First Person Blog

Voices, video, and photos from Oxfam's fight against poverty

Oxfam speaks truth to power; power listens.

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Kristina Field is Oxfam’s press officer for Aid Effectiveness.

Changing US policy is long-term work that can sometimes require years before we see any real impact in the lives of people living in poverty. It takes real dedication and patience on behalf of our supporters who help us advocate for this kind of change. That is why it is always so gratifying for us to share news when our government listens to Oxfamand our supportersand acts in ways that can reduce global poverty and elevate citizen participation.

Last week I attended a speech by Raj Shah, the new administrator for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Held at the InterAction Forum in Washington, it was called “A New Direction for Foreign Assistance.” The room was packed with influential policymakers and development non-governmental organizations (NGOs), from CARE to Save the Children. When Shah took a moment in his speech to publicly acknowledge Oxfam’s Ownership in Practice reportwhich includes concrete recommendations for how US policy can be changed to provide transparent information to foreign assistance recipients, build capacity for effective states and civil society, and turn over control of development to recipient country leaders and their peopleI was proud to work for Oxfam.

As campaigners and NGO representatives, it can be a challenging process to get your voice heard on Capitol Hill. That is why Shah’s recognition of our report was both a win for Oxfam and a call for us to continue to do more.

As an organization, Oxfam America believes that to be truly effective at fighting global poverty, US foreign assistance must be driven by the needs and priorities of poor people themselves.   At the end of the day, we do not do development; people develop themselves.

Afghans rebuild a road as part of an Oxfam GB/International cash-for-work scheme. Some interviewees critiqued USAID for its contracting system, which places too many tiers between contractors and Afghans like these. Photo by: Mohammed Salim / Oxfam.
Afghans rebuild a road as part of an Oxfam GB/International cash-for-work scheme. Some interviewees critiqued USAID for its contracting system, which places too many tiers between contractors and Afghans like these. Photo by: Mohammed Salim / Oxfam.

In his remarks, Shah stressed the need for US aid to be more transparent and build local capacity, and align with country-owned and implemented plans. “I think AID has been, in many cases, appropriately criticized for often building parallel systems that are not visible to local government, that are not doing everything we possibly can to build local institutional capacity and that are not aligned with the long-term strategic and financial capabilities of the governments with whom we hope to partner,” said Shah.

Often the US government’s toolkit for fighting global poverty has been submerged in conflicting and confusing priorities. For example, in Afghanistanwhere a “civilian surge” of humanitarian aid efforts has been promisedtwo separate USAID contractors discovered only by chance that they were doing virtually the same project, in the same town. That is why greater US transparency with recipient countries taking the lead to create long-term solutions is crucial in the fight against poverty.

As President Obama prepares to take part in the G8/G20 summit this month in Toronto and the UN Millennium Development Goals summit in New York at the end of September, we are pleased to see Oxfam America’s research having a real impact among US policymakers like Shah.  Sixty years of foreign assistance has shown that the US government cannot fix the problems of poor people themselves.  At Oxfam, we believe it is important to listen to the people who know aid the best: those who receive and deliver aid.  That is why we will continue to inform the US government and other NGOs of our work so that they look to Oxfam as not only a resource, but also a partner.

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