INTERVIEW WITH Mark Goldring
Over the course of the last century technology and economics have made much progress. However, we still aren’t able to find a solution to some problems which represent serious threats to the ecological, economic and social stability of our planet: according to the latest FAO’s report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World (2014), global hunger reduction continues, but still about 805 million people are estimated to be chronically undernourished; at a global level, 14.5% of the population live with less than $1.25 a day, and that figure grows to 46.8% with regards to sub-Saharan countries; economic and social inequality is on the rise and the measures put in place by the international community to stop climate change are insufficient. Is there a connection between all of these issues? What are the ultimate consequences of persistent poverty and rising levels of inequality around the world? How to stop civil conflicts in African countries? Can empowering women’s right in poor countries part of the solution? Mark Goldring, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB and a recognized global leader on social development policy answered to these and other questions.
Mark Goldring: Mark Goldring became Chief Executive of Oxfam GB in May 2013. Mark has decades of experience within international development: as chief executive of VSO; in the field for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), and as Oxfam's country director in Bangladesh in the early 1990s. Before joining Oxfam he was Chief Executive of the UK's leading disability charity, Mencap, for five years. He led the continued growth of its support services and positioned it as a leading influencer on national disability and social care policy. Mark read law at Oxford and has a Masters in social policy and planning in developing countries from the London School of Economics. He was awarded a CBE in 2008 for services to tackling poverty and disadvantage (for Mark Goldring’s full biography please see on the Oxfam International appropriate section).
Oxfam GB: Oxfam GB is the arm of Oxfam International operative in Britain. As part of Oxfam International, Oxfam GB’s vision is a world without poverty, where people are valued and treated equally, enjoy their rights as full citizens, and can influence decisions affecting their lives. Oxfam GB uses a combination of rights-based sustainable development programs, public education, campaigns, advocacy, and humanitarian assistance in disasters and conflicts. It challenges the structural causes of the injustice of poverty, and work with allies and partners locally and globally. Oxfam GB works to face global challenges including climate change, famines and food price crises, increasing humanitarian crises, energy limitations, proliferation of weapons, urbanization, and natural resources shortages. Among Oxfam International’s latest reports:
For all Oxfam International’s publications, please visit the appropriate section on Oxfam website.
INTERVIEW- (December 2014)
The interview was made in December 2014 and published in January 2015
Subject: Poverty: new scenarios and Oxfam’s strategy to fight Poverty
The success of development programs depends first and foremost on what ‘local people’ do in their own country.
Aid is just one instrument for, not the main answer to, tackling poverty.
Poverty is difficult to eradicate in ‘fragile and conflict States.’ In these countries ‘reaching peace’ is the basic condition to eradicate poverty.
In many fast-growing countries ‘inequality’ is increasing. In these countries the question is: how to create a development model that leaves no-one behind.
The main reason why Oxfam is so strongly determined in eradicating poverty is that it is ‘offensive’ rather than dangerous.
Climate change primarily affects the poorest people in the poorest countries, in particular small farmers.
Question 1: You are the Chief Executive of Oxfam GB, the UK arm of Oxfam International, one of the leading non-profit organization around the world. Can you explain in poor words the mission and the operative model of Oxfam GB? What are the main peculiarities of Oxfam GB compared to the other branches of Oxfam International?
Well, Oxfam is an international Confederation including 18 members from 17 different countries, all of them contributing to its cause and mission, that is, ‘eradicate poverty and injustice around the world.’ Oxfam GB was formed in 1942 and Oxfam International in 1995 by a group of independent non-governmental organizations and have been working against pro-poverty factors since then. Its ambitious mission is carried out through a number of different actions: 1) humanitarian assistance: Oxfam International gives its best support in responding and preventing humanitarian crisis, providing immediate assistance to suffering people; 2) development programs: in a longer term perspective, Oxfam is trying to change and improve life conditions in poor countries by supporting strategic and pro-development investments; 3) advocacy and campaigns: Oxfam campaigns against all those factors and initiatives that contribute to poverty and injustice. Summing up, Oxfam has humanitarian, development, advocacy and campaigning elements in its strategies.
What’s the role of Oxfam GB in all this?
Oxfam Great Britain (GB) is the original and largest arm of Oxfam International, making up nearly half of its finances and people. Oxfam GB operates across fifty countries in the world and, as the main arm of Oxfam International, contributes to its mission in the best possible way.
Soon after your nomination as Chief Executive at Oxfam GB in May 2013, in an interview with The Guardian
you said: ‘development is no longer just, or even primarily, about Aid
.’ Can you better explain the meaning of this statement?
