By Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International
Just imagine, looking back to a time when COVID-19 brought us together.
Leaders who united to overcome a health crisis also gained the courage to avert climate catastrophe. The unstoppable global movements of #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #NiUnaMenos, climate strikers, workers, more, realized their calling. As they inevitably always would. Poverty fell. Ceasefires held. Politics became a process for dialogue not division. Out of the ashes of neoliberalism a new human economy was born.
That’s the hope.
Perhaps, instead, years from now we will recall how post-2020 saw the deepening of already terrifying trends. A time in which nationalist leaders seized the pandemic to further erode multilateralism and human rights. With trillionaires gaining more power than states. Even more climate breakdown, with small islands going underwater. More women and girls excluded from life opportunities, amid raging new pandemics of hunger, violence, sexism and racism.
We do not know what will happen. We definitely know that we face critical and urgent choices. The pandemic is, as Arundhati Roy says, ‘a portal, a gateway between one world and the next’. I wonder what this moment means for girls around the world who, facing every angle of injustice, are silenced and stopped as they fight to be able to fulfil their potential: how will their lives change now?
Today Oxfam launches its new global strategy that will, we hope, influence our world to make the choices necessary for a just and sustainable future. The strategy reimagines what we do in every country we work. It recasts our mission after decades.
The strategic transformation is inspired by feminist approaches, which address deep power imbalances and how power relations and systems intersect. This approach, more personally, led me to the great honor of now leading Oxfam.
We used to talk only about poverty. No more. We must foremost address the systems that perpetuate it. Oxfam has helped shine a torch on an economic system that is entrenching power and wealth into the hands of a tiny few, while entrenching poverty, patriarchy, white supremacy, privilege and impunity. It is driving climate and ecological breakdown, conflict and deepening discrimination and anti-rights agendas.
We’re centering the entirety of Oxfam behind this analysis.
Oxfam’s new mission is that we will fight inequality to end poverty and injustice.
Practically, we will focus on four interconnected areas: advocating for fairer, just economies; striving for gender justice and for the rights of women in all their diversities; pushing for climate justice; and ensuring that the powerful are held to account. Rooted in communities, we will also tackle the causes and consequences of disaster and conflict.
As important as the “what” we work on is the “how” we go about it. Change happens not by individualism, but by movements. Think of anti-slavery. Women’s suffrage. Workers’ rights. We can name a long list including anti-apartheid — in which Oxfam’s own past role is an echo into our future.
Today’s global movements are more important than any one institution. Oxfam dedicates to contributing as part of them, joining people power across borders and prioritizing social justice, feminist and youth movements who demand more from us. Is there a more exciting and reliable force for justice and democracy than that of young people today?
Oxfam itself must change as a result. We’re reducing the number of the countries where we have an office and instead serving communities in different and more relevant ways — changing our own global footprint as sensitively as possible. We’ve had to move faster on this than we’d have liked because of the worsening financial impacts of COVID-19.
Where I believe we can really make a difference is the way in which we will grow and shift power.
The colonial way that has long plagued global NGOs — of decisions made in rich nation capitals and simply executed abroad, has reinforced the primacy of the rich world and must be no part of our future.
Oxfam’s future is premised on solidarity. We will share power with our partners, staff, and in the communities of where people live where destinies about futures are shaped. We will go far further in joining people of different backgrounds around the world.
We too — and I will personally lead — reform of our governance structures and our leadership teams to be more feminist and racially diverse. I am excited about the rebalancing of power within Oxfam and growth of power and resource in the South. I formerly led an organization in Colombia, Fundación Plan, and know how a Southern national body can help shift a global institution.
The strategy could not come sooner amid a virus defined by its enflaming of inequalities. But the pandemic has also opened opportunities to rethink the world anew. The new strategy is prompting us into new calls against hunger and profiteering and for debt relief and a “People’s Vaccine”. This week, with youth partners, we launch a pushback against a new spike in gender-based violence.
Forcing better choices begins now. We too must forge stronger alliances. This strategy is an invitation to everyone who believes in a better world — whether you’re an activist, a policymaker, farmer, teacher, an Oxfam shopper or a business leader, whoever.
Just imagine what we could achieve in facing our common challenges together, as part of a cause bigger than any one of us.
Oxfam is ready to play its part. Onward, to a just and sustainable world.
In response to Covid-19, Oxfam has so far reached over 11.3 million people across 66 countries with clean water and sanitation, hygiene kits, and public health promotion. Our teams together with our local partners are also responding by training community health volunteers to raise awareness of the virus and help prevent the spread of the pandemic.