ARTICLES Oxfam, Save the Children… what does it mean for the future?

Public health hygiene painting on latrines, in a temporary camp, Haiti
Public health hygiene painting on latrines, in a temporary camp, Haiti. Creative Commons licence

Oxfam, Save the Children… what does it mean for the future?

Sexual abuse, exploitation and assault, and resulting cover-ups at Oxfam, Save the Children and others have dominated headlines — failing women, letting down the people these organisations are meant to serve, sending shockwaves through the sector, generating a media and political storm, and shaking public faith in charities and aid.

Governance and accountability

“Globally, there is a distinct lack of governance at a granular level. It’s also why it is so hard for volunteers to speak out about the poor practice that the above comment refers to.”

“There are not enough checks and balances clearly and things have to change. Unfortunately societal norms are not shaped by values and principles any longer and all powerful institutions have such corruption and abuse in their ranks.”

“If Haitian women were running Oxfam and Save the Children and the rest would what’s happened have happened?”

Culture change

“We’ve got to change the culture. I know people I’ve worked with who haven’t spoken out about abuse they know of because it feels like betrayal, like breaking ranks. We can’t continue like that if we’re going to be true to the values we say we have.”

“What happened at Save the Children UK wasn’t a just a ‘mistake:’ achieving change for children, went the argument, needed Save the Children to be firmly led by powerful charismatic leaders who ruffled feathers and who should be followed obediently by staff. When staff started complaining about the bullying culture that was brought in by former Number 10 special advisors Forsyth and Cox, they were derided as moaners. Everyone learned that it was ‘their way or the highway.’ So when several women suffered repeated mistreatment, this was dealt with by leadership as part of the price of being an ‘effective organization’—and staff felt that it was dangerous to complain as a number of them later told the BBC.”

Sector-wide action

“There is an argument that a sector wide approach is needed to improve the image of “charity” and rebuild public trust. Our large national infrastructure organisations, working in partnership with the Charity Commission, to develop our society’s understanding of modern-day charities is potentially one solution.”

“Real cultural change is needed, so that modern-day charities are better understood in the wider community. The environment in which charities operate needs to change if we are to thrive. Our society would benefit from appreciating that charities are businesses with overheads; so that proper HR, good safeguarding systems, professional fundraising and good governance should be fully resourced.”

Good examples

“I would point to the good work of the charity ‘Indigo Volunteers’. As well as connecting volunteers to vetted projects in crisis zones & refugee camps in Haiti & Greece, they are pioneering the development of on the ground governance structures.”


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