Thursday, March 1, 2012

Oxfam-India CEO misrepresent facts during CNN-IBNLIVE’s panel discussion. Why??


Foreign aid is attracting a lot of flak in India these days. It started with US agency Ford Foundation allegedly funding a failed attempt of an Indian version of the Arab Spring. It gained more momentum when some British parliamentarians rued that despite India receiving £ 1 billion as British aid each year; UK failed to clinch a fighter plane deal worth £ 13 billion! More recent is the controversy whether foreign funds bankrolled an anti-nuclear agitation in Tamilnadu, South India.
In connection with the later controversy, Nisha Agrawal, Oxfam India's CEO appeared on a panel discussion of CNN-IBNLIVE, a popular English news channel.[Incidentally, one of the 4 NGOs whose Foreign Contributions Regulations Act (FRCA) number had been revoked is an Oxfam partner, Good Vision. The NGO’s director, Mano Thangaraj, is an active politician and also  the convener of the political wing of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) who had been spearheading the agitation against the Kudunkulam nuclear plant.]
Click arrow to watch the whole discussion. But here are the relevant transcripts of the interview where Suhasini Haidar (SH), the TV News anchor quizz Nisha Agarwal (NA):
SH: Foreign funded NGOs are essentially driving an agenda of people who funded them. When you come in to protest on the subject of environment, when you come in to protest on the subject of agriculture, essentially you funded by a foreign country, you are not funding a pro-India agenda.

NA: Oxfam India is an Indian NGO. We get half our funds from other Oxfams who have common goal to fight poverty and justice.  The other half we raise from people in India. Why do we assume that this is a foreign agenda?

Why should any NGO claiming to be Indian and independent, appropriate the Oxfam brand name and logo without getting sued by Oxfam for patent violations? This simply doesn't make sense. So lets visit Oxfam India's website and check out how they choose to define themselves:  
Oxfam is marking its 60th year in India this year.  It is fitting that in this historic year for the Oxfam family, Oxfam India has just been inducted as a fully independent, Indian organization (with Indian staff and an Indian Board) into the Oxfam International Confederation. Oxfam India is the newest and 15th member of this Confederation."
Oxfam was originally founded in Oxford, UK, in 1942 as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief by a group of Quakers, social activists, and Oxford academics; this initiative is now known as Oxfam Great Britain (GB). Its various affiliates were established over time. When it was still Oxfam GB its involvement began in India when money was granted in 1951 to fight famine in Bihar. Oxfam India’s lineage accordingly goes back sixty years to this  Bihar famine grant of Oxfam GB.
In 1957, Community Aid Abroad (now Oxfam Australia) started working in India; while Novib (Netherlands); Oxfam Hong Kong and  Intermon (Spain) its other affiliates did so in 1964, 1993 and 1997 respectively. In 2002 an Oxfam Trust was additionally registered in India but was riddled with dissensions and splits. Oxfam India was established on September 1, 2008 under section 25 of the Companies Act, 2005 as a non profitable organization with its head office in Delhi.
According to Oxfam India's latest Annual Report, "the merger of all the Oxfam affiliates created Oxfam India".  Further, the  Oxfam India website highlights that this year marks the 60th year of Oxfam’s operation in India besides describing itself as part of the Oxfam family! So if Oxfam India is a merger of all Oxfams working in India how could it claim to be an Indian NGO by any stretch of imagination? What's evident is that we find Oxfam India often speaking with a fork tongue. In some fora it presents itself as an international NGO while in others it claims to be a totally Indian NGO as if suffering from schizophrenia.
Oxfam India also advertises the fact that they are a full member of the Oxfam International Confederation. This status entitles Oxfam India to use the Oxfam brand name and logo.  Also unsaid, it prerequisites Oxfam India to comply to the policies of Oxfam International. In turn, Oxfam International's policies are tightly aligned with Department for International Development (Dfid) that is the foreign aid arm of UK's government and the European Commission (EC). 

