, so his broad international experience will come in handy," Mr Borochoff said.

The world awaiting David Miliband

David Miliband, the new CEO of the International Rescue Committee, has never worked in the charity sector before. But far from arriving at his new $450,000-a-year post with a clean slate, he is bringing plenty of baggage with him when he flies across the Atlantic. His time as Foreign Secretary under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown has brought him in to direct contact with many of the countries in which the IRC operates - including Iraq and Afghanistan. So will his past have any effect on the charity’s future...?

Palestinian Territories

The IRC provided emergency support to hospitals in the Gaza Strip in late 2008 during fighting between Hamas and Israel that killed 700 Palestinian civilians and three Israelis. It also works extensively with Palestinian children in the West Bank in “healing classrooms” – which help teachers deal with traumatised youths.

Mr Miliband took a relatively neutral position on the Israel/Palestine conflict during his time as Foreign Secretary. He called for an “immediate halt to violence” during the 2008 war, but was criticised for failing to condemn Israel over the number of civilian deaths. Both the IRC and Mr Miliband have been critical of the Gaza blockade, which has worsened the humanitarian crisis in the territory.

Sierra Leone

In 2002 the country emerged from a 12-year civil war that displaced two million people and killed a further 50,000. The IRC works extensively in the country with projects on education, disease prevention and helping victims of sexual violence.

Sierra Leone is one of a handful of places where Mr Miliband may cross paths with his old boss. Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation has an office in the country, where it works primarily on malaria prevention. Mr Miliband’s links to Mr Blair may well come in handy in his new role. The former Prime Minister is a popular figure in Freetown due to Britain’s role in bringing the war to an end. Britain has also invested heavily in Sierra Leone in recent years.

South Sudan

IRC’s website claims it is one of the biggest providers of humanitarian assistance to South Sudan, which has millions of inhabitants dependent on food aid, some of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world and a huge number of refugees.

Last year Mr Miliband helped broker an advisory role for Tony Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative (a well-funded charity that says it aims to strengthen African leadership and boost economic growth) with the South Sudanese government, and is likely to cross paths with his mentor as both men engage more closely with the country.

Afghanistan

IRC began working with refugees fleeing Afghanistan in 1980 and has run projects inside the country since 1988, with an emphasis on emergency response, education and development. But the prevailing insecurity has limited its footprint to seven of the country’s 34 provinces and IRC staff have been murdered by Taliban insurgents on several occasions on the pretext that they are stooges for “foreign invader forces”.

Mr Miliband’s support for the Afghanistan war and his tenure as Foreign Secretary will hardly allay insurgents’ suspicions that IRC’s humanitarians are merely imperialists in disguise.

Iraq

1.5 million Iraqis who fled their homes during the US-led invasion remain displaced, according to IRC’s figures. It is involved in building schools in the country, providing free legal advice to refugees, supporting work programmes and promoting health.

Mr Miliband voted for the Iraq war. When his brother said the conflict was wrong during his acceptance speech after winning the Labour leadership in 2010, David famously scolded Harriet Harman for clapping, pointing out that she had also been a supporter. According to sources, in private he believed the war was a disaster but refused to say so during the leadership campaign out of loyalty to his old boss. The country presents a potential headache in his new role.

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