Oxfam is one of the leading nongovernmental organizations that have been focused on fighting poverty, injustice and social sufferings of people around the world. Its mission is to enable people to fight poverty by offering them with moral and material means of achieving this. The organization has taken human rights-based approach when defining its values to the people around the world (P.E.C.B 12). Its main value that defines its operational activities is the indivisibility and universality of human rights as defined by the United Nations. Under this value, Oxfam seeks to fight for people’s right to basic social needs, sustainable livelihood, security, and right of identity as a way of elevating human suffering (Green 48).
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The organization has spread its operations to various parts of the world as it seeks to realize its mission of protecting the humanity against poverty and social injustices in various parts of the world. According to Watkins (43), most nongovernmental organizations that have sprout up in various parts of the world have individualized missions other than to help people to come out of their suffering. However, Oxfam has uniquely identified itself among the donors, volunteers, the victims, and the society as an organization with a clear mission to bridge the gap between the poor and the rich. It has made concerted effort to eliminate social injustice and poverty around the world. It has steered away from political issues despite its presence in various parts of the world.
Oxfam’s mission and set of values guide its organizational and operational structure in carrying out its mandate of fighting poverty and social injustice.
Formation of Organization
According to Rugendyke (65), Oxfam was started in 1942. A group of social activists, academics, and Quakers in Oxford started this organization with the view of reducing human suffering in the country. It was one of the local committees that were started to boost the operations of the National Famine Relief Committee (Leather 66). During this period, the main mission of the committee was to convince the government of Britain to allow food relief to the staving citizens of Greece.
The citizens of Greece were suffering as the country’s borders were blockaded by the Allied Forces. The Great Britain, being one of the major partners in the Allied Forces, had a strong influence on such decisions, and Oxfam believed that if it could persuade the government to allow for food relief into this country, then it will be able to save many lives that were endangered in this country. As an affiliate of the National Famine Relief Committee, Oxfam managed to convince other affiliate members and the parent organization that relief was not just needed nationally. It was necessary to find ways of expanding the scope of operations to include other regions around the world that were under eminent danger of starvation.
Intentions and purposes of Oxfam
In 1942 when it was started, the Second World War was in progress, and many lives had been lost through military strikes or hunger. The National Famine Relief Committee had been formed earlier to look into the national needs, especially on issues of famine that resulted from the inability of most of the citizens to engage in the economic activities due to the war. The committee was responsible for receiving food relief from the international society, especially the United States, and distributing it to the people in this country, especially those who were worst affected by the war. Given the amount of work that the committee had to handle, it became overwhelmed, and this necessitated the formation of other sub-committees, including the Oxfam in 1942.
As at this time, Oxfam was expected to distribute relief within the country alongside other sub-committees in order to help elevate the living conditions of the British nationals. As they progressed with their national duties, it came to their attention that other countries needed urgent relief in order to protect their citizens from starvation. Greece was particularly identified as a country whose citizens were under the eminent threat of starvation because all its borders were locked by the two forces in the war.
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When the Word War II finally came to an end, Oxfam decided to expand its operations to other countries. The first country they opened an office in was Canada in 1965. Oxford Canada was expected to work in line with the vision set by the parent organization of fighting poverty, social injustice, and human sufferings. It later moved to the United States, Germany, and many other nations around the world where they felt their services were needed the most. Currently, their focus has been on Africa, especially in warring nations such as Southern Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, northern Nigeria, and Uganda.
Evolution of Oxfam into Oxfam International
Oxfam evolved into Oxfam International in 1995 in order to expand its scope of operations. As mentioned above, Oxfam realized that people around the world were suffering from famine and other social injustices. In various parts of the world, human dignity was lost, especially in sub-Sahara Africa and parts of Asia. The committee resolved to extend its operations to such countries, making an important evolution into Oxfam International.
