What is Oxfam?

Mary McMahon

Oxfam is an international charity which is focused on fighting poverty and empowering impoverished individuals around the world. 13 partner organizations belong to Oxfam, working with a number of affiliates in 100 countries to provide everything from donations of clothing to legislative advocacy. This charity is very highly ranked by many charity rating organizations, and it is very respected in the international aid community.

Oxfam usually plays a role in large scale disaster recovery.
Oxfam usually plays a role in large scale disaster recovery.

The organization started in Great Britain in 1942 as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, a name which was later shortened to Oxfam. It was established by Quakers and social justice advocates who were concerned about starvation in Greece, and the organization grew to encompass poverty issues in general, rather than the Greek famine specifically. In the 1960s, the first international Oxfam office opened in Canada, and it was eventually joined by offices in the United States, Australia, France, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, New Zealand, Germany, Hong Kong, and Quebec. Together, these 13 non-governmental organizations joined in 1995 to create Oxfam International.

Oxfam and its affiliate organizations work in some 100 countries around the globe.
Oxfam and its affiliate organizations work in some 100 countries around the globe.

There are three different ways in which Oxfam initiatives work. In the first, the organization works on development projects which are designed to improve quality of life in developing nations. The organization also works on humanitarian schemes, such as HIV/AIDS education, and it gets involved politically, advocating for people who might not otherwise have a voice. While Oxfam is often associated with fighting hunger due to the roots of the organization, this is only a small part of Oxfam's work today.

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Oxfam was established by Quakers.
Oxfam was established by Quakers.

Like other charities, Oxfam International relies on donations from individuals, other non-governmental organizations, and governments. In addition to accepting cash, the organization also accepts supplies which are used in its worldwide projects or sold in its charity shops to raise money to fund the organization's programs. Individual volunteers can also work for Oxfam, supporting the work of its programs with their skills, experience, or willing hands. It operates highly efficiently, funneling as much of its donations as possible into its campaigns, with minimal administrative costs.

Oxfam sends teams to areas that have been struck by natural disasters.
Oxfam sends teams to areas that have been struck by natural disasters.

Oxfam also plays a role in disaster response. The organization sends supplies and teams to regions which have been struck by national disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and wildfires, lending expert assistance to governments which may be in need. As part of its role in disaster relief, the organization also promotes disaster preparedness to prevent widespread loss of life and property in natural disasters.

Oxfam's works to empower the world's impoverished people.
Oxfam's works to empower the world's impoverished people.

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Discussion Comments


@indigomoth - It's hard to argue with that, but I'd still prefer that my money went to something more concrete.

An Oxfam donation could be going to any number of worthy causes, but it could also be going towards what amounts to sustaining poverty.

A lot of the time NGOs try to keep people in areas that can no longer sustain them. Places hit by famine and drought. Because their lives are so uncertain, the birthrate goes up (not just because of that, but it is one reason) and even more people are brought into the situation.

More pressure is put on agricultural and water systems that are already struggling and in the end they fail altogether. And then the people are put into an even worse situation.

If they didn't help them to stay in places that can't sustain them, and have more children, that land wouldn't be put under so much pressure and the next generation and the one after that wouldn't be cursed with the same problems. They do nothing to break the cycle.


@umbra21 - It might be because of the way that Oxfam works that they are more effective than other NGOs. They are more of an umbrella, allowing other, perhaps smaller grassroots efforts, to work under their care.

I've often looked for any jobs available at Oxfam, but unfortunately, they are so well respected among the aid work community it's next to impossible to get work with them unless you've got years of experience.

I really like the fact that they focus on disaster relief and political change. I think those two things are more important than other issues when it comes to long term change.

A mishandled disaster can devastate a country for years (just look at Haiti after their massive earthquake) and of course political change will eventually remove the need to have these kinds of organizations.


Oxfam is one of the few non-governmental organizations that I have a real respect for, although I disagree with them in principal.

I know one of the things they do is provide farm animals for the people they are trying to help and that's one of the better ways in which developing countries can be helped.

Most of the work that is done, and I don't just mean by Oxfam, I mean by almost all of these charities, is completely counterproductive. They don't try to teach the people they are helping, they just provide them with complicated machinery that they don't know how to work and don't have the equipment to maintain.

There are a lot of abandoned mechanical wells in Africa, many of them with a donkey powered well right alongside.

As I said, Oxfam is one of the better ones, but you're much better off putting your money into microfinance, since that guarantees that the money is going where people will really use it.

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