I got an email from a good friend at Oxfam. They were not happy about my blog about Oxfam – Oxfam suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder. They felt it was unfair and hurtful. But let me explain a bit about my feelings towards Oxfam – before you get yourself all worked up about the email I got.
I worked for Oxfam for about two years. And I worked with them for many more years than that. Yes, I have issues with them that relates to my time there. I will go through all of those in future blogs. But not today. Today I want to tell you what is my beef with Oxfam. It’s important to me because I care about the organisation and the people there. And I care about the fact that someone I respect and seek counsel from is upset about what I wrote. Oxfam is a great organisation and that’s where my problem starts.
I joined Oxfam because they are by far the most influential development non-profit out there. They are a monster in the Great Britain. Everyone catches cold if they sneeze. And they have the money to back it up. Around $600 million for Oxfam Great Britain alone – the original, most influential and biggest of all the Oxfam’s. Oxfam is the place to go to if you want to have an impact on poverty. They can out campaign anyone and everyone if they want to. They have the programs on the ground to back that up as well. They have millions of supporters globally and partners in over 100 countries. And that’s why I joined them. To make a difference.
The main reason I joined Oxfam is also the thing I like the most about Oxfam – their reason for existing. Their mandate to fight poverty is a noble cause and an important one. Oxfam is all about fighting poverty. Every single decision they make is based on whether it fights poverty. It’s in their constitution. It’s what they are all about. But it is not only this mandate that is important, but also that they provide an alternative voice for the poor through their actions and campaigns. The people who work for Oxfam believes in the mission. No one questions the reason for Oxfam’s existence. Giving the poor a voice is something I continue to admire.
I don’t blame them for having so many campaigns. I don’t agree with it, but I can understand it. Poverty is complex. And poverty comes from many angles – war, disaster, politics, trade rules, aid, health, environment, climate change and more. All of these create poverty and make poverty worse. The Oxfam mandate is to fight poverty – so which one do you choose? You can’t. Plain and simple. Oxfam can’t choose because they have to fight poverty at every place and in every corner of the world. But they don’t mind. They know that they can’t solve poverty, but they can fight it and campaign on it to try and influence those who can change and affect poverty.
That’s one of the problems that Oxfam will always face. They have to continue to fight and fight and fight. And hope the world changes little by little. And companies will get frustrated because Oxfam will never tell them that they did a great job. That’s not what Oxfam is about. They need to keep on pushing and pushing. Hoping that companies will take one step and then another – and each time with Oxfam pushing little by little. Don’t expect Oxfam to applaud what you do. That’s not their job. Their job is to move you a little bit and then a little more and then a little more. So you will always get a ‘step in the right direction’ answer from them. You want them to applaud you? Then solve poverty. Nothing will be good enough until Oxfam sees the back of poverty.
And the people working at Oxfam? Man, I don’t know where to start with them. They are committed. Deeply committed and passionate about changing this world. Imagine having to face just bad news every day and you still go back to the office. That’s what they are about. They go back to the office knowing that it is going to be a bad day at the office. Somewhere a child is dying and somewhere a disaster has struck. Poverty is still there in all its glory. It takes a certain strength to face this every single day. Day in and day out. And knowing that it won’t end in their lifetime. These people are made of lots of humanity and a little flesh.
But don’t think they are just some somber intellectuals. No. They have fun and can party. And they can be funny as hell. Phil Bloomer is one of the funniest guys I have ever met. They love their work and they love each other. And they know that they needs each other to be like this or else they will never get through the day. Push, Constantino, Sumi and Liam – just a few people I met during my time that I will never forget. Not their work – that’s one thing. No, I will always remember them for the people they are. Heroes. Heroes every single day. And they don’t even know it or care for it.
Oxfam is typical of good developmental non-profits. They are working towards making themselves obsolete. They are trying to work themselves out of a job. Because they know that if that ever happens it will also be the end of poverty. So they work hard to get themselves unemployed.
So what’s my beef? Very simple. I want them to try even harder. I don’t question their commitment. And I will never question the people working there. But after working for them I got to know their weakness. They are the best in the world when it comes to fighting poverty. From programs to campaigns – no one can touch them. But I saw them from the inside and know that they can do better. I know that they are working at 50% of their potential. Many reasons for this – and I will go into that in future blogs, but not today. I saw what they achieve each day – more than anyone else in the world. But I also saw what they could achieve. So much more. One more life can be saved by doing a few small things differently. Some of these things are internal and some of them external. But I saw them and realized they have so much more to offer than what they are offering at the moment. Imagine if they work at 70% of their potential? How much better will the world be if they are already this good?
I want them to work on improving day in and day out. With the same urgency that they put into their campaigns and their emergency relief. They are an undisputed champion already. No one gets even close to what they are doing. But they must not be happy with being the best. They should strive to be the best they can be. I will attack them from every angle I can get to get them to improve one step at a time. I will use their tactics against them. I will push and push to get them to take that one extra step. And then I’ll say that it is a step in the right direction. Never happy. Never happy. I owe it to them, but more importantly, I owe it to my people in Africa. Remember, Africa is what drives me to do the work I do. They are my conscious. And Oxfam is the vehicle of change.
I do it because I love them. I do it because I care for them. I do it because I saw their potential and want them to be that person I saw. I do it because I want to see the back of them. I want to Make Poverty History.