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'Systematic and cultural changes' needed at Oxfam, says Danny Sriskandarajah

02 Apr 2019 News

Danny Sriskandarajah speaking at the NCVO Annual Conference 2019

Oxfam must make “systematic and cultural” changes following the safeguarding scandal last year, its new chief executive, Danny Sriskandarajah, said yesterday.

Speaking at NCVO Annual Conference 2019, Sriskandarajah said Oxfam’s safeguarding failures were due to an “institutional culture that privileged and protected certain people and practices”.

Sriskandarajah said the charity had already made changes since the scandal including hiring Clifford Isabelle in February as its first global director of safeguarding, reporting directly to him.

He said: “Most urgently, we need to tackle the imbalances of power that enable bullying, racism and sexism, including, to be frank, that which we saw in Haiti in 2011. 

“The cause of our safeguarding failures at Oxfam lay not only in faulty procedures and policies, but I am convinced that what was at stake was an institutional culture that privileged and protected certain people and practices. 

“I believe the changes we need to make at Oxfam are both systemic and cultural. They include our policies and practices.

“But this is not enough. We also need to think about our attitudes and our behaviours.

“We need to make a concerted, explicit effort to deconstruct the power inequities that are all too easily built into, and I believe perpetuated by, institutions like ours. Institutions within civil society.”

Sriskandarajah said he had been impressed by the readiness of all his colleagues, including chair Caroline Thomson, to “make sure that the crisis that Oxfam has faced is an opportunity for transformation”.

He said: “Oxfam is learning. The appalling abuse that took place in Haiti in 2011 showed that saving lives cannot come at the cost of damaging lives in the process. That we in the charity sector have to look at how we do things as much as what we do.”

Sriskandarajah, who began his role in January, said he planned to lead Oxfam for many years and joked, in reference to NCVO chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington, that he hoped to have an “Etherington-style tenure”.

‘Less super tanker, more dockyard’

Sriskandarajah announced that in the next few weeks Oxfam would ask its supporters, partners and the public for their suggestions on how to shape the charity’s strategic vision for the next 10 years.

He said the charity also plans to join a network of organisations committed to taking forward the “PACT” suggestions that came from the Civil Society Futures report published last year.

Sriskandarajah also said he plans to change the way Oxfam works with other organisations, including smaller charities.

He said: “I am determined that Oxfam will be a better partner – less super tanker and more of a dockyard – ready to use our resources and platform to empower and enable others including many in the sector to speak up for the people and causes that matter.

“It is by shifting power in this way, by recalibrating our accountability, by making more meaningful connections, that we will begin to rebuild trust.”

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