Interview with Brian Scott
|Address||9 Burgh Quay, Dublin 2, Ireland||Year formed||1998|
+353 (0)1 672 7662
|Fax||+353 (0)1 672 7680||Overseas staff||0|
|Internet||http://www.oxfamireland.org||Annual Budget||IR£ 2,674,920|
By Fiona O'Reilly
Residents in Mutete, Rwanda developing terraces for crop planting. Courtesy of Oxfam Ireland
Brian Scott, executive director of Oxfam Ireland led me to his office on the top floor of the Oxfam Ireland building on the banks of the River Liffey and just a stone's throw from O'Connell Street bridge in the heart of Dublin city. The office has a great view of downtown Dublin.
The director, who is from and lives in Northern Ireland, explained that up until May 1st 1998, Oxfam UK & Ireland were a single entity (a British charity) which had a branch in Dublin. Oxfam's established itself in Northern Ireland and "spread by osmosis via its shops through Northern Ireland and the Republic in the 60s and 70s". Two and a half years ago however, Oxfam UK & Ireland ceased to be and reestablished as two separate charities, Oxfam GB and Oxfam Ireland. This arrangement allows better representation of the views and priorities of Irish people in both the north and south.
For legal reasons Oxfam Ireland consists of Oxfam Northern Ireland and Oxfam Republic of Ireland which are registered as 2 separate charities. Oxfam Ireland became the 11th member of OXFAM International (see box) "However in operational terms we run as one organisation, and to all intents and purposes are one OXFAM. This means that whoever you are on this Island, whatever your religious or political persuasion there is no barrier to your support of Oxfam. We have departments which cover the whole island for example, retail, marketing and fundraising. Some of the department managers sit in the Belfast office and some in the Dublin office." Understandably there are difficulties with running an organisation which straddles both Northern Ireland and the Republic. For example maintaining parity of salaries taking into account exchange rates and differential taxes and costs of living is not easy. However there are also advantages. Finance and administration are based in Belfast where it is easier to find staff.
The energetic and enthusiastic executive director worked in the private sector prior to starting with Oxfam 3 years ago, "Until this I had no involvement with the NGO world at all. I've always been interested in development - economic development in one shape or form." Brian started out as a schoolteacher in Zambia back in the sixties. "I felt powerless, I saw things I would like to change but felt no sense of ability to do so as this little cog in this national education machine. So I naively thought to myself the private sector was the place to be, I joined a publishing house in Tanzania." Here making an English textbook appropriate to Tanzanian culture and available for each child and teacher was one of Brian's greatest achievements at that time. After moving to Mexico to set up a subsidiary publishing house producing textbooks for schools for a number of years, Brian went to Business school and undertook an MBA DBA. Pursuing his interest in the role of the private sector in development his dissertation looked at the role of the private sector in providing technical and management services for agribusiness development. As he is now executive Director of an NGO. I wondered if Brian had changed his mind about the contribution of the private sector to development. "No I haven't, it comes back to what we are trying to do in the first place, - alleviate poverty and suffering. How are the poor going to become less poor and better off? By earning a living. They are not going to do so by receiving more handouts."
Oxfam Ireland is interested in enterprise development to enable people to be independent and self-sufficient. I asked what do charities like Oxfam know about enterprise development and whether this is not more appropriately an area for the private sector. Brian explains that Oxfam in particular have much experience in this area "I as Executive Director have responsibility for a chain of retail shops - it's a business and believe me the competition is pretty tough out there. It is true that without the dedicated selfless work of volunteers who run the shops we could not operate but similarly if we didn't run them like a business they'd close."
Oxfam Ireland is small so it focuses on a few African countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique Angola, Zambia, Sudan, Rwanda and Tanzania, working through other Oxfams and indigenous organisations. "In emergency operations we become part of the Oxfam International apparatus. Historically, Oxfam GB usually took the lead using their long experience in emergency response, with other Oxfams providing support. This model isn't universal however, for example in East Timor Oxfam Australia took the lead and everyone else supported them. In terms of development projects we have much stricter controls in defining in advance what it is we want, determining specifically what projects and parts we will fund."
