Facts Go Begging in Oxfam Fundraising

Feeding the hungry is a laudable goal, no doubt about it, but filling the bowls of the Third World’s poor is but a minor aspect of the organisation’s agenda. Hobbling development, decrying capitalism and fighting global warming seem more pressing priorities

oxfamI’ve had a mail-out from Oxfam Australia asking for $75 to help “Tereza” grow a garden in the Mozambique desert so she can feed her baby and three children. Tereza tells me, “The little ones may cry because they don’t know that I don’t have money. They just carry on crying.”

I’d cough up (maybe) if I wasn’t so annoyed about Oxfam using donations to finance its attacks on Australia’s coal and petroleum industries, under the rubric of global warming scariness.  Also, my bovine scatology detector is vibrating about this “Tereza” lady  in Mozambique. “Right now, she’s raising an axe above her head, wielding it with the kind of strength that mothers show when their children’s lives are in danger,” Oxfam says, I assume rhetorically.

Reading on, it becomes unclear whether my $75 would “save her children’s lives” (third para) or actually, nourish “a mum like Tereza” (p2) or indeed, “Tereza’s neighbour Marta” who suffers agonising hunger (p2).

“As a supporter of our work, I know you already know what that means, Mr Thomas,” writes Dr Helen Szoke, Oxfam Australia chief executive. Actually I’m not an Oxfam supporter. Who knows how came to be on the charity’s mailing list, with a 27-digit identifier no less?

Through adroit marketing like the “Tereza” campaign, Oxfam raised   $52m last  year from the public, up $9.5m in the previous year. The Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade kicked in  an  additional $23m, oblivious to Oxfam’s anti-export agenda.

Even I was   shocked to learn that Oxfam’s third-party fund-raisers cream off 90% or so from the first year of  someone’s annual public donation. Oxfam wrote me,

Like other charities, Oxfam outsources this type of fundraising because it is currently the most cost-effective way to engage new supporters. There is not a company in Australia that provides this service without charging a once only payment, which is usually equivalent to around 85 – 95% of the donor’s first year gift. Of course we would prefer not to pay a fee, but nothing comes for free, and we are paying for a service that helps us raise funds and saves us money.  Indeed street fundraising and telemarketing is a vital source of reliable and predictable income and accounts for around 25% of Oxfam’s total income on average each year. The average supporter pledge period of supporters retained through these measures is around three years, and many givers continue to donate for 5 or even 10 years.

Oxfam Australia’s 2014 report says 29.7% of its community fund-raising is consumed in fund-raising costs, up from 23.5% in 2013 as third-party fund raisers move in.

These days your donations are also funding Oxfam’s assault on the Australian coal and fossil-fuel sectors, a sure-fire route to reduced living standards both in Australia and its key trading partners, such as India.

Oxfam’s fund-raising relies on crises, real and imagined. I first noticed Oxfam drifting into the realm of hyperbolic propaganda late in late 2009, when I noticed an Oxfam billboard near the Flinders Station tram stop asserting that global warming was creating “50m climate refugees”. This factoid can be tracked to a discredited paper by Oxford’s Professor Norman Myers  15 years earlier. The UN recycled it in the form of a climate refugee map as at 2010 — then had to abruptly disown and make it disappear in 2011, when no climate refugees turned up.

In 2009, Oxfam was also claiming “the number of people affected by climatic crises is projected to rise by 54%, to 375 million people, over the next six years, threatening to overwhelm the world’s ability to respond.”[i]

The six year time frame takes us to 2015. But where, exactly, are these 375 million “climatic crisis” victims — 16 times the population of Australia — overwhelming the relief agencies? The UNHCR puts current numbers of internally and externally displaced people at 51m and makes no mention of climate as a factor distinct from conflict.

In the Oxfam study, when the the authors cite “climate” they actually mean “weather” — storms, floods etc, and the word “disaster” appears very flexible indeed, sometimes taken to mean as few as ten deaths. The projected increase from 2009 to 2015 is Oxfam’s straight-line extrapolation of past figures. Kids can do that stuff with rulers and crayons.

Undeterred by reality, Oxfam in 2013 was claiming

Today there are an estimated 26 million climate refugees, yet by 2050, 200 million people a year will be on the move due to hunger, environmental degradation and loss of land due to climate change.