According to Green (78), “Oxfam International was formed in 1995 by a group of independent non-governmental organizations, and was finally registered The Hague in Netherlands as a non-profit foundation.” Oxfam International had a global mandate to help the poor and other disadvantaged members of the society to live in dignity as human beings. It is important to note that the new organization did not change the vision of the original organization. The focus still remained fighting poverty, human sufferings, and other social injustices. As Oxfam International, it had the liberty to operate in the global society, especially in the regions that the United Nations classified as volatile areas. It has full time and part-time workers in various parts of the world to help it realize its mandate of fighting poverty and human sufferings.
Current state of Oxfam
Currently, Oxfam operates in over 94 countries around the world through its 17 affiliate organizations. The organization has clearly defined its operational areas to help it achieve its goals. It has specific countries that are classified as donor nations, especially in Europe and North America. It also has specific countries that are defined as the recipients, and most of them are in Africa and other Asian countries. This classification helps in defining its activities in these countries, especially when it is making its campaign to generate income or fight poverty and social injustices. However, this does not mean that the donor countries may not need their help. It does not also rule out the possibility of the recipient nations giving out some support to help their own people or other people in the international society.
Using its 17 affiliates, Oxfam is currently working on strategies that will enable it reach many people around the world suffering from social injustices or poverty with the aim of making them lead better lives and achieve human dignity. In order to expand its sources of income, the firm has currently engaged in business operations in various nations. Sometimes the organization would receive donations in the form of products other than cash.
It can be costly to deliver such products from Europe or North America to Africa or Asia. In some instances, the product may not be the item needed urgently by the target population. For instance, a person may decide to donate a diamond bracelet as a way of demonstrating that the disadvantaged group deserves human dignity. In other cases, an individual would have an item he or she is not using and may decide to donate it.
A war victim in Southern Sudan does not need the diamond bracelet because she is almost starving to death. She needs food, shelter, and security from the rebel forces. It is also important to note that transporting such donations to the regions across the world may not only be time consuming, but also very expensive. For this reason, the management considered it appropriate to introduce a system where such products would be sold in order to generate the cash. It is easier and very efficient to transfer cash to these nations so that immediate help can be delivered to the people suffering from poverty.
Oxfam Organizational Structure
Oxfam International organizational structure can be understood by analyzing the leadership of this organizations and how the top leadership relates to other affiliates operating in various parts of the world. The following diagram shows the organizational structure of Oxfam.
The top management unit of Oxfam International is the board of trustees headed by the chairman to the board. There is a board of trustees in each of the affiliate countries, and when they converge in a general meeting, they form the general assembly of the trustees responsible for developing the strategic policies that govern the organization. The daily operations of Oxfam international are governed by the corporate leadership team headed by the Chief Executive. The current Chief Executive is Mr. Mark Goldring who assumed the position in May 2013. He is assisted by seven divisional directors in various regions, and one international director stationed at Oxford GB. The current international director at Oxfam GB is Penny Lawrence who assumed the position in March 2006. In each of the Oxfam affiliates, there are general managers who are in charge of the daily operations of the firm.
Oxfam International has been very successful in its operations over the past years, especially after the board’s decision to expand the mandate of the organization to the global levels. This meant that it had to find ways of making its operations efficient enough to meet the expanded needs. The best way that the organization could achieve success in the international society was to devolve its operation from its Oxford headquarters in Great Britain, to other locations where it had started active operations. The organization established affiliates in various countries as a way of devolving its operations. Currently, Oxfam has 17 affiliates actively involved in various activities that would help the organization achieve its strategic objectives. The following are the affiliates. Oxfam America in the United States, Oxfam Australia, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam-in-Belgium, Oxfam France, Oxfam Great Britain, Oxfam France, Oxfam Germany, Oxfam Hong Kong, and Oxfam India (Oxfam 21).
Others include Oxfam Spain, Oxfam Mexico, Oxfam Ireland, Oxfam New Zealand, Oxfam Quebec, Oxfam Japan, Oxfam Italy, and Oxfam Novib in Netherlands (Oxfam 21). The seventeen Oxfam affiliates form the operational units of this organization. They operate semi-autonomously, but with close relationship with the headquarters. Most of the operations are localized in order to make them locally acceptable. This means that the head of Oxfam America has the powers to define the operational objectives and strategies that best meets the local population in this country. The strategies taken by the management of Oxfam America to meet the objectives of the parent organization may not necessarily be similar to that taken by Oxfam Japan. Each of the affiliates has the responsibility of meeting the overall objectives of the parent organization of fighting poverty, human sufferings, and other social injustices.
