Oxford Committee for Famine Relief

Oxford Committee for Famine Relief - Comments

3) The networking

-A very complex organisation, the movement consists of three main pillars: the 13 affiliates and full members of Oxfam-International; the associated structures; and the 3,000 or so partners and NGOs in about a hundred countries.
-For a long time, the movement focused on the Oxford Committee and included five operational but completely autonomous branches in Canada, Quebec, the United States, Belgium and Australia. Created in August 1995 under the aegis of its Australian director Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam-International’s structure —a foundation registered at The Hague with a secretariat at Oxford— now brings together various organisations on the basis of their lowest common denominator, i.e. advocacy for development. Its objective is to facilitate global fundraising and to elaborate a common set of principles regarding the planning, monitoring and assessment of its programmes. Presided by Ian Anderson, then by David Bryer since 2003, Oxfam-International was composed, in 2007, of thirteen affiliated organisations based in Germany, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Spain, the United States, France, Great-Britain, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Quebec. To be specific, many sections joined the six founding members of 1995: Holland in 1996, Spain and New Zealand in 1997, Ireland in 1998, Hong-Kong in 2001, Germany in 2003 and France in 2006. An advocacy NGO created in Paris in November 1988 to inform against the illegal dumping of toxic waste in the third world, Agir ici, for instance, signed a partnership convention with Oxfam in November 2003 and became a full member of the movement in October 2006. All sections transfer around 1% of their resources to the international structure. To unify the movement, some took the name of Oxfam, like the Belgian Solidarité, the French Agir ici and the Australian CAA. But others have kept their original designation, like the Spanish IO (Intermón) and the Dutch NOVIB (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Internationale Bijstand).
-Indeed, the international structure remains very decentralised, based on a confederation model, and does not always coordinate actions on the field, at the risk of encouraging duplications or contradictions. Since 2002 in Cambodia for instance, the Belgian and Hong Kong sections have supported partners –respectively the CLO (Cambodian Labour Organisation) and the WAC (Womyn’s Agenda for Change)– which are competing with each other to defend workers’ rights in the textile industry. Likewise in Ethiopia during the war and the famine in 1984, the British and Australian sections adopted opposite positions. Whereas Oxfam-UK wanted to intervene on both sides, CAA decided to work only with the guerrilla in the northern regions, i.e. Tigray and Eritrea. Unlike the Oxford Committee, the Australian section considered that emergency needs were less important in southern Ethiopia, where relief was diverted by the government. In the same vein, CAA took a different stance from Oxfam-UK when it considered that the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) was not a reliable partner and refused to work in southern Sudan rebel areas so that Khartoum would allow it to carry on its activities in Tigrinya refugee camps around Shagarab in the east of the country. Such coordination problems also exist at the national level: in 1987, for instance, CAA broke with two other Australian NGOs, the Australian Freedom from Hunger Campaign and the Overseas Service Bureau, because disagreements occurred about a common project that had been funded by governmental grants since 1984.
-Besides the thirteen Oxfam-International’s affiliates, one can distinguish several linked organisations: two sections in construction in India and Japan; one observer member in Mexico; representative offices in Denmark, Italy and Malta; the subsidiaries of the national branches. The idea is now to enlarge a movement which was often criticised for its Anglo-Saxon domination at the expenses of NGOs from developing countries. Indeed, Oxfam-International is not geographically balanced despite its democratic procedures. For example, in 2000-2004, the British section has received about six times more than it has given to the other affiliates. Generally speaking, Oxfam-International still takes its decisions and gets funded in developed countries. A multinational humanitarian structure, the movement claims to support the voiceless of the third world but is not representative of the poor, as shown by its petition at the Hong Kong WTO’s (World Trade Organisation) ministerial conference in 2005: out of ten millions signatures collected, six millions came from the industrialised world, three millions from Ethiopia and only one million from India.
-The creation of Oxfam’s sections in developing countries has been a matter of debate since the 1980s. Due to its involvement on the Indian sub-continent, the movement thought of accommodating BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) and the Oxfam India Trust. Set up in 1978 and based in New Delhi, the latter was initially launched by the Oxford Committee to be able to keep sending funds without infringing the stricter regulations of the Indian Foreign Contributions Regulation Act of 1976. After the establishment of Oxfam-International in 1995, it tried to be accepted as a full section. Under the presidency of Minar Pimple and the management of Gurinder Kaur, the Oxfam India Trust became autonomous in March 2002 and now aims to develop its own financial resources. As for the Mexican NGO Rostros y Voces, an observer member of Oxfam-International, it is a grouping of 60 associations and it was created in 1996 under the name of Vamos Foundation.
-In developed countries, the movement is also linked to a myriad of very diverse organisations. First, each national section heads more or less integrated structures, including commercial companies to finance their activities. In July 2003, for instance, Oxfam-New Zealand took over Water for Survival, the local subsidiary, created in August 1988, of a British NGO dating from June 1981, WaterAid. As for Oxfam-Quebec, it affiliated in June 2000 a youth NGO, CLUB 2/3, that was launched in September 1970. There were scissions as well: Quebec left Oxfam-Canada in October 1973; New Zealand, Australia in January 1992; and Ireland, the United Kingdom in January 1998. Last but not least, Oxfam-UK inspired the founding of independent NGOs: either dissidences such as Grassroots International in 1993, or sponsored entities like ACORD (Agency for Co-operation and Research in Development) in 1976.
-Moreover, the movement relies on a very large network of partners in the third world. They are often NGOs that were initially launched and supported by Oxfam until they became autonomous, like BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) in Bangladesh or ORAP (Organisation of Rural Associations for Progress) in Zimbabwe. In other cases, these NGOs already existed before one of the movement’s affiliates intervened: since 1994 in the Mexican region of Chiapas, for instance, Oxfam has funded two associations that were respectively established in 1985 and 1969, Chiltak and the Organisation for Economic and Social Development of Indigenous Mexicans, DESMI (Desarollo Económico Social de los Mexicanos Indígenas). In a third case, eventually, some NGOs were specifically created by Oxfam when leaving a country, yet without any guarantee about their durability and reliability. In that way, the Oxford Committee prepared its withdrawal from Sierra Leone in 1991 by launching in 1986 a local structure, ARD (Association for Rural Development), so that its farming project in Mabaykaneh would continue. As the country went into war and access to rural areas became restricted, this NGO had to put its activities aside. According to Ann Hudock, ARD pretended to work with more than 200 “grassroots” communities because its funding depended on the number of villages visited. But it could list only 136 of them, had actually communicated with 110 and had met 24 in 1994!