Rwanda - Oxfam Ireland
One of the advocacy issues Oxfam Ireland is looking at is global food trade. Brian sees the underlying causes of poor nutrition and health as poverty. "A huge amount of which is in rural areas among subsistence and semi-subsistence farmers." He believes that "one of the ways of increasing their income is through producing cash crops of one sort or another and getting a better price for it. And how can we do that?" he asks rhetorically "well maybe getting fairer access to markets. Oxfam Ireland has been campaigning in Ireland for fair food trade and is also engaged in advocacy for access for all to basic education. Oxfam Ireland works in a number of thematic areas: food, education, HIV and AIDS, fair trade and enterprise development. Brian gave examples of how themes and programmes feed into one another. "Oxfam shops are there to raise money, but they are also used to sell fair trade products, and we are engaged overseas in developing small enterprises in one way or another e.g. farmer co-operatives that are engaged in the production of fair trade products."
For the future Brian would like to see Oxfam Ireland becoming as efficient as possible and continuing with the Oxfam tradition of innovation. He would like, as an organisation, to have the capacity to know which kind of activity is most cost effective.
Brian says: " I am deeply unhappy with our failure to raise sufficiently the indignation of more people about the obscenities of world poverty." He would like to see a mass movement of people imposing taxes on themselves in the form of taking out direct debits and supporting whichever group or NGO they choose to address poverty in the world today.
Being Part of Oxfam International
Major emergencies have sadly become part of the fabric of Oxfam International's (OI) work in recent years. Where civilians are caught up in conflict or natural disasters in the poorest countries of the world, that's where Oxfam International often has to marshal its resources to provide help and expertise.
Oxfam International is a group of eleven national organisations, whose considerable experience in this field over many years can lend the kind of help that people really need in times of crisis. So, Oxfam Ireland works with colleagues in Washington, Ottawa, Berlin, The Hague, Oxford, Hong Kong, Melbourne and other key centres to make a bigger impact on the lives and future of the people Oxfam seeks to help.
Sometimes this means lobbying national governments or international institutions like the United Nations to take urgent action in humanitarian situations. On other occasions, it means providing equipment and personnel at speed in places struck by a major disaster. Or, it can mean supporting partner organisations in the field, helping them to prepare for or tackle humanitarian problems in their own country.
Oxfam Ireland has been part of all of these. Kosovo, East Timor, Mozambique, Angola, Sudan and Ethiopia are recipients of Oxfam Ireland's humanitarian programme.
In one of the biggest emergencies to challenge aid agencies last year, Oxfam Ireland supported Oxfam GB's work with vulnerable groups in both Serbia and Kosovo where saving lives, protection, rehabilitation and rebuilding education were all part of OI's efforts.
In East Timor last year, advocacy played a key part in getting international peacekeeping troops into Dili to halt the destruction of the newly independent country by Indonesian militias. Oxfam Ireland was one of several Oxfams working tirelessly to make sure the UN did not renege on commitments to the East Timorese. Financial support amounting to 30,000 US$ has gone to OI's programme in Timor, where our work still continues.
And in Mozambique, Oxfam Ireland is part of a programme of rehabilitation in Inhambane province in the centre of the country. Some 115,000 US$ has been earmarked for work organised by Oxfam's Spanish affiliate, Intermon, to provide housing, clean water and sanitation facilities, seeds and tools.
Mozambique faces the possibility of renewed flooding in the closing months of this year and Oxfam Ireland's invaluable work helps millions of people whose livelihoods have been totally destroyed.
Emergencies aside, Oxfam Ireland works with its OI colleagues on a raft of other issues - education, debt relief, fair trade and globalisation - that enable Oxfam International to have an impact in putting right some of the world's inequities. Oxfam Ireland's contribution plays a vital part in making a difference on the long road ahead.
Rachel Stabb - Oxfam International Media Officer for Emergencies 23rd October 2000
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Reference this page
Fiona O’Reilly (2000). Oxfam Ireland. Field Exchange 11, December 2000. p12. www.ennonline.net/fex/11/agencyprofile