Oxfam has to be accountable in its operations to various entities that partner with it in its effort to eradicate poverty, human sufferings, and social injustices. To the partner organizations, Oxfam must remain accountable in terms of releasing the donations received from various countries so that they can be distributed to the intended population. All the relevant documents where the transactions of various activities were recorded have been made available to the partner organizations on demand. In fact, there has been a clear communication system that allows the organizational partners to evaluate how this organization has spent the resources that are obtained from various sources.
All the 17 affiliate heads have been given the authority to review the expenses of the organization in order to determine how well the resources were used. In the same spirit, the Chief Executive of Oxfam has the mandate to review the expenditure of the affiliates in order to ascertain that donations are well managed, and that they reach the target population as expected.
Oxfam has a huge responsibility to the donors. It must remain accountable to its donors whose aim is to elevate the lives of people who are suffering from poverty and other social misfortunes. According to Roche (104), there are numerous nongovernmental organizations in the world operating in a similar manner as Oxfam. They all depend on the donors majorly from North America and Europe, just like Oxfam.
This means that Oxfam has a competition in its quest to get donations. It must prove to the donors that their contributions are handled well without any form of misappropriations. This is the only way through which it can maintain a steady flow of donations in these regions. To remain accountable to the donors, this organization has been regularly publishing its income and expenditure on an annual basis. The audited accounts of the firm are published to ensure that any possibility of financial misappropriation is eliminated. Every income of the organization is fully accounted for and regularly published so that donors can monitor how their contributions are spent. The documents showing the audited accounts are always sent to the donors in case they request for it. The annual journals released by the organization also help the donors to know some of the areas that were given more focus by the organization.
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To the local communities in which Oxfam carries out its functions, there has been efforts made to ensure that this firm remains accountable. When the organization makes its plea to the donors to help in financing its operations, it always mentions the regions where such donations would be taken. For instance, the organization has been making a plea to the donors to help the people of Southern Sudan who are facing the threat of starvation because of the fight between the government forces and the rebels. Oxfam has taken the pictures of the individuals in this country who are left homeless with nothing to eat.
These people have expectations that Oxfam will deliver in its promise to offer them food and shelter. It is necessary for the organization to remain accountable to the local community. Oxfam has developed offices in these volatile regions where leaders of these communities or individuals can come and ask for the documentations of the donations received, and the amounts that have reached people. The same documents that are sent to the donors are always made available for the local community. This means that the organization has nothing to hide. It only acts as a link between the donors and the beneficiaries of the donation.
In its mission to achieve the set vision, Oxfam works with various partners in over 91 countries in various programs. According to Powell (89), different countries have different needs that can be addressed by the nongovernmental organizations. The top leadership of this organization has come up with a policy where individual managers heading various countries are given the liberty to choose the most appropriate program in their regions that will help the local population achieve the most basic needs. The following are some of the works that this organization has been engaged in over the years.
Oxfam has been able to understand the specific needs of the people in various regions in order to ensure that the services it offers are those that are needed the most. For instance, in Bangladesh, many people are suffering from absolute poverty. However, the numbers of youths who can engage in economic activities are many. With limited employment opportunities in the country, many youths idle around, causing insecurity in some of the major cities in the country. In such countries, Oxfam has developed the developmental programs that are meant to empower the youths. This organization has been promoting the youths to form groups which are then financed in order to make them economically empowered. This organization has taught youths how to start small enterprises using the locally available resources. They have been financed to make it possible for the groups to start business operations without getting loans from the financial institutions.
According to Oxfam, millions of people go to bed without food, while others cannot access quality healthcare services, or education because of the oppressive system that only seeks to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. Oxfam believes in fairness in distribution of resources. It has developed campaign programs to challenge governments in various parts of the world to reevaluate their systems to ensure that they are in line with those set by the United Nations Human Rights Commission. It has also been championing for the protection of the environment as the only way of protecting the future generation.