Organizationally, Oxfam India is internally structured as Administration; Fund-raising and Programs. Interestingly the current program head's profile as in their website is as follows:
Director- Programs and Advocacy has more than 21 years work experience, more than 16 of which has been in the development sector.  She has worked with Government of United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) in India on a range of development initiatives across different sectors, including livelihoods promotion, rural development, financial and governance reforms and enterprise development. She has been in the lead in developing DFID's programme in Madhya Pradesh and Bihar and worked with federal and central government departments, civil society organisations and the media."
The keyword is Dfid, repeated two times in this profile. Now a wide variety of profiles could easily have fitted the position. But Oxfam India eventually preferred a candidate possessing Dfid centric experience which tells its own tale. Now if Dfid funds constitute a major element of Oxfam India's revenues, we can even understand this preference. But the top donor of Oxfam India who account for more than 50% of all its funding is Oxfam NOVIB, whose donations we can presume includes large components of the Government of Netherlands funds. Oxfam GB whose funding we can similarly assume to contain a large share of Dfid funds  accounts for less than 20% of Oxfam India's revenue.

While we are on the topic of funds, it would be highly interesting to also verify the factual validity of Nisha Agrawal's claim that 50% of all of Oxfam's revenue is accounted by those raised locally. So lets look at Oxfam India's latest annual report once again.

On the face of it, what we will find is that in 2009-10, local contributions accounted for a 10.7% of all Oxfam India's revenues while for fiscal 2010-2011 this was only 10.5%. Nowhere near the 50% mark as Nisha Agrawal claimed. 

Deepak Shenoy in his blog Capital Mind in an analysis of Oxfam's Annual Report pointed out that Oxfam collected only Rs 7.2 crores as local donations but spent Rs. 5.01 crores to generate this revenue. Net local funds raised accordingly comes to less than Rs 2.2 crores for year 2009-2010 and would be possibly in the similar range for fiscal 2010-2011. So when we go by net figures, Oxfam India's dependence on foreign funds is as high as a whopping 97% of its total revenue. Take away foreign contributions from Oxfam India; the organization simply collapses like a house of cards.
So let's come back again to the question Suhasini Haidar (SH), the TV News anchor posed to Nisha Agarwal (NA)
SH: Foreign funded NGOs are essentially driving an agenda of people who funded them. When you come in to protest on the subject of environment, when you come in to protest on the subject of agriculture, essentially you funded by a foreign country, you are not funding a pro-India agenda.
When any organization is dependent on foreign funds for 97% of its income, it is natural to ask how independent could it be or whether its agenda is foreign driven? This is all what Suhasini Haidar wanted to know.
We would have expected Nisha Agrawal to be forthright in her reply. Her formulation something on these lines - We are a part of an international confederation and yet our board of directors and staff are fully Indian. Our dependence on foreign funds is currently almost total but we hope to eliminate this dependence within the next 10 years. Instead, this is what Nisha Agrawal replied:
NA: Oxfam India is an Indian NGO. We get half our funds from other Oxfams who have common goal to fight poverty and justice The other half we raise from people in India. Why do we assume that this is a foreign agenda?
For a straightforward question, a CEO of international NGO chose to distort truth during a prime time TV news programme. Here lies the root  to public suspicion of foreign funded NGOs. As exemplified by the Nisha Agarwal interview, foreign funded NGOs seldom give out  truth worthy information. There also often appears a big divergence of programme goals as between what's publicly stated and implemented in practice. So to this extent, they themselves are to blame if they are seen as foreign agents or invite a backlash from the government.
A 70% fundraising cost as Deepak Shenoy points out, reflects a highly inefficient system.The prospect of seeing a totally self-reliant Oxfam India is a long way off, if not an impossibility, just looking at these figures. Perhaps it is this realization that prompted Oxfam India to stop outsourced fundraising work and instead create a huge fundraising capacity, in-house My consulting hunch indicates that Oxfam India may rue this decision. At least outsourcing  still ensured that Oxfam India see some net money being raised locally. Once these tasks are undertaken in-house, it is most likely that  Oxfam could end up spending more  than the funds it raises viz. suffer losses. 

