The World of International Organizations

Oxfam forced to shutter aid in 18 nations

Oxfam helping repair damaged boreholes in Lankien, South Sudan (AN/Aimee Brown)

(Arête News) — Oxfam International announced on Wednesday that it plans to shed almost 30 percent of its global staff and pull up stakes in 18 nations due to financial hardship from the coronavirus pandemic and other crises.

The Nairobi-based anti-poverty organization said it will lay off 1,500 of its almost 5,000 program staff as part of “strategic changes” that also include cutting ties with 700 of its nearly 1,900 partner organizations.

Oxfam emphasized it will honor existing commitments to its partners and donors.

“We’ve been planning this for some time, but we are now accelerating key decisions in light of the effects of the global pandemic,” Oxfam International Interim Executive Director Chema Vera said in a statement.

“In some countries, Oxfam will have a deeper footprint as we focus our program resources and strengthen our local partnerships to maximize impact,” said Vera, a Spaniard with a background in management and engineering. “In others, we will focus more strongly on our humanitarian or influencing goals.”

‘Partners and allies’

It is not just the coronavirus that has hurt the international organization’s standing. Last year, Oxfam vowed to improve after it was sternly reprimanded by a British watchdog agency for having a toxic work culture that led to a sexual abuse and exploitation scandal in Haiti.

It was cited for mismanagement and lack of accountability because of employees using prostitutes, downloading pornography, and bullying and intimidating others. It also was called out for potential child abuse and failing to use enough resources to protect its own staff.

The scandal surfaced in the aid work that Oxfam Great Britain, a member of Oxfam’s international confederation, did for Haitians displaced by the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in January 2010 that killed more than 250,000 people and left 1.5 million people homeless. The U.K. government’s Charity Commission for England and Wales delivered an official reprimand to Oxfam GB.

Oxfam, which once operated in 66 nations, will now cut back to 48. The 18 nations with closing offices are: Afghanistan, Benin, Burundi, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Haiti, Liberia, Mauritania, Pakistan, Paraguay, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tajikistan, Tanzania and Thailand.

However, Oxfam will keep working with “partners and allies in countries where there will be no Oxfam office, to support social movements and influence governments and private sector for positive change,” Vera said.

The international organization is run as a confederation of 20 independent “affiliate” members that each govern themselves. Its executive board said it will now explore adding new affiliate members for Colombia, Indonesia, Kenya, the Philippines, Senegal and the Pacific region.

“The coronavirus has made Oxfam’s work helping the world’s most vulnerable people more vital than ever,” said Vera, “while, at the same time, it is impacting on our capacity to deliver.”

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