Oxfam has been in the forefront in helping people in various nations when the disaster strikes. The organization has been very helpful in various countries that have suffered the natural disasters and politically instigate attacks. During the Philippines Typhoon, Oxfam was one of the organizations that offered support to the victims in form of relief food, tents, medication, and even in the evacuation process. In other natural calamities such as the Pakistani floods, the Haiti earthquake of 2010, and the cyclone in India, this organization played a pivotal role in helping the victims get the basic needs such as food and water. In the war torn regions such as Mali, Syria, D.R. Congo, Yemen, and Gaze, the Oxfam has been responding to cases of emergency that need their attention in order to protect lives.
Oxfam has developed advocacy programs which are meant to improve the living standards of people all over the world. Currently, this organization is considered as one of the leading advocates for environmental protection all over the world. It has also been advocating for the good governance, especially in the African countries where leaders have engaged in corrupt dealings that affect the living standards of the normal population.
Oxfam has also been actively involved in policy research in order to develop reforms that can help in fighting poverty and social injustices in various parts of the world. Although the organization is not political, it has been critical of some of the governments’ policies that give the rich more avenues to increase their wealth at the expense of the poor. It has partnered with various governments in policy research to come up with reforms that can help in promoting wealth creation, especially among the low income earners. It has also developed policies that seek to promote entrepreneurship among the youths as a way of creating more employment opportunities.
Role of Oxfam in International Relations
Oxfam started as an organization that was focused on helping the poor and other disadvantaged groups in the Great Britain during the Second World War. However, their geographic focus changed when they realized that people around the world were suffering from poverty or other social injustices. The organization made a decision to expand its mandate, especially after transforming into Oxfam international. It has been playing a pivotal role in the international relations. The following are some of its specific roles.
Role of Oxfam as an advocate, campaigner, and policy researcher
The activities of Oxfam have had massive impact on a number of global issues because of its direct engagement with governments and the citizens of various countries. It has become one of the leading advocates for human rights around the world. It has influenced various countries to review their human rights policies to be in line with that of international human rights commission. As a campaigner of the rule of law, this organization has made efforts to influence the international society to intervene in war torn countries such as Syria, South Sudan, and Yemen in order to reduce civilian casualties. It has been working tirelessly to achieve global equity in its campaigns as a way of fighting poverty. As a policy researcher, Oxfam has partnered with other institutions and scholars in a research that is focused on finding unique solutions to the problems faced by citizens of the third world country, especially the issue of poverty.
The organization realized that in order to achieve success, it was necessary to partner with various entities that would help it in one way of the other to achieve its strategic objectives. One of the major partners of Oxfam is the governments in countries where it operates. The organization has partnered with the governments to help it operate without any interference. Sometimes it may be necessary to use government resources such as vehicles or machines when distributing relief food during cases of emergencies. The organization has also been relying on the information from the governments during its operations.
Some of the governments in North America and Europe have also been giving regular donations to this organization to facilitate its activities. The local communities where the organization operates have been important partners in helping the organization to achieve its objectives. These communities have been pivotal in mobilizing donors to give their contributions. They have also volunteered to work for the firm or offer guidance in the areas where Oxfam has been distributing relief. Other nongovernmental organizations such as the Red Cross have worked closely with Oxfam in distribution of relief in cases of emergency. Oxfam has considered these entities as partners that help in collection and redistribution of relief to help elevate living standards of the poor.
There numerous rival organizations that have affected the ability of Oxfam to achieve its objectives in various countries. Most of these organizations have competing interests as those of Oxfam, but the manner in which they undertake their activities have been questionable. However, some of the rival organizations such as the Red Cross have good reputation in various parts of the world. The major Oxfam rivals include Medicins sans Frontiers, CARE, International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, Catholic Relief Service, Concern Worldwide, and Action against Hunger. It is important to note that some of these organizations have good reputation in helping people in cases of natural disasters and wars. They have missions similar to those of Oxfam.
