PIN Interview: Oxfam Development Expert Shares Some Tips

by Hannah Leach, @ehlleach, The PIN Team.

PIN facilitates conversations between development organisations at both ends of the spectrum – from small grassroots initiatives to development giants like Oxfam.  PIN’s motto is ‘development works better together’ and we really believe global development can be enhanced through shared learning.  PIN’s Nick Raikes took the time to sit down with Dr. Duncan Green, Head Strategic Advisor of Oxfam UK, to probe the ins and outs of small to large-scale charity partnerships, potential pitfalls, and the importance of financial sustainability during the expansion phase.

“The Founder Problem”

Small charities do not necessarily denote small hearts and those involved in kick-starting the process often dedicate impressive measures of time and financial resources to getting their organisation off the ground.  The danger of such committed individuals is that when the time comes to welcome in the “second generation”, as Dr. Green puts it, there is a tendency to be somewhat reluctant in relinquishing the reins of responsibility.  As such, new waves of expertise can be laid to waste, and fresh and current resources ignored, after which the charity flounders and dies.  There’s no shame in passing the power over to those with the ability to advance things further.

“Unsustainable windfalls”

The next potential red flag Dr. Green points out is the risk of expansion at unsustainable speeds.  He gives us an example: a small-scale organisation receives a generous one-off “windfall” and immediately invests said money in scaling up projects.  Yet what happens when the pot of gold runs dry?  The organisation in question is left in a tricky position: forced to cut back, and withdraw on commitments made to beneficiaries, it ultimately backtracks on progress made in recent months.  This result can be damaging to the charity’s public image, not to mention frustrating for all involved.  The solution?  A sustainable business model.

The development sector is currently witnessing a shift from purely donor-funded business models towards more sustainable, profitable models.  What is needed is a demystification of revenue-generating models within the charitable sector, because let’s face it, defeating poverty is a pricey business.  Often, expansion is advanced at an unrealistic rate before reliable sources of funding are established, which threatens any sustainable extended growth for fledgling charities.

Oxfam & the larger ecosystem: a love-hate relationship

The final question put to Dr. Green was to explain the nature of Oxfam’s relationship with smaller organisations.  Despite Oxfam’s continued partnership with wide networks of local, “boots-on-the-ground” charities, he described the relationship as “cordial”, a depiction that illustrates the still-distant nature of interaction between large-scale networks and smaller groups.  However it is through these very collaborations that success is achieved and goals are fulfilled, so we need to see more of this taking place – something we provide a platform for here at PIN.

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10454892_10154363027845093_896312040781449875_oHannah Leach is the Social Media Officer for Practical Initiatives Network and works as an intern on emerging market analysis for the GSMA M4D Impact team. She is currently pursuing work in M4D and ICT4D, women’s refuge and human trafficking, following a degree in Arabic and Spanish from the University of Leeds. You may contact her at ehlleach@btinternet.com

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Interested in being interviewed by PIN? Just email us at practicalinitiatives@gmail.com

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