The Norwegian Refugee Council says total displacees from natural disasters (not climate) in 2013 was 22 million. An Oxfam Australia spokeswoman says the organisation was not the author of the (2050) 200 million projection for climate refugees claim, attributing it to an Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) report,

Needless to say, EJF is a UK green raver with patrons such as activist model Lily Cole and “award-winning actress Emilia Fox”. Oxfam might want to be a bit more picky about whose tripe it recycles, not least because its  global-warming tracts are blindingly at variance with the facts. Try this, for example (emphasis added):

…predictions made by climate scientists have been alarmingly accurate in recent years … Disasters such as the heat waves and wildfires in Europe and flooding in southern Asia were predicted by climate modelling.

Since the IPCC concedes that 111 of its 114 climate models exaggerate the warming (and remember, warming stopped nearly 19 years ago), the models are better described as alarmingly inaccurate. As to specific weather events, rather than general predictions of climatic catastrophe, no IPCC modelling is so bold as to predict a single one.

Five years ago, Oxfam ran a climate-change conference in the Oromia region of Ethiopia,  “bringing together people to share their stories of climate impacts. Thousands of people attended … Everyone agreed that the problem is getting worse and threatening their future.” Of Ethiopia’s problems, global warming (which, recall, halted nearly 19 years ago) seems the least urgent, ranking below, say, Ethiopia’s corrupt government, the 6% infant mortality rate, AIDS, dirty water for 60% of rural people, poor sanitation for three-quarters of the population etc. Whether or not Ethiopian peasants benefited from the seminar is moot at best, but Oxfam certainly scored some exotic footage for its film “Faces of Climate Change”, so personalised and useful for global fund-raising.

Naughty Mother Nature is prone to contradicting Oxfam. In 2008,  Oxfam Australia filmed Helen Henry of Hamilton, Vic., as one of its six “Sisters on the Planet”. The clip (below) begins with Helen lecturing a roomful of Hamilton citizenry: “Science predicts that if Greenland was to melt, we would see an increase in sea levels of six metres.” (Yes, perhaps in 3014).

The film then cuts to Victoria’s Wannon flood plain, with Helen saying it looked lots drier than a decade ago, when brolgas used to dance about on the swamp: “It really hit home to me that perhaps there would not be the childhood I experienced available to my children,” she laments. An Al Gore acolyte, she was oblivious that the district flooded badly in 1946, 1981, and 1983, and sure enough in 2010 and 2011 it flooded again. She had  bemoaned that her family businesses, Henry’s Hydraulics, couldn’t order 100% renewable electricity (“I love windfarms,” she says). Worth noting is that the inconsiderate flood of 2010 knocked out Hamilton’s power altogether.

Oxfam is desperate to paint coal-fired power generation as a current health hazard (as well as a global warming-inducer). It says of Australia, “Every year we pay around $6 billion to treat health problems caused by the burning of fossil fuels.”

That $6 billion figure  is absurd. For example, Oxfam cites a Flannery Climate Council study  claiming particulates and noxious gases from power stations impose $2.6 billion in health costs. But that figure was obtained by looking at a study of European power-station health costs (of whatever validity) and arbitrarily taking between 7% and 20% of those costs to allow for Australia’s “lower population density”. The study author wraps up: “These figures should be verified by Australian location-specific studies as health effects and costs may differ from Europe.” Such is climate scariness.

Oxfam has always done good work in disaster relief and other direct aid to the Third World. However, its  “progressive” bent is now being prioritised internationally. It’s all spelt out in a six-year plan from Oxfam global headquarters, enthusiastically adopted by the Australian branch. Here are some extracts (emphases added):

  • Rejection of the ‘old’ economic  paradigm opens crucial opportunities 
for new thinking and approaches that favour a just and sustainable future.”