Their operations have been a hindrance to the success of Oxfam in achieving its strategic objectives. All these organizations have the same sources of income. They depend on the donations from the governments, institutions, and individuals in North America and Europe to fund their activities. This limits the sources of finance for Oxfam as it has to compete against these organizations. Sometimes there is always conflict of interest amongst these organizations.
For instance, Oxfam may solicit for funds to help people in war torn regions like South Sudan only to realize that Red Cross has offered the services they were planning to offer to the group. In other cases, they may find themselves offering the same service to the same group, which amounts to duplication of work. This may be very problematic when it comes to accountability. The donors will not be convinced that their funds given to two or more organizations performed a similar task that was supposed to be performed by one organization.
Transferring the donations to other tasks when such cases arise will also pose some problems. When donors give out various resources, they always expect the organizations to use it on specific projects. When the resources are diverted to other projects that they did not approve, then they will feel cheated. When the resources are left to stay in the accounts of the organization, then they will read malice in the actions of the organization. Looking for the individual donors to inform them of the incident and request for their approval in other projects may also be problematic. This is one of the main problems that Oxfam has been facing due to presence of many rival firms in its areas of operations. There are even some cases where the recipients of the donations start complaining against these organizations because of the actions of other rival organizations that they felt were unsatisfactory.
Oxfam’s work in securing democracy and human rights
Oxfam’s mandate goes beyond offering reliefs to people who have suffered the natural calamities or those in war torn regions. One of the main areas of focus for this organization has been fighting for democracy in various countries around the world. The organization has been vocal in denouncing the military rule that has been experienced in various parts of the world. Perhaps one of the areas that have made this organization to be resented by some of the oppressive regimes around the world is its advocacy for the rule of law, and the need to hold governments accountable in delivering their mandate to citizens in a fair and equitable manner (Lang 98).
This organization has been critical of governments that disregard human rights when dealing with issues of rebellion. The organization criticized the move taken by the Syrian government of using biological weapons against its own citizens. It still insists that the government should be held responsible for their actions meant to harm the innocent civilians due to their hunger for power.
The organization has also made massive efforts in securing gender justice in various countries, especially in parts of Africa, Indonesia, India, and Bangladesh. In these regions, women were largely considered subordinate to men in almost every aspect of the social life. Issues like rape were considered normal without giving any regard to the torture that the victims undergo when such incidents occur. In Bangladesh, women were viewed as tools used by men to earn their livelihood. They would spend several hours on farm while men gambled or played politics in the village. They were subjects to brutalities from men simply because of their physical weaknesses.
Oxfam has been sensitizing this society with a view of liberating them from such retrogressive practices. Women in these societies have been empowered through the formal and informal education. The organization has also pressured the governments in these regions to take seriously the issue of human rights.
Impact of Oxfam’s work in fighting for democracy and human rights on International relations
The impact of Oxfam’s work in fighting for democracy and human rights can best be understood by analyzing the impact in individual countries that it has made its presence be felt. Empowering women in Sri Lanka is one of the most successful stories of Oxfam in promoting human rights. Women in Sri Lanka, just like in Bangladesh, suffered from male chauvinism in the society. They were discriminated against at very early stages of their lives. Till late 1990s, most girls in this country were not able to complete their education because their parents did not find it necessary. They were forced to drop out of school before college level.
This meant that they could only be employed in the informal sectors. The few who were lucky enough to proceed to college were strongly advised to avoid science courses and even business law courses as they were seen as preserves for men. They were encouraged to take education that was also dominated by men. However, this grim picture for women has changed drastically since Oxfam started its operations in the country. Women have been accepted in this society as people who have equal rights as men (Oxfam 82). Many women are currently graduating with degrees that were largely considered for men. Not only are the Sri Lankan women currently engaged in electing their political leaders, but they are also competing against men for political offices. Democracy has been achieved in this country, and gender is no longer a factor that is used to deny women their right to vie for political offices.