Deepak Shenoy was however evaluating Oxfam India's fundraising programme looking through the lens of the efficiency principle. We can however come to an entirely different conclusion if the lens we use is through a strategic imperative prism.This would assume that the  objective of a financially self-reliant Oxfam India  may not be their real primary objective though touted as one officially. Its real objective could be to support Oxfam India's objective of influencing policy in the country that are aligned with the strategic interest of their donor countries.
If so what would be the best method to achieve the latter objective? This would be to get under its social influence net, those who are best positioned to influence policy or can add value to the creation of demand for policy changes that the donor country wishes to impose on a recipient of aid like India. So accordingly the target of Oxfam's brand building exercise would be celebrities who could be used as brand ambassadors like filmstar Rahul Bose; media personalities who could give favorable coverage to Oxfam; corporates and politicians. The most effective way to reach these segments would be to organize glamorous fundraising events which involves large expenditure budget. So while Oxfam's fundraising activities may look inefficient; strategically it maybe designed to contribute to a much wider range of outcomes that justify its costs.
It's not as if Oxfam does not target the middle class for fundraising. They apparently do. They take the help of direct marketing companies who unleash an army of extremely aggressive, 20 something youth to campaign for donations door-to-door. I happen to live in one of  areas considered affluent in Bangalore and we have these 20 something youths fundraising for Oxfam, ringing our door bells, at least once if not more  times each year. Believe or not, they ask for donations to support Oxfam orphanages. But there is no mention of orphanages in Oxfam's Annual Reports, I keep telling my friends, some of them who are professional fundraisers. Their reply  with a wicked smile - perhaps it is easier to raise money for orphanages than human rights!

Is spin the exception or the rule within Oxfam's organizational culture? Let's take look at another Oxfam CEO, Barbara Stoking.  In Oxfam's report "Growing a Better Future" Barbara Stoking claimed that “The food system is pretty well bust”. Yet, the so called busted food systems have generated an all time bumper harvests at both the global and India levels this year. This is for a second year in a row. Rice productivity which Oxfam further claimed is declining due to global warming, recorded a whopping 3.5% growth rate. And these are all preliminary estimates; the final estimate could be much higher. Multi-decadal agriculture production data shows absolutely no evidence of any supply decline.  But to justify Oxfam's "GROW" (Climate Smart Agriculture by another name) programme which the organization has raised huge funds and which need to be spent for their earmarked purpose, Barbara Stoking appeared to have opted for spin over facts.
In the nineties, an OECD report (1994), The Joint Evaluation of Emergency Operations in Rwanda, stated that its team came across examples of agencies including Oxfam telling, if not falsehoods, then certainly half-truths.  The publication of these findings caused a huge hue and cry back then both within and outside Oxfam circles. Apparently, the organizational culture of Oxfam has little changed since then though they often love to portray themselves as a "learning" organization. If this be the case, we can then well imagine what they do with a science like climate change to generate hysteria.
Criticism of Oxfam
Individuals give to social causes mostly for altruistic reasons. This holds true in the West as well as developing countries like India. Agendas come to play only when government, political or corporate funding is involved. This is why higher the private citizen contribution share in the overall revenue mix of any charity; the more likely that it maintains an altruistic outlook in its aid behaviour.

Oxfam origins were a testimony to this truism. During the height of the World War II, the  altruistic spirit of early Oxfam was clearly displayed when they opposed their government policy to blockade Greece. Due to the blockade, Greece began to suffer famine. At its height, people died at the rate of over 1,500 a day. If early Oxfam was able to uphold the principle of humanitarian neutrality and Quaker values of pacificism it was because it was then constituted by members and supported by people who subscribed to these ideals. Maggie Black who wrote the history of Oxfam noted:
“An organization which only exists because people vote for it with bits of their time or the contents of their purse is an institutional expression of ideas current in the wider society. In this case the ideas are those of people in the richer parts of the world about human distress in the poorer, though over time these ideas have been influenced by thinking fed back the other way”

Over time, Oxfam diversified its revenue sources and the above table had been compiled from their latest annual report. As seen from this table, on the face of it, individual contribution is still the major revenue earner but only just about at around 37% closely followed by funding from various governmental sources including the EC and multi-lateral agencies like the UN. Oxfam’s trading income comes third with 22% contribution.
As seen earlier in the Oxfam India example, fundraising costs  could eat up almost 70% of the funds raised or more. Assuming, Oxfam International's fundraising efficiency is much higher - say at 50%, the net revenue contributed by regular support and appeal could be half that shown in the above table.
Further € 159 million revenue by Oxfam's trading activities might look very impressive. But in terms of net profit, it contributes less than 25% of this amount or even  suffer losses in certain years.  A blog post explains:
The annual report 2010-11 shows that the Oxfam shops in the UK generated £85.9 million in sales, which compares well to the donations and other voluntary income of £138.4 million.  However, the Oxfam shops cost £65 million to run, leaving only £20.9 million for the year.  Which is around 24% profit?  Which sounds like a lot, except that the labour is largely voluntary, the goods are mostly donated and the shops pay no business tax to local authorities?  In fact, if you have ever bought anything new from an Oxfam shop, the accounts indicate that whilst there was an income of £9.6 million generated from sales of new goods, it actually cost £11.1 million to sell them.
So if you’re ever tempted to complain about the amount profit-making companies donate from ‘charity’ Christmas cards, remember that Oxfam actually lost money selling theirs."

What happens if the same data presented by Oxfam in their annual report is re-presented on the basis of net revenue contribution? It would show Oxfam International's dependence on government funding as over 50%. So what does it make Oxfam look like? A GONGO? (Government-Organized Non-Governmental Organization).This is an anti-thesis to what Oxfam was in its inception. Now it is interesting how Oxfam started diluting its own founding principles viz-a-viz the government over time as it dependence on the latter as a source of funding progressively increased.  For examples we can take their reaction to the Iraq invasion in 2003, where its dependence on government funds was relatively lower and their reaction to the Libyan aggression in 2011 where its dependence on government funds crossed 50%:
 At the start of 2003, Oxfam took a clear stand against the war in Iraq. On 28 January, Oxfam GB’s director, Barbara Stocking, said that military action against Iraq could ‘devastate the lives of millions of people … Oxfam believes war now to be unjustifiable’.
 If military action is taken by the international community on the basis of the UNSC resolution, it is essential that this is designed and implemented in a way that maximizes the protection of civilians. Such operations are complex and unpredictable, and must be undertaken with great care. We therefore call on the international community to ensure there is monitoring of the conduct of all parties to the conflict in Libya, and regular reporting to the UN Security Council.

The latest consolidated accounts suggest that Oxfam last year has slipped into the red with a deficit of € 17 million. With economic recession expected to continue, Oxfam's leverage to increase their revenue from sources such as individuals; corporates and trading can be expected to contract even further. To maintain growth or even ward off negative growth, it is possible that Oxfam would seek to increase their dependence on government funds even higher, at least in the short term. Any official aid cuts accordingly could therefore expected to have a deleterious effect on Oxfam International's financial solvency. So paranoid of this prospect, Oxfam attacked the recent wave of "dangerous" criticism of overseas aid, warning that financially stretched governments could use it as an excuse to cut their overseas commitments. Read here. 
This is simply not an Oxfam specific scenario but likely to apply to other agencies like Christian Aid; ActionAid etc as well. Even if these INGOs have second thoughts on issues like global warming and climate smart agriculture, they will find it increasingly difficult to jump off the bandwagon as these are the priorities of the European Union. For these INGOs the insurance is a Global Climate Fund which is perhaps why NGOs like Oxfam desperately campaigns for as they will be the primary beneficiaries of such a fund.

Oxfam can be also expected to put increase pressure on affiliates with revenue deficits like Oxfam India to reduce their revenue deficit. This is possibly why Oxfam India in part has created a huge fundraising machinery.
Even the staunchest critic of Oxfam may not deny the excellent work the organization has done over the years all across the world. But these marked changes in Oxfam's revenue mix appear to have also brought about subtle organizational and policy changes that have led critics to increasingly charge Oxfam of forgetting its roots. Some of the controversies which Oxfam found itself embroiled with are summarized below.
1. Oxfam has been often accused by other UK NGOs as having an extraordinarily close relationship with Tony Blair-Gordon Administration.  If Tony Blair was described as George Bush's poodle, many in the UK NGO sector describe Oxfam as a poodle of Tony Blair.  So nervous was Oxfam of New Labour losing power last year that Duncan Green, Oxfam GB’s Head of Research wrote in Oxfam’s official blog:

