Oxfam confirms plans for global South transition

A member of Oxfam helps carry a family’s humanitarian supplies in Juba, South Sudan. Oxfam International will move its headquarters from London to a yet undisclosed location. Photo by: Anita Kattakhuzy / Oxfam / CC BY-NC-ND

First it was ActionAid, then mHealth, and now Oxfam International.

In what is becoming a trend among large international humanitarian organizations, Oxfam unveiled on Thursday more details about its upcoming “Oxfam 2020” plan to engage more deeply with the global South, which includes relocating its international headquarters to a yet undisclosed location outside of its traditional base in the United Kingdom.

Oxfam, one of the most influential aid groups across the world, wants to be closer to where its programs are to become more influential in the fight against poverty and “have the greatest impact in correcting inequalities,” according to an official statement. The new structure “will devolve responsibility to the global South, in a network of interdependent affiliates and partners” to make the organization “more equitable, balanced and influential.”

The plan also envisions establishing new local affiliates in developing countries with access to the organization’s “central” knowledge, and eventually HR and technology services as well.

Last November, Joanna Maycock, head of ActionAid Europe, shared with us her experience of when ActionAid raised eyebrows among the development community ten years ago by moving its headquarters and most of its international staff from Europe to South Africa, precisely what mHealth is doing right now.

Maycock admitted the process was not easy because “really, it’s about giving up power” in the North to share it with the South — and the Oxfam chief agrees.

“There is a fundamental shift in the dynamics of poverty and power and Oxfam is adapting … to a world that is changing,” Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said in Thursday’s statement. “Oxfam 2020 will … making us a stronger, more efficient organization that delivers more impact.”

That’s similar to what mHealth Executive Director Patricia Mechael argued when she told Devex the decision to relocate to Johannesburg was part of a “natural evolution” to engage better with their partners as “a neutral broker, convener [and] facilitator at the country level.”

Just a week ago, Byanyima wrote in a blog post that as the development landscape is shifting, “aid … is no longer about North-to-South giving; new actors and new technology are re-writing all the rules.” NGOs that don’t read these signs of transformation, she added, “will become less relevant and have less impact.”

“I want Oxfam to be part of a stronger, global movement for a values-driven society that treats people more equally and preserves the planet. In our own way, within the Oxfam world, that will mean devolving power to the South,” noted the head of the organization.

What do you think? Is moving to the global South not only a trend but inevitable, or will most large humanitarian organizations continue to be based closer to their donors rather than their programs? Please let us know by leaving a comment below, joining our LinkedIn discussion or sending an email to news@devex.com.

See more:

Winnie Byanyima: Engineering change at Oxfam
Winnie Byanyima: How iNGOs are adapting to the new development paradigm
Oxfam chief: iNGO mergers 'not a trend'

About the author

  • Carlos Santamaria

    Carlos is a former associate editor for breaking news in Devex's Manila-based news team. He joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE ,and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York, and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.