Another case of women empowerment through the activities of Oxfam has been witnessed in Mozambique, a country in Africa. Women in Mozambique lived under the constant fear of their husbands. There was a retrogressive culture in eastern Mozambique that gave men absolute power over their wives as long as they had paid the dowry. Women became their property, and they could not leave such abusive marriages based on their culture. They had to suffer in silence. Their main work was to take care of their families as the husbands were the breadwinners. However, Oxfam worked with the local community to transform this mentality.
It made the society realize that both men and women have equal powers in a family setting. It also promoted girl-child education. The society is absolutely transformed. Women have been empowered and can now make independent decisions about their careers. Many of them are becoming breadwinners in their families, something that was strange in the past. Physical abuse of women has drastically reduced as the pressure on the government to arrest and punish the perpetrators intensifies. Women in this society feel that they have been empowered by the changes brought about by Oxfam and are determined to achieve even greater success in their careers. Other cases where Oxfam activities have led to the promotion of democracy and human rights include its activities in Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Kenya, and India.
Evaluation of Oxfam work
Positive and negative contributions of Oxfam
At this stage, it would be important to analyze the impact Oxfam has made on the lives of the populations where it has worked. It would be important to determine if it has Oxfam assisted to improve the quality of life and injustice or whether it works in reverse. This organization has played a major role in fighting for human rights and democracy in various parts of the world. It has particularly been pivotal in fighting for the rights of women in various countries around the world (Brand 109). Women in Sri Lanka, India, Mozambique, Indonesia, Ethiopia and various other countries have been liberated because of its activities. However, some sponsors have faulted activities of this organization, accusing it of being too political in some countries.
Successes and failures of Oxfam in relation to its mission
Oxfam has been successful in working with the partner organizations and people living with poverty, in alleviating poverty and injustice (Brand 34). It has been able to achieve its mission of reducing the human suffering in countries like Haiti and Philippines that were hit by the natural disasters in the recent times. It has been able to work with its partners in distributing relief to the volatile regions like Syria, Sierra Leone, and Yemen in order to reduce human sufferings. It also successfully promoted democracy and human rights in countries like Mozambique, Ethiopia, and Sri Lanka. Although this organization has faced the problem of managing the competition from some of its rival firms, it has always designed unique services to the target population setting it apart from other competitors.
Impact of Oxfam on international stage and its response to challenges and change
According to Baker (45), Oxfam is one of the leading nongovernmental organizations that have had positive impacts on the international stage. Its activities have become great success in empowering the societies and fighting the poor. The organization has also reacted positively to criticism and challenges it has faced from the international bodies. It has developed superior mechanisms of dealing with the problem of political interference in its operations. This has helped it avoid any political confrontation with the international leaders.
Suggestions on how Oxfam can improve itself
The management of Oxfam should consider embracing new approaches to managing the nongovernmental organization operating globally. The organization should institute the five pillars of practical management that are feedback, transparency, dialogue, resource allocation, and verification in improving its operations (Lang 109). The following are some of the specific areas that this firm should focus on in order to improve its service delivery.
- It should be ready to act upon the feedback from various stakeholders to improve its service delivery.
- It should maintain transparency in its operations, especially to the donors, the beneficiaries and other active partners.
- It is important for this organization to maintain dialogue with various stakeholders, especially governments in countries where it operates in cases where there is a conflict of interest.
- In its resource allocation strategy, the management should be conscious of the need for fairness in order to avoid the feeling that it is biased in its operations.
- The fifth pillar will be the verification of the information it receives before reacting upon them.
Other opinions on Oxfam
The operation of Oxfam is vital in the present day life because of the crime against humanity that is common in parts of Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia. Currently, civilians in Syria need the services of Oxfam and other similar organizations to stay alive. The same is the case in South Sudan, Yemen, and parts of Kenya that still remain volatile.
Oxfam is one of the leading nongovernmental organizations that has played important role in elevating the living conditions of the poor in various countries in Africa and parts of Asia. Started in 1942 in Oxford, this organization expanded its operations to North and South America, Asia Pacific, and Africa, with a specific focus of reducing poverty, human sufferings, and other social injustices. It has been successful in achieving these objectives in various countries, most notably in Mozambique, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and India.
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