Oxfam Canada - Neal McCarthy

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Some thoughts from Oxfam Canada

I've really enjoyed these exchanges - the breadth of experience and the level of enthusiasm is a potent mix. I'm sorry I couldn't join you in person. The spectrum of responses has given me alot to think about.

I've worked in technology for 15 years, and in the NGO sector for half of that. I've worked in several humanitarian responses, both at head office and in the field, and I've also worked in human rights organizations. I now work for Oxfam, an organization that both advocates for rights while responding actively to the loss or denial of those rights.

Which rights? The right to:

  • a livelihood
  • basic services
  • to be safe from harm
  • to be heard
  • to be treated as equal

All of these rights are threatened in emergency situations. When a disaster happens in a location where these rights were already under threat, the disaster serves as a further impetus to the degragation of those rights.

At Oxfam Canada we work to preserve and promote those rights. And since gender is the most consistent predictor of poverty and powerlessness, we believe that ending global poverty begins with women's rights. We act on this belief both in our development programmes and emergency responses.

Crisis events have a differentiated impact on men and women - conflict, war and even disasters are not gender-neutral. Therefore our response cannot be gender-neutral. Our responses are driven by what we know. What we know comes from information and data. Analysis of data from a gender perspective (either in the midst of crisis or post-crisis) informs what can and should be done.

Someone said in one of the sessions that "great innovation happens in a crisis". That is true - we are amazed at what people manage to do when there is a crisis. What happens to Oxfam as an organization in a crisis is massive increase on both the supply side and on the demand side. We get more people, money and resