Oxfam are in the news for the wrong reasons again this week. An investigation by the UK’s Charity Commission has found there was an institutional cover-up of child abuse by Oxfam’s staff in Haiti.
On a lighter note, I still chuckle at Bill Bailey’s joke that Haiti is the evil 8th dwarf that Snow White doesn’t like to talk about.
The noisy outrage quite rightly generated by this root and branch moral failure by one of the world’s previously best-regarded charities risks drowning out two interesting questions;
1. What ratio of applicants for the foreign aid worker jobs apply because of the access to vulnerable kids versus those who discover latent kiddie-fiddling tendencies on arrival?
2. Are the charity’s incentives such that an institutional cover-up was always the most likely response to complaints?
My first question is facetiously-written but its underlying curiosity is serious; presumably there are going to be some applicants to a job located in a disaster zone who aren’t there for altruistic reasons or even reasons of simply needing employment, but because it’s a good opportunity to undertake behaviours that risk imprisonment and public censure back home.
I bet that percentage is a larger number than anyone would wish to acknowledge. It’s certainly not zero.
The second question brings us back to one of my favourite short reads, Steven Kerr’s “On the folly of rewarding A while expecting B”.
How are the executives and senior managers in Oxfam rewarded and for which behaviours do they receive negative consequences? If being open and honest about the validity of a serious complaint impacts the ability to raise funds, thereby impacting the future salary and bonus pool available to employees, is it really that shocking if issues are swept under the corporate carpet?
Oxfam is, like many charities, a fundraising organisation with an aid-distribution department attached.
No, really they are, I’m sorry if that statement seems inaccurate or bursts an illusion you were suffering from.
The fact that any charity exists for more than a few short years is proof of two things;
1. It was woeful at achieving its stated outcome through reasons of incompetence, and/or setting too high a target and/or public apathy, or
2. After achieving the stated outcome, the people drawing a salary from the charity didn’t fancy closing the operation down and getting another job elsewhere so expanded the charity’s scope.
Oxfam was created to send food to the Greeks who were starving after the Nazi occupation in World War II. At some point, the Greeks were fed and someone in a boardroom in Oxford said, “Right then chaps, job well done. Shall we close the operation down and head off to the pub or is there something else we should do with this large organisation we find ourselves in charge of?”
Somewhere along that road the very existence of the organisation grew a perception of worth and quality beyond the life of the initial mission statement. Subsequent corruption and scandals were inevitable from then.