Substantiating the role of Aid inside the international development topic is a critical issue. In fact, there is a deeply rooted believe that fighting against underdevelopment and poverty is just a matter of giving ‘Aid.’ That’s not true in my opinion! The success of development programs depends first and foremost on what local people’ do in their own country. Sure, Aid can be a supporting tool, but, without local ownership and efforts, it cannot tackle poverty and bring development. To make that clear, just let’s take a look at the following figure: in the last 20 years, the share of national income and government expenditure coming from Aid has fallen; however, that is not because the amount of Aid has fallen; it is simply because economies have grown faster than Aid. Aid is just one instrument for, not the main answer to, tackling poverty.
Question 3: As you said your organization is fully engaged in eradicating poverty around the world. Can you give us a brief outlook on poverty? Based on your experience, what are the main causes of poverty? And why poverty is so dangerous?
Talking about poverty is more complex than we can imagine. It is a diversified phenomenon with causes and consequences which vary around the world. However, I think there are three different important elements to explain:
1) In some countries poverty is decreasing. I’ve just visited Bangladesh; it has not had amazing economic growth over the last decades; however, it is a stable and peaceful country and the number of people living in poverty has decreased compared to ten years ago. Bangladesh is not just the only case. There have been improvements in many other countries in terms of poverty eradication, better education, immunization and Anti-HIV programs, and in terms of reducing the number of malnourished people.
2) However, poverty is difficult to eradicate in ‘fragile and conflict States.’ I’m talking about countries like South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, characterized by unstable political regimes. Those are countries where fighting is a structural element and everything you build, then gets destroyed; poverty has reached very significant levels and the absence of stable governments is a serious obstacle to international assistance and support.
3) In many fast-growing countries ‘inequality’ is increasing. There are some countries where the economy is growing, but where the benefits of the growth are not fairly distributed among the population. These are countries like Pakistan, India, South Africa, Zambia. To be sure, in these countries people are not necessarily getting poorer; however, they are not benefiting from development.
In conclusion, while in conflict states, ‘reaching peace’ is the basic condition to eradicate poverty, in other countries tackling inequality is the key issue. In particular, in some developing countries the question is: how to create a development model that leaves no-one behind. Is that possible? Certainly yes! We need a more effective model of taxation, better public services for the poorest, pro-employment policies which also favor fair wages, and higher levels of social security.
Why poverty is so dangerous?
Here I have to explain one important thing. The main reason why Oxfam is so strongly determined in eradicating poverty is that it is ‘offensive’ rather than dangerous. It offends our sense of decency and respect for other people: the fact that some people live without enough to eat, without clean water, without the opportunity to education offends all of us. It’s true, poverty can be dangerous because it brings social instability. But we think it’s much more a question of morality and justice than danger.
Question 4: As you said, one of the root causes of poverty is the permanence of a state of conflict inside some countries. There are many African and Middle Eastern countries which are suffering severe civil conflicts (Libya, Syria, Gaza, South Sudan…) and to which Oxfam is giving its support. What should be done to stop conflicts in these countries? How Oxfam GB contribute to help people in these countries?
Libya, Syria, Gaza, South Sudan: all these are countries where wealth is destroyed (not created) and development (and in some cases even small agricultural activities) is something difficult to put in place. In situations like these, what we can do as an international agency is first of all to give immediately humanitarian assistance: in Gaza we have been supplying water to more than one third of the population over the last few months; in South Sudan we are running feeding and shelter programs; in Congo we are running a range of activities to give assistance to people. Together with humanitarian assistance, Oxfam is also doing its best in promoting peace in these countries: in Syria we have been promoting cross border peace talks; in Congo we are getting women organizations directly talking to militias; in South Sudan we are highlighting the damages of a permanent state of war; as for Israel and Palestine, for some people human rights are completely denied and we are trying to draw international attention to that tragedy. To be sure, an international organization like Oxfam, cannot bring peace in a country, but can do its best to help achieve it.
Question 5: Now let’s talk further on ‘inequality.’ In January 2014 Oxfam published a Report, Working for the Few, arguing that, left unchecked, income inequality is a self-feeding phenomenon thanks to which the rich are able to capture government policymaking and the best quality services. In October 2014, Oxfam published another Report, Even It Up: Time to end extreme inequality, substantially confirming the findings of the previous report. More recently, during the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos (January 21-24, 2015) were shown the results of a new Report, ‘Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More:’ by 2016 The combined wealth of the richest 1 percent will overtake that of the other 99 percent. Can you explain what are the main causes and the ultimate consequences of inequality around the world?
