The charity boss's demise was largely caused by the subterranean office.

 





Due to "contractual violations," successful businesswoman Linda Jenkinson has been relieved of her duties as Unicef New Zealand's board chair.

These inconsistencies, according to sources within the children's charity, include a basement office held by Jenkinson's business and lately utilized by the group as its Wellington headquarters.


The downtown Wellington headquarters required refurbishments - and apparently had "a rat problem" - when the organisation relocated there last July.

A current employee added, "We've spent quite a bit of money getting it up to spec. Large Unicef emblems, acoustic paneling, and lighting.

But a few days after Jenkinson was fired, the charity permanently vacated the Willis St. headquarters.


In addition to holding a position on the board of Air New Zealand during the first three years of her term, Jenkinson was originally appointed to the position in 2018.


She is frequently marketed as "the first woman CEO or founder to list a company on the Nasdaq" after a courier company she co-founded in the 1990s went public for US$230 million, earning her the title of one of New Zealand's most successful businesswomen.





Ben Wakely, the charity's interim board chair, issued a brief statement in response to inquiries on her departure.

Jenkinson had been "removed owing to contractual irregularities", he said - with the Unicef NZ board taking prompt action "when concerns were raised".

"The events that led to [Jenkinson's departure] do not directly affect donations to Unicef and its global programs, which are committed to enhancing the lives of children,"

The nonprofit organization refused to admit there was a lease agreement in existence and dodged multiple queries about it.


It also didn't say how much such renovations would cost or whether the organization would make money off them.

Wakely instead wrote that the organisation had "thoroughly investigated" the situation, and its board was committed to taking "additional action should new details come to light".


Nobody else associated with Unicef NZ wanted their names to be used in this account.


The charity, which has recently undergone a number of "rapid restructures," has reportedly been the subject of "internal witch-hunting," according to a number of sources.


They claimed that Jenkinson's resignation had been carefully planned, with the help of international Unicef colleagues and a team of communications staff on call to address media leaks.

The organization's CEO, Michelle Sharp, used completely different language in an email to the entire organization a few days after Jenkinson was fired.


Jenkinson "stepped down" from her position on the board, according to a letter she sent to the staff on January 24. The following morning, she wrote once more, stating that she had chosen that the employees would "work from home as of tomorrow," attributing this choice to Jenkinson's departure.



On January 27, a follow-up email detailed plans for a temporary office location on Willis St.


When questioned about the discrepancies between these emails and the statement of the organization's acting board chair, the charity declined to make any additional comments.

The former basement room seemed to be vacant this week. The building's windows, which are noticeably tinted in Unicef's emblematic cyan blue, are the only reminder of its previous occupant.


Between assignments in the United States and Australia, Jenkinson is said to have a penthouse apartment in the building.


The back of the building, which is accessible by a small Willis Street alleyway, is owned by Te Auaha Ltd, in which Jenkinson owns a controlling stake.


Jenkinson revealed to Stuff in 2016 that she has purchased a high-rise structure in Wellington to utilize as a live-work base. Her plan was to turn the upper level into loft apartments in the New York style.


At the time, the ground floor was referred to as "a warehouse space".

It is not the first time a senior official from Unicef NZ has left the organization in disgrace.


A week after the organization received criticism from the Government regarding a child wellness report in 2020, the charity's former chief executive resigned.


Jenkinson insisted the two incidents were unrelated at the time. She said that the organization was adopting "an integrated marketing approach" and that the former chief executive had resigned voluntarily because her abilities didn't match this strategy.


This tactic was described as "a corporate business attitude" by several sources, at contrast with the organization's principles.

The organization "couldn't pay the rent any more," according to a source with knowledge of the case, so it negotiated an early termination of its prior lease, which included a long-term office space in the PSA building on Aurora Tce.


The source claimed there had not been a rent rise in the previous six years, but the charity's income had decreased.


During the initial Covid-19 lockout, it had to essentially overnight redesign its fundraising platform because it had previously extensively relied on face-to-face street fundraising.


Unicef NZ is one of 33 regional fundraising offices for Unicef across the world that has been granted a country-level license by Unicef to use its name.


Jenkinson was removed, and emails were sent to Unicef asking if an investigation would be necessary.

Jenkinson was formerly a director for the American Red Cross and started a non-profit social company in Senegal.



She continued to identify herself as a member of the Unicef NZ board of directors as of the time of publication on her website and social media pages.


The Charities Commission said that there are no complaints regarding the charity under investigation at the moment.


There was no time for an interview with Michelle Sharp.


Disclosure declaration for reporting: Former Unicef NZ staffer Ethan Te Ora. Before, Stuff and Unicef NZ collaborated on sharing material.




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