Oxfam scandals

Oxfam scandals

I have news for the sub who wrote that. It happened some time ago. It’s simply getting worse. And it will continue to do so. Why is that? What can be done to reverse it? For the millions of people who are helped by major charities, for the Government Departments that depend on well-known charities to distribute often very large sums of money and for all our sakes how can the problem at the heart of big charities be handled?

Be clear – big charities are not the only organisations where there are some rotten apples at the core. One of the biggest religions has the problem, many Governments suffer from internal corruption and the soon-to-be-most-populated-continent on the planet is itself an example of creeping corruption. Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko once told me ‘I have two problems – my neighbour is a really tough one; corruption is even tougher’.

Let’s admit it, all organisations become self-serving sooner or later. It takes a major refresh to stop a culture becoming controlling even faster than science liberates it. That applies to Amazon, Google, Facebook and all the giants who look so fresh-faced when they start. What happens is that the self-preservation mode kicks in, not to ensure continuity for customers but to guarantee jobs for the boys – and it mostly is only boys.

Not-For-Profit businesses are regulated as though doing so is an accounting or auditing matter. It is not. It is difficult enough for them to avoid becoming businesses where the profit is simply dished out to the managers. They are similar to businesses except that they start with free goodwill no business ever has. Since they are NFP we assume they must be good value, worthy, decently behaved, reliable and so on. But they are run by people.

Many of those who run NFPs are wonderful and disciplined people. Some are not. There is fierce competition for the better jobs where expenses are liberal and pay is determined by “The Market”. That means, ‘compared with top business men’s pay’. But top businessmen are there to make a profit, the NFP manager is not. I do not justify the pay of top businessmen. Some of it is disgraceful. It is, however, related – if sometimes not very directly – to profit. What is the NFP managers pay related to? They are running vocations. Their rewards should reflect that.

How then are NFPs to regulate, judge and control behaviour?

While I have some sympathy for those who think the outcry over Oxfam has been excessive, it is appalling that their staff should behave disgracefully towards the very people they are trying to help. Much depends on the scale of the misdemeanours, of course. One or two rotten apples will always be found in an organisation of that size. They should not be a reason for condemning the excellent work of the rest provided the majority are innocent of such charges. But ‘one rotten apple’ a church originally claimed turned out to be thousands.

Bad behaviour is bad behaviour and should not be tolerated. If there is widespread abuse or if the nature of the misbehaviour is to cheat those who should be benefitting of their rightful dues it is doubly bad. .Those who have misbehaved must be taught why it is important that they behave responsibly in future, and how to do so.

Every organisation needs regularly to examine its culture to see that lax and unacceptable behaviour isn’t tolerated. Donors have a responsibility, too, to see that their offerings are handled properly and the board administering funds is above corruption of any sort.

Example is what teaches people values. That example comes from the top – people like the Pope or the President of the United States. Those who would condemn their subordinates need to examine themselves to discover if their example is right. If it isn’t they should correct it first. Without it they cannot hope to instill better values.

Who today will influence our cultures to ensure a balance between commercial demands and the good neighbour behaviour which society so badly needs?

We’ll look at a suggestion I have not yet seen broadcast – in the next Daily Paradox.