As I said before, in stable, peaceful countries growing inequality is the biggest barrier to poverty eradicating programs. To be clear, that doesn’t mean that inequality automatically causes poverty; however, extreme and growing inequality undermines the efforts one put in place to reduce poverty. In fact, we know that the number of people living in extreme poverty (nearly a billion) could have been highly reduced or, on the other hand, could have increased in the last fifteen years, depending on the intensity of the programs put in place to reduce inequality. This year we published a famous statistic: the richest 85 people in the world have as much wealth as half the world’s population (that is, 3.5 bn people). You needn’t be an economist to realize that in such a situation, many people lying in the bottom half of the population live in poverty, to compensate for the richness of the top 85. That said, how can those global imbalances in the distribution of wealth be tackled? First of all through better international and national taxation: in some countries, like the mineral-rich ones, only few people contribute to their country’s tax revenues and there is no fair distribution of the wealth created. Oxfam also points to an increase in government’s spending on health and education systems, as well as on agriculture, especially in order to support small-scale farmers. Employment generation (with fairly paid Jobs) and social safety net for people who, for different reasons, are not able to work, are other important anti-inequality measures. Finally, another important issue is gender inequality: in many cases women get a far lower share of the benefits coming from development. In conclusion, what do we really need in the case of developing countries is that the benefits of development should be fairly shared.
Question 6: You have just mentioned the matter of ‘gender inequality.’ In fact, another issue Oxfam is mostly concerned about is ‘woman’s rights.’ In the spring of 2013, Oxfam’s Behind the Brands initiative launched a campaign to urge food and beverage companies to do more to ensure equal rights and treatment of women in their supply chains. Could you explain what are the motivations and purposes of this campaign and what are the results achieved so far?
First of all I have to clarify that the question of women’s rights is at the center of all Oxfam’s work, including humanitarian assistance, development programmes, fighting inequality and other campaigns. Therefore, ‘Behind the Brands’ is just one activity within our wider project to support women’s rights. This initiative points to an improvement in the ethic of the practices used along the supply chain by the ten biggest food companies in the world; it is based on seven different criteria (environment, water supply, human’s rights, relations with small farmers and so on) that generate hundreds of indicators. By now, the results of this initiative are encouraging and many companies have made progress since the project started eighteen months ago: they have signed up the best global standards in terms of women empowering; they are positively addressing issues such as discrimination and are providing better child and family care; the conditions along the entire agricultural supply chain are improving.
Question 7: Oxfam has also published several reports on agricultural practices. One of these focuses on the ineffectiveness of the NASAN initiative (For Whose Benefit? The G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Burkina Faso). Another one (Building a New Agricultural Future Supporting agro-ecology for people and planet) supports the use of agro-ecological models around the world for a model of agriculture that is truly sustainable. Why the NASAN is dangerous and why agro-ecology is the solution to get a sustainable agriculture?
Well, talking about ‘agriculture’ there are two things I generally stress: 1) one is the relation between climate change and agriculture; 2) the other one is the impact of international agricultural development on local farmers. Let’s start with the relation between agriculture and Climate Change. Well, we know that climate change primarily affects the poorest people in the poorest countries, in particular small farmers (see Food, Fossil Fuels and Filthy Finance, October 2014); but we also know that reducing the use of industrial items in agriculture (that means doing Agro-ecology) can have positive effects in the struggle for cutting carbon emissions. So Climate Change and Agriculture are strongly interrelated. Moving on to the second point, international agricultural initiatives should be designed and managed in a way that benefits small farmers not only commercial agriculture companies. To be sure, Oxfam isn’t challenging commercial agriculture: it can play an important role in the development of many African countries; the critical issue here is that such initiatives should not be designed in a way that favor just big companies; they should also favor small farmers and be gender-sensitive. This is why Oxfam is developing programs such as ‘Behind the Brands’ and other many agriculture initiatives.
Question 8: Now the world is facing an ecological, economic, environmental and a social crisis. Among these, what do you think is the most important to address? Is there a ‘file rouge’ that connects all of them?
We have to recognize that the world is an ‘ecosystem’ made by humans and the environment. Human activities have limits in terms of environmental sustainability and Planet’s resources should be more fairly distributed among individuals and communities around the world. As I said before, Climate Change severely affects the most vulnerable parts of the population (the poor, small farmers, in particular women small farmers, in poor countries). Climate Change is something that must be tackled; but there is no single action that can do this. We need a more holistic approach that brings economic, social and environmental issues together. We cannot handle one at the expense of another.
Question 9: Finally, you have a great background in development issues. Can one day we live in a world without poverty, or at least without such economic differences like the ones we have today? What we, as single citizens in developed countries, can do to reduce poverty and inequality around the world? Does Oxfam have a global agenda to reduce poverty around the world?
Sure, Oxfam does have a global agenda that works at both a global and local level. As poverty is a man-made phenomenon, a world without poverty is possible! I mean a world where only a small number of people live in a state of poverty, a state that is not permanent. That requires a global approach. To give you an example, last week our government in Britain introduced a new law on tax dodging. That law tries to control tax avoidance and make the tax system more effective: more people should pay taxes, in a progressive way and with no possibilities to transfer money in other countries to avoid the payment of taxes. Now, that law should be extended to countries like Zambia, Mozambique, Angola and others. That is what I mean when I say we need a global approach in our national policy making. Along with ‘macro actions’ we need that each person should be aware of the fact that he has the power, through its small daily choices, to change the world, reduce climate change, poverty and inequality.
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