A patient leader who won’t rock the boat may be what Oxfam GB needs as the organization transitions to a single management system this year.
That leader may just be Mark Goldring, who will take over as Oxfam GB chief executive in April. He will replace Barbara Stocking, who announced she is stepping down from her post in September. Stocking served as the organization’s head for nearly 12 years.
“We are very excited that he is joining Oxfam,” Oxfam GB chair Karen Brown said in a Jan. 4 announcement. “He brings great leadership and management experience.”
Goldring has experience leading major NGOs: He was chief executive of VSO for nine years before taking up the same role in 2008 at Mencap, which supports people with learning disability in the United Kingdom. Taking the new role, though, means he will continue to be largely based at home.
“We’d like to go abroad again,” he said in an interview with Alice Rwasthorn in 2000, referring to his wife, Rachel Carnegie, who also works in development. He had just taken over the reins at VSO at the time, juggling development and family life in the United Kingdom.
In 10 years’ time, he said, “I’m not sure what I’ll do. Probably go back into the field, where you operate independently of the hierarchy and are left to get on with it.”
Goldring is surely used to traveling, often staying in a place just for a short period of time, according to an interview posted on YouTube. He’s said that constant travel and living in different environments has given him a “sense of restlessness.”
His first work was as a volunteer teacher in 1979 for VSO in Sarawak, Malaysia, which he once described as “a beautiful place in the middle of jungle.” He chose to pursue development work right after taking up law at Oxford University.
He took a chance at the private sector — working as a legal researcher — upon his return to the United Kingdom two years later, but only lasted nine months. He rejoined VSO and was spent time in Barbados and Bhutan before, in 1991, he decided to go to Bangladesh, where he found work with the U.N. Development Program. The bureaucracy within the organization, however, turned him off.
“The combination of U.N. bureaucracy and the Bangladesh infrastructure brought out the worst in everything,” he has said.
He left the organization and took the role of Bangladesh country representative for Oxfam — the organization he will be leading months from now.
Goldring is not a fan of large bureaucracies. When he was working for the United Nations, he said he felt like a fool among a sea of geniuses after three months.
“I just don’t understand what everyone is doing and how are they doing it,” he said in the YouTube interview. “They were not doing anything, but just moving spreadsheet around … early day computers.”
As Oxfam chief, he’s expected to advance the organization’s single management system, which is meant to improve coordination between headquarters and field operations. As part of the strategy, only one Oxfam affiliate will be tasked to lead the organization’s efforts in a particular country.
In a statement, Goldring said he is committed to building “all that is strong in Oxfam.” The man who has devoted more than 30 years of his life to development added: “To lead Oxfam is an honour and an opportunity too important to resist.”
Rush decisions, it seems, are not Goldring’s cup of tea, though. He was turned down twice in two job positions he was eyeing prior to joining Mencap. The reason: The organizations wanted to effect change swiftly.
“That’s not me,” he said. “Mine is one of quite determined evolution.”
Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex senior reporter based in Manila. Since 2011, she has covered a wide range of development and humanitarian aid issues, from leadership and policy changes at DfID to the logistical and security impediments faced by international and local aid responders in disaster-prone and conflict-affected countries in Africa and Asia. Her interests include global health and the analysis of aid challenges and trends in sub-Saharan Africa.
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