How is working at Oxfam? – A flat and caring workplace

During my first week of internship here at Oxfam Novib I was advised to approach some colleagues in order to learn more about their work and their experiences in the organization. I invited some people from my team for quick meetings because I was curious about absolutely everything.

The first of those meetings was with Mirjam, the Global Programme Manager for the Work in Progress project, developed by the Youth team. I took some time to read about the project and wrote some questions in my notebook because I wanted to feel ready to talk to her.


However, as soon as the meeting started and we introduced ourselves, she asked me some unexpected questions: “So, what do you want to do here? What are your interests? What do you want to take from this internship”?

I simply was not ready for these kinds of questions and they kept coming back to me as I spoke to other people in the office. I have worked in different NGOs in Brazil and India, in social businesses and other kind of organizations, but it was the first time in my brief but busy professional life that what I was interested in actually mattered.

Hiring interns is often  an excuse for organizations to get (tiresome) work done without having to hire a paid employee , but not in Oxfam Novib. Here, since the very first day I have learned that our input matters and that people are interested in us and our ideas.

More than a month later, the Oxfam Novib environment continued to surprise me. During a quiet lunch at the canteen in an empty day in the office, a lady approached me. She asked if it was alright for her to sit next to me. I was sitting alone because I did not know many people that were working on that day, so my instant reaction was to say yes. I had not realized that that lady was Farah Karimi – the executive director of Oxfam Novib.


Louise Alves

She sat with me and we talked about the weather, she asked about my life, my studies. We talked about the countries we were originally from and she asked if I was satisfied with my work here. We shared some thoughts about the Dutch culture; she asked if I wanted to go back to Brazil after I finished my masters.

It was like having lunch with any other colleague at Oxfam. I did not feel any communication constraints by talking to her simply because Oxfam Novib is a proudly flat and fair organization. It doesn’t matter where you came from, your position or any other category that may imply a power relation.

Everyone is concerned with you and your work because they know that professional development is important for their employees and their long-term careers. From the desk tasks to the grass-roots level, people here are committed to do their best for a good cause. I’ve learned so far not to be afraid of approaching people because they all truly care, especially because they’ve been in your position one day.

In the NGOs and International organization’s world, hierarchies over young people usually constrain their professional development and create an uncomfortable environment of fear and insecurity, which goes against all the principles of equality and respect we stand for.  From your supervisor, to the other interns, to the ICT people, to the canteen staff: Oxfam Novib is a place where intern and executive director can sit side by side and share their thoughts about the world.

I love this place already.

By: Louise Alves, intern Youth Active Citizenship.  Learn more about Louise here!