  • “More poor and marginalized women and men will benefit from expanded national and international debate on economic development policies beyond conventional GDP growth to focus on equitable prosperity within a resource-constrained world”
  •  “Our goal will be redistribution for greater equality of income, and of
 power of poor people; matched by the solidarity of concerned people in rich countries working to change their governments’ policies and behavior.”
  • “Ending extreme poverty and inequality [ending extreme inequality? Huh?] is within the reach of this generation. More progressive governments, more effective international bodies and more socially responsible corporations will be an important factor; but, mainly, lives are being improved by the power of people to demand their basic rights, turn the trend of inequality, and create their own solutions together.” [No mention of freer markets, trade and government-sector shrinkage, which are the real drivers of economic progress. Instead, “progressive” governments, the UN and “redistribution” are to be the saviors of the poor].
  • “Despite the huge progress of the last four decades in reducing extreme income poverty, inequality is becoming a critical problem, both between and within countries, whether rich or poor… High-income countries have average incomes that are more than 70 times those of low-income countries. Redistribution of 10% of the incomes of the richest countries would increase the incomes of the poor countries by more than nine-fold per head.”   [Great. The multi-billions in transfers to African basket-case leaders to date haven’t trickled down far].
  • In rich and poor countries alike, politically active, organized and accountable people are beginning to realize their strength and their capacity to challenge the vested interests that perpetuate the injustice of poverty..…That means devoting a lot of effort to linking with others
– social movements, trades unions [CFMEU? AWU?], digital communities and faith-based organizations.”
  • “Build alliances with constituencies in high- and middle- income countries to call for governments to cut excessive resource consumption [meaning what? Not cutting   governments’ share of GDP, I  assume] and protect low-income consumers.”

Oxfam is rolling out what it calls its “worldwide influencing network” combining its 17 national groups under the umbrella of One Oxfam, explaining: “It marks a trend towards working more on influencing authorities and the powerful, and less on delivering the services for which duty-bearers are responsible.” This appears to mean that Oxfam will do more agit-prop and less hands-on charity work.

Oxfam’s formulas look like code for rejection of the capitalism that has delivered stupendous benefits to the Third World wherever it has been tried (while the socialist model generates only stagnation). That Oxfam campaigners are anti-capitalist, notwithstanding Oxfam’s appeals to Big Business for funding, is openly acknowledged by top Oxfam people. Oxfam “strategic adviser” Duncan Green has blogged,

The underlying views of Oxfam staff are scattered along a spectrum from anti-capitalist watchdog to anti-poverty business partner. Where you sit depends partly on your job (campaigners tend to be more anti-, fundraisers more pro-), partly on your personal story and psychology … It takes a certain kind of person to sit down and bond with a captain of industry one day, and then slag them off to the media the next. We have some of them, but for the rest, there is a tendency to opt for one or other camp, leading to some difficult exchanges.

While treating big business with disdain, Oxfam’s own vision statement is rather Big Business-like in quest for an extra 100-300m Euros annual income, e.g. “Enter and expand profitably in high growth markets to position Oxfam for future unrestricted income growth.”

Oxfam has an agenda for “transformation” of global food production that would be as perverse in reality as all other Utopian brain-bubbles:

… individuals, organisations and movements connecting globally by a vision for a healthy system that supports everyone … We  act out of cooperation not competition, sharing resources fairly and valuing the environment, and where everyone has enough to eat, always… We don’t just focus on crop yield, but on quality and distribution, better waste management, sustainable consumption and green consumerism.

This Oxfam video (below) illustrates its new world order by representing agribusiness with skull and crossbones. Wind towers dot  the landscape, poetically, in response to the perils of alleged warming.

And try this Oxfam nonsense[ii]:

“We’re not immune to the effects of climate change in Australia, either. The severity and frequency of drought is increasing, particularly in the Murray-Darling Basin*. Water shortages, storms, bushfires and floods will make it increasingly harder to grow our own food, and it is predicted that we will become more reliant on imports, pushing grocery prices higher.” [Apart from the 2010 floods, that is. Sydney’s Warragamba dam is  full]

Contrast that with this from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade:

Australia currently produces sufficient food to feed up to 60 million people but has a population of less than 23 million.

Various Oxfam tropes are similarly weird, such as buying only food that has been produced within a 100-kilometre radius of where it is to be consumed. Substitute “iPhones” or “carpets” for “food” and you can see  the crudeness of Oxfam’s economic understanding. Oxfam’s plans endlessly prioritize reduction of inequality, ie., wealth transfers, rather than the economic growth that has pulled hundreds of millions of Asians out of poverty.

