Oxfam: Strengthening our roots

This past year the Oxfam confederation reached more people than ever before – 22.3 million – the majority women and girls.

We did this largely via partnerships with more than 7,300 organizational allies around the world, helping them too to strengthen the ways they influence their own decision-makers. By next year we will spend 30% of our funding directly into these kinds of local groups.

In many ways, this is the result of a “new look” Oxfam. In 2014-5 we set out to become a more globally balanced organization, one more responsive to the shifting dynamics of poverty and power. We’re now well advanced with our changes. We remain committed to our mission to fight global poverty and inequality, while we have been anticipating and reacting to change – both inside and out.

First, we considered the new complexities of global poverty. Nearly 800m people are living now in extreme poverty, half that of 20 years ago - but many of them in fragile, difficult-to-work states. We see conflict, rocketing inequalities and climate break-down fuelling discriminations, disasters, hunger and mass migrations. Centers of political power waxing and waning, with southern countries driving more their own development pathways, responsible for realizing their own potential including through new technologies. We see the rise of feminist power even as we do, in many countries, also see divisive populist politics and the repression of civil activism.

Secondly, we considered ourselves. Since 1995, Oxfam’s international confederation has grown now to 19 independent NGOs (“affiliates”) running campaigns and development and humanitarian programs in 67 countries. Our affiliates raise more than €1b between them each year to fight global poverty. Each has its own Board, is regulated by its own government, raises its own funds, and manages its own operations in their home country. Oxfam’s affiliates share the “Oxfam” name, are supported by a coordinating Secretariat, and work together under a single Global Strategic Plan.

In 2014-5 Oxfam set out a series of changes to improve the confederation’s global balance and become more genuinely led by the people we exist to help. We were encouraged along this path by our staff and partners, by the communities with whom we work, and by our donors and supporters; this is where the development sector itself must move. We knew we could work smarter through new Oxfam structures. We wanted to better utilize our knowledge and our influencing networks and become more efficient and effective in helping people living in poverty.

Our Strategic Plan 2013-19 had firmly committed us toward this change:

  • We want to create a worldwide influencing network led by our teams in the global South, nearer to where we work with local communities that are driving their own solutions;
  • We want to improve the quality of our programs and share better the knowledge and partnerships that we have built up over the years;
  • We want to strengthen our governance and accountability, with common standards and best practices across our confederation;
  • We wanted to invest more in training, retaining and developing the leadership of our own staff, and improve our efficiency and effectiveness;
  • And we wanted to diversify and strengthen our fund-raising base – again, by Oxfam affiliates working more closely together including in new countries.

The most visible signs of our restructure have perhaps been in three key areas.

We have streamlined our country program operations. Over the years, as our confederation grew, it meant – in some cases – having two or more Oxfam affiliates running their own separate programs in the same country. We have streamlined this. Now, in each country, we have a single Oxfam strategy and program, with one “executing affiliate” legally registered there, providing back office and business support. Other Oxfam “partner” affiliates are investing funds into these single country programs. The Oxfam International (OI) Secretariat has taken over staff management, simplifying our management lines. The funding and compliance of a country program remains the responsibility of our affiliates who all retain their existing relationships and obligations to their regulators, governments, publics and donors.

The second is that we are specifically building up our own “Southern leadership” both by establishing more Southern affiliates and empowering our country program teams to make decisions on the ground. We have welcomed Oxfam India, Oxfam Brazil, Oxfam Mexico and Oxfam South Africa into our confederation and we have affiliation processes currently underway in Turkey and Colombia.

The third is that Oxfam International has moved its headquarters from Oxford to Nairobi. Our Executive Director Winnie Byanyima explained this move here at the time. The OI Secretariat is funded through contributions from all Oxfam affiliates and acts as the confederation’s over-arching coordination body, as well as the line manager of all country and regional program staff.

Next year we hope to inspire and work with more people than ever. Stay tuned!

This entry posted on 31 December 2018, by Oxfam International Management Team.

Photo: Valerie Mukangerero walks to her pineapple farm in Rwamurema village, eastern Rwanda. ”When I joined the cooperative, we were trained, we learned and I felt relieved that I would have a good life one day. I was going to change my life.” Credit: Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville/Oxfam

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