It’s a mistake to think ‘the government is changing but we will remain the same’. Pressures on service delivery, access and lots of other areas will (and arguably should) change us as well. Not the principles, I hasten to add, but the language and alliances we make as we go about our work’

Even before the votes were counted and when it was clear that the Tories would form the next government, Barbara Stoking, Oxfam’s CEO penned a welcoming post on Tory-supporting Telegraph website. Many consider this an unthinkable till then; an act which was said to have ruffled some high-up New Labour feathers. I asked why this step to someone working with another UK based NGO who appears a New Labour supporter. He said “They would even happily sleep with the enemy as long as it ensures their personal and organizational survival”. This maybe too harsh a comment but it does suggest that perhaps ideology and loyalty do not move Oxfam to the extent funding does!

2. Despite all Oxfam’s pretensions in furthering the cause of democracy in developing countries; within their own organization, dissent is often crushed with a heavy hand. Barry Nowlan, a worker in one of Oxfam shops found this out the hard way. Nowlan after he criticized  an Oxfam poster campaigning for the introduction of a Robin Hood Tax on banks and financial institutions found himself slapped with a £10,000 legal suit and an injunction against entry into Oxfam shops. Finally Oxfam arrived at an out-of-court settlement with Norman, just to ward off bad press and public opinion the incident stirred up.

3. In the September 5, 2005 issue of Newsweek was a report entitledWhere The Money Is” with subhead “The $1.6 trillion non-profit sector behaves (or misbehaves) more and more like big business.” The report started with:If it wasn’t for the raffia coasters and folk art in her office, it would be tough to tell Oxfam GB director Barbara Stocking from the CEO of a multinational corporation… Stocking says it’s her mission to ‘save the world.’ But unlike many do-gooders of the past, she’s doing it in a suit rather than sandals – and so are many others.”
The same year, the magazine New Internationalist similarly described Oxfam as a "Big International Non-Government Organisation (BINGO)". The criticism was equally severe. Among the accusations were that Oxfam had a corporate-style, undemocratic internal structure,  the NGO addressed the symptoms rather than the causes of international poverty – especially by acquiescing to neo-liberal economics and even taking over roles conventionally filled by national governments. Why this criticism caused undue embarrassment to Oxfam was that the New Internationalist was in a way a baby of Oxfam (and Christian Aid) who wanted to promote a publication to increase public awareness of development issues. The first editorial team comprised of 3 Oxfam and 3 Christian Aid executives. The New Internationalist, gradually became fully financially self-reliant, was also renowned for its fiercely independent editorial policy that won it many prestigious media awards. The New Internationalist probably knew Oxfam and Christian Aid inside out as nobody could and this is probably why  this article punctured a huge hole in Oxfam's credibility. Read the article by clicking HERE.

Similar concerns were raised by Katharine Quarmby, writing in well known left wing media, The New Statesman. She accused Oxfam of sabotaging the Make Poverty History movement by facilitating the latter to be appropriated by the Blair-Brown administration.  This action Quarmby attributed to Oxfam’s proximity with the New Labour Party.One senior NGO official familiar with the negotiations of the past few months describes the relationship as "far too cosy". He says: "They have incredible access, and what that has meant is that Oxfam are the ones who are always asked to speak for the whole development movement. And they differ on policy from other groups.”  Read the whole article by clicking HERE.
4. Oxfam has been also accused of having an anti-Zionist philosophy. In 2003, Oxfam Belgium produced a poster with a picture of an orange drenched in blood. The poster read, "Israel's fruits have a bitter taste...reject the occupation of Palestine, don't buy Israeli fruits and vegetables”  In October 2009, Oxfam was accused by Israeli NGO Regavim of aiding Palestinians in illegal activities in Kiryat Arba, including water theft. Oxfam has denied these allegations. The Oxfam brand was built around the principle of humanitarian neutrality and Quaker values of pacificism demonstrated during its early days. In one stroke, the Oxfam brand took a massive hit through these indiscretions. 

