Save the children…. from Oxfam

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”.

Incentives matter.

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?

Bill’s Opinion

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.

12 Replies to “Save the children…. from Oxfam”

  1. Oxfam have been customers of mine from time to time.
    I have significant trouble getting paid every time.
    They say nothing during the visit, then a couple of weeks after I’ve sent the bill (for a significant sum) they pay about half – along with a list of reasons why they won’t be paying any more than that.

    Reasons for not paying are always some bullshit they made up, eg. the beds were uncomfortable, the food substandard, & so on. This means I have to get nasty with them, which they don’t like. In the end I get paid, but they kick up one helluva fuss – which I ignore, as their complaints are all bullshit – they never raise any issues during their stay.

    All of them are overweight women, many of them morbidly obese, as in double – possibly triple the weight they should be, with mobility issues that hamper their quality of life. They’d have significant problems wiping their bottoms or putting on socks.
    None would be fit enough to jog 100 metres.

    They come for a fortnight at a time.
    They book a whole batch of guest rooms, a function room, a few rental cars.
    They book lots of food – mainly cakes & stuff – to be delivered to the function room several times each day.
    Incredibly, the purpose of their travel is for a whole bunch of morbidly obese women to sit in my function rooms, scoffing cake, and talking shit (officially they’re holding seminars “in the regions” to educate local women about how discriminated against women are in Australia)

    1. Are any of them of Greek heritage? At least you’ll be contributing to the original mission statement by feeding them.

      1. Didn’t look it. Anglo-Saxon every one of them.
        ‘xceptin’ the coupla local indigines they tolerated coz educatin’ the natives was the whole purpose of the excursion.

        Couldn’t be bothered researching, but IIRC it was some sort of federal govt grant to educate “first Australians” or “remote area women” in how the Westminster system was oppressing them. IIRC Oxfam was the preferred contractor to deliver the message to the uneducated oppressed caste.

        From what I could see of their presentations, the Oxfam draught horses – I mean ladies – had little clue about what they were supposed to be teaching, but the cakes were good, the per diem would have been stacking up, and they got to feel so superior.

        Thanks for the mention on their origin. I had no idea.
        In fact, I’d never heard of Oxfam until about 20 yrs ago – which is probably when they first turned up in Australia.

        From what I can see, all Oxfam has done in Oz is nudge to one side the “Smith Family” (well known charity) and take over much of their territory.
        Can’t comment on how Oxfam is at delivering their mission, but if what I’ve seen is any guide, the Smith Family would have been doing far more for needy people without even trying.

        Keeping in mind the squander-fest I observed, and that its only real outcome was an attempt by dumb fat women to gyp an honest hotelier (that would be me) out of payment for products and services provided in good faith, I readily accept that smarter people operating in the 3rd world would be having a field day with Oxfam money & credentials, and used them to screw the kids of Haiti.

  2. A quick Google comes up with the following: John 12:8 and Matthew 26:11 and the verse, “The poor you will always have with you.” Deuteronomy 15:11 says, “There will always be poor and needy people.” This is not a problem that can be solved by inventing a better mousetrap. It is ongoing.

    After winning a World Championship, does the Mercedes Formula One team disband? Apple Corp after inventing the iPhone? It’s true that the humanitarian industry offers well-paid careers with great opportunities to be seen on television. Oxfam suffers from mission creep. It has become top-heavy, bloated, and mismanaged. But there’s still a need for an Oxfam-like charity.

    Disclosure: regarding the above quotes, I’m an atheist who acknowledges that there are lots of pithy and relevant idioms to be harvested from the bible. Large chunks of the OT were written as codifications of the law.

    1. Your analogies contain fallacies. A correct comparison would be if there were only one world championship or need for only one iPhone.

      Following the eradication of polio in the USA, some charities closed down, while others tried to find an other reason to exist including several case of fraudulent activity.

      My point is, incentives matter. Once you are drawing a salary, the primary purpose of your day is to maintain that personal revenue stream, your secondary purpose is anything else you are tasked with delivering.

      1. Yerrrssss, but you argue that there was only one set of needy people, to whom gifts were borne, and neediness then ceased to exist.

        1. Yes, I understand but my point is to be found in the difference between the meaning of the noun and the verb, “charity”.

          The former is voluntary donation of time, money or other resources.

          The latter is a self-sustaining industry bidding for business from governments. They have been very successful in reducing their reliance on the largesse of you and I and have gone straight to our tax receipts.

          1. I should have been a little more diligent. Both definitions are nouns. Oh dear.

            You get my point regardless of my poor grasp of grammar, I’m sure.

  3. Lets not forget that Oxfam was rather adept at extracting tax $s to fund their activities:

    The charity, which received £31.7m in taxpayer funding in 2016/1

    The anti lead in petrol movement, supported in no small part by Maggie, disbanded itself when its job was done.

      1. Oxfam has agreed to withdraw from bidding for government funding until the Department for International Development is satisfied that it can meet the “high standards” expected.

        So it really is a for-profit enterprise.
        Money is generated by bidding for funding, and disbursed to the “shareholders” via bonuses & high salaries.

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