Inside Oxfam Australia, the  pay inequality  is 4.4:1 between the lowest paid staffer at $52,000 and CEO Helen Szoke at $229,000 (this is a quite reasonable ratio). If the lowest-paid got a 10% pay rise and Szoke hypothetically got a 15% pay rise, increasing inequality within Oxfam, who would be a victim? Who would be worse off?

Incidentally, either Szoke is paid too much or her UK Oxfam counterpart, CEO Mark Goldring, is paid too little. Szoke last year got $229,000 for running the Australian group with its $91 million revenue and 627 staff, while Goldring got the equivalent of $293,800 for running the UK group with $871m revenue and 2230 staff.  Oxfam Australia says Oxfam aims for its top salaries to be in the lower quartile of what similar organisations pay:

We believe this is fair reward for a job that involves long hours, large amounts of time away from family and overseeing an organisation that runs everything from a national retail[iii] and wholesale network to major emergency responses and long term development work to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people.[iv]

Oxfam UK last year launched  an “Even it up” campaign against inequality, involving  1700 blogs and more than a million tweets, with an endorsement from ex-UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. In 2005, a UN panel took Annan to task for mis-management of the corrupted $US64 billion Iraq oil-for-food program, finding that Annan’s son, Kojo, took advantage of his father’s job to profit from the system.[v] Panel leader, US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, said Kofi Annan had not been found to be corrupt but “his behavior has not been exonerated by any stretch of the imagination”. Kofi Annan seems a strange mascot for an Oxfam inequality drive.

Tony Thomas blogs at No BS Here (I Hope)


[i] Some kindred groups are even more over-the-top about global warming than Oxfam. Christian Aid UK,  which originally worked to aid post-war refugees, has predicted that “a further 1 billion people will be forced from their homes between now [2007] and 2050.”

http://www.christianaid.org.uk/Images/human-tide.pdf

[ii] The link is now dead

[iii]  Despite constant plans for remedies,   the Australian Oxfam shops (sales $12.5m) have run $0.5m-$2m annual losses  since 2007 and possibly earlier.  The UK shops, by contrast, make a 25% profit margin on sales.

[iv] This explanation seems to be cut-and-pasted from the UK website, which says in almost the same words,  “Our Trustees believe this [Goldring’s pay] is fair reward for a job that involves long hours, large amounts of time away from family and overseeing a £360 million organisation that runs everything from a 700-branch national shop network to major emergency responses and long term development work to improve the lives of the poorest people on the planet.”

[v] At least $US13 billion was rorted, including  $US1.7b straight to Saddam Hussein in kickbacks.

COMMENTS [1]

  1. en passant

    Back in the 1990′s I took a sabbatical to work on a project for an NGO. I received travel, downmarket accommodation, food and $100/week. I did it simply because they wanted me to go somewhere I wanted to go, not for any altruistic reasons. I enjoyed what I did and even handed back the excess left over from my stipend. It is the last time I have donated to a big name charity because:
    1. The country manager flew in for a visit and stayed at the top hotel
    2. Photo opportunities were vastly more important than achieving anything
    3. There was no altruism in any manager I met, but lots of political far Left posturing
    4. The NGO told donors that ALL monies went to fieldwork, but as we had a choice at one point of a new Land Cruiser for the Country Manager or completing the project, the Land Cruiser won (though a very active fundraising did obtain new funds to complete the project).
    5. When the fieldwork was finished a rather expensive dinner was arranged for local dignitaries to thank them for their cooperation. This was considered a direct field expense and an interesting lesson in accounting.
    6. The management lived in an ivory tower that meant that my nicknaming them ‘The boyars’ with the senior female being referred to by the coded ‘Marie’ (as in Marie Antoinette {in a perverse and tortured logic}) She was about 30 and a socialist Stalinist fanatic. She despised all proles and useless mouths.
    7. Mine Your Own Business, (www.mineyourownbusiness.org/) by Irish filmmaker Phelim McAleer is a clear-eyed look at the true impacts of mining and the nefarious tactics of its NGO opponents, to the detriment of local economies and the poverty stricken people who would benefit.
    I have never donated to an NGO since and do give to only a few selected ex-services charities

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