5. The website  observes:The core of Oxfam's political platform is human rights. It aims to "empower" people in poor countries. This sounds good, but it is high risk. It requires Oxfam to take sides and can lead it into unacceptable company. When does today's union activist in Peru become tomorrow's Shining Path Maoist revolutionary? Or today's social worker in Palestine, tomorrow's supporter of terrorism? Careful aid agencies shirk these risks. Not Oxfam. It has been enmeshed and doesn't seem to mind. The Institute of Public Affairs in Australia has revealed that Oxfam has supported radical groups in both Palestine and Indonesia.”
6.  Oxfam has been accused by several quarters of pursuing unfair trade practices:
- Oxfam’s Fair Trade Coffee programme was accused of exploitation and oppression in several quarters including large sections of NGO activists in India. The Australian reported on two Melbourne academics who have lodged formal complaints against Oxfam Australia, which oversees Australian Fair Trade certification, challenging that Fair Trade doesn’t achieve what it claims: Oxfam coffee ‘harms’ poor farmers. Read the full article by clicking HERE.
Oxfam has been criticized for aggressively expanding its specialist bookshops, using tactics more often associated with multi-national corporations. The charity has been criticized as some claim this expansion has come at the expense of independent secondhand book sellers and other charity shops in many areas of the UK. These expansions are funded by capital grants with no interest obligations; volunteer staff eliminating HR costs; donations of books that greatly reduces cash flow requirements and tax exemptions as a charity  - all of which gives Oxfam's bookshops an unfair advantage over existing competition.

-  Oxfam estimates nearly 35,000 individuals volunteer for their second hand shops. But when Oxfam trading director David McCullough objected to volunteers running libraries in Oxfordshire County, Oxfam exposed itself to charges of following double standards. Oxfordshire County Council leader Keith Mitchell hit back at Oxfam: Surely he understands the country is broke? We have no choice other than to cut public spending and, by doing it quickly, we have earned the confidence of those who fund our debt and kept interest rates low and affordable”.  The result of the Oxfam intervention however was that the County Council closed 20 out of 43 library branches!
-  On 26 October 2006, Oxfam accused Starbucks of asking the National Coffee Association (NCA) to block a U.S. trademark application from Ethiopia for three of the country's coffee beans, Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe. They claimed this could result in denying Ethiopian coffee farmers potential annual earnings of up to £47m. While most NGOs would agree this is the right thing which Oxfam did, the corporate lobbies accused Oxfam of stooping to unfair trade practice, Oxfam being Starbucks competitor through its Fair Trade programme.
7. The global mining industry is a special target for Oxfam's advocacy program. It self appointed itself as a Global Mining Ombudsman. Oxfam hounded out US Company, Magma which was running the Tintaya copper mine, the third largest in Peru. Eventually, BHP Billiton, one of the world’s biggest mining companies, based in Australia, took over the mine when it purchased Magma. But this put Oxfam in a spot. The lead for these Oxfam programmes is Oxfam Australia and BHP Billiton (also an Australian company) take over opened up criticism of Oxfam behaving as an eco-imperialist. These criticism gained more ground as Oxfam reacted positively to BHP Billiton's take over and Oxfam Australia even offered itself to the company as the party able to manage and broker the complaints by local groups about the mine.

An expensive (to the company) process of consultation was established. Commissions of enquiry into complaints about environmental damage, social impacts, sustainability and abuse of human rights were established. By Oxfam's own accounts, the complaints against the company (fostered by its US counterpart) were found baseless or insignificant. But Oxfam was unable to deliver peace. Other local groups, (not within Oxfam's range of influence), raised fresh complaints about the mine and sought unreasonable payments from the company (such a increasing the US$1.5 million dollar contribution to the local community to US$20 million). Oxfam peevishly grumbled in its reports that these groups were undermining the process of consultation it had established. Oxfam was not in a strong position to complain. They tried to combine the impossible - be an ombudsman and activist at the same time.
Oxfam India's operational area covers the state of Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Area selection is justified on the grounds that these are most backward states in the country. And they are. But most of them are also highly mineral rich.  This is why the Home Ministry reportedly keeps a close eye on Oxfam India’s work in these areas; whether this agency is trying to foment agitations to cripple mining in this country. There may be no visible evidence of Oxfam India doing so, yet but this is a legacy Oxfam India inherited through membership to Oxfam International Confederation.
The Evolution of Oxfam India

