ISS students visit the Oxfam Novib Academy

“How does a big international NGO like Oxfam Novib really work, and what are its current challenges?” 

This was the question with which a group of international students of the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) visited the offices of Oxfam Novib in The Hague in early February. For a discussion on the latest trends in international development cooperation the Oxfam Novib Academy members Tasneem and Lucía (also former ISS students) and Esther Benning, the Academy coordinator, organised input from Ton Meijers (Head of Knowledge and Programme Management) and Sasja Bökkerink (Head of Advocacy).

image

Photo: Kees Biekart, ISS

David (from Mexico) comments: “The visit to Oxfam Novib helped us to see how a multinational NGO actually plans
and works to reach its goals. The strategy of its network is remarkable and
showed us how the different actors closely interact with each other. This has generated
a solid structure that works in more than 90 countries, with projects in
different areas and approaches, but with one single mission: reducing global
poverty.

The main actors who
cooperate along with Oxfam Novib are the Dutch Government, the corporate sector,
individual private donors, the National Postcode Lottery, and global campaigns
organised by Oxfam International. It is profoundly interesting to observe the
different layers of the entire organisation and discover the different projects
they manage, the areas they look into and the commitment you can perceive from
their staff.”

Michael
(from Mozambique)
finds it interesting that despite the reduction of government
funding to Oxfam Novib, the strategic orientation remained largely unaffected
because the Dutch government is in favour of having watchdogs and is open to
criticism. He adds: “This statement calls us to reflect, because for instance if earlier about 75% of the Oxfam Novib
funding was coming from the Dutch government under the assumption that NGOs
were eligible to using public money, the policy suddenly changed to only
sponsor political projects in the South because these political activities are
less likely to mobilise funds elsewhere. The question that arises is: whose
watch dogs are they, and who is to be watched by them
? It does not seem that
the government appreciates and welcomes criticism particularly, because the
reduction of funds also implied a reduction of time spent on actual monitoring
and advocacy activities and consequentially an increase of time spent on fundraising.”

Nava
(from The Netherlands)
adds: “Oxfam Novib is a
renowned organization and active across the globe. In the Netherlands the
largest portion of its funding is derived from the Dutch government. Coming
from a fundraising background, it was interesting to hear how this affects ‘political
projects’
. It was said that the main area of conflict in this context is
Palestine-Israel; Oxfam Novib uses private funding to support projects there to avoid
clashing of interests with the Dutch government. How money is spent in
Palestine-Israel is after all a sensitive topic in parliament. So as long as
there is no direct link with the government, Oxfam Novib has the freedom to support
whoever it pleases.”

Michael
also observes that the relationship between Oxfam Novib and the private sector
is changing towards a more tolerable position: What perhaps remains unclear is the agenda of the private sector while
investing in NGOs
. Is this meant to silence the NGOs, and threatening to expose
them? Or to have them demanding more accountability from the government? Or is
it to use them for opening up new opportunities in the Global South for the Northern
private sector expansion? This remains unclear and needs cautious research.”

image

Photo: Kees Biekart, ISS

At the end of the visit, Esther Benning organised a brief tour for the ISS students in the Oxfam Novib building. Nava remarks: “Roaming the halls of the impressive building on the Mauritskade was a pleasure. The walls are dressed with paintings from around the world and previous campaigns, books on provocative topics like Fair Trade published by Oxfam Novib lie scattered on tables. 

You cannot not leave inspired to go and do something for humanity and partake in the worldwide movement for justice.”


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