By a quirk of fate, I happened to know the man who sowed the seed for today’s Oxfam India. He was my ex-boss Murray Culshaw who I worked with during the early eighties. In the 90s, Murray was the India Country Director of Oxfam GB. We didn’t have much contact then as he was based in New Delhi and I in Bangalore and our paths rarely met. But whenever we did or in our irregular letter exchanges, Murray always spoke of his dream - having an Indian Oxfam. He wanted Indians to take responsibility for their destiny instead of White Men ruling the roost. What made his sincerity come through was Murray was a White Man himself though those of us who know him always consider him no different from ourselves. In 2002, Oxfam Trust was registered. It was soon besieged by internecine wars. splits and scandals. I happen to know one or two of the board members and the stories they told me made me quickly rule it out as a viable NGO entity. A few years  ago, I learnt that all legal cases have been settled out of court and Oxfam Trust along with other Oxfam affiliates merged to form a new entity called Oxfam India.

In researching this post, I came across an old New International article accidentally that suggests that within Oxfam perhaps there was a deep divide on the question of supporting an Indian Oxfam, at least initially. The analysis helps us better understand Oxfam India as a concept as they are valid even today:

Does India Need Its Own Oxfam?

Charities are our main link with the Third World. But they have remained rich world organizations - setting up there and not in poor countries. There is a World Vision in Australia but not in Angola; there is a Save the Children Fund in Canada but not in Cambodia; there is an Oxfam in Belgium but not in Brazil. Last October, however, Oxfam's national directors met in Delhi and discussed whether there should be an independent Oxfam India raising its own funds from Indian donors.

The issue has evoked strong feelings. Here are six arguments for and against. Which way would you jump?



How can Oxfam call itself a Third World charity when all its national directors are white men from rich countries? It always talks about learning from the people it are trying to help - well, it needs the Third World perspective at this level too.

Oxfam India would be just a pseudo-Indian agency; it would still have a Northern slant. Why not just continue to support all the existing campaigns and organizations that are genuinely indigenous?


More and more Third World countries are developing their own comfortable, sophisticated middle class whose generosity is not tapped like that of its counterpart in the North;  Fundraising for development from this group is the shape of things to come.


You'll never be able to raise funds for long-term development from the Indian middle class. You could do it for the ten per cent of the funds that go on straight welfare but what about the work with scheduled castes and the landless?  How could you raise funds for this from the higher castes and landowners?


An autonomous Oxfam India would have more freedom to campaign on development issues at home and persuade the Indian government and establishment to take notice. At the moment Oxfam campaigns in the West on issues like the Narmada Dam (lobbying the World Bank, for example) but has no channels through which to approach the Indian government.


God knows what Oxfam India would come up with in terms of campaigning material; we all know how radical they are out there! Some of the mud will stick to the other international Oxfams.

As long as Oxfam's work in India is funded from outside its staff will not be able to think independently; they will retain negative, passive casts of mind that date from the time of the Raj.

It's megalomaniacal to think Oxfam has a unique idea worthy of export to developing countries - it should just get on with fronting up the guilt-salving cash and stop indulging in a new form of imperialism


 Indians understand their own country far better than foreigners sitting in Melbourne or Boston or expats in Delhi. How can they use that knowledge properly if they forever have to refer back to committees overseas?

If the point is to have a national organization which can speak out and campaign more freely, why call it Oxfam at all? Wouldn't it be better still to have its own independent name and identity to avoid the suspicion of foreign string-pulling?


If independence and autonomy are what the Indian people want then let them have it - who are we to refuse?


If independence and autonomy are what the Indian people want then let them have it.  But of course they will then have to raise all their own funds and Oxfam organizations overseas will be released from all responsibility.

In the end the international meeting gave its support to the goal of an autonomous Oxfam India - and asked the staff of Oxfam UK, Oxfam America and Community Aid Abroad to continue working on how a genuinely indigenous organization could be most effectively created. This has to be an initiative taken from within India and not a seed sown by the Northern Oxfams.
The next step is for some exhaustive market research to be done to establish just how much money might be raised from the Indian middle class and for what kind of projects. There are precedents: HelpAge India, for example, is an independent partner of HelpAge International which has entirely Indian staff and raises 60 per cent of its money from within the country.
But the practicalities of independence for Oxfam India are still a long way down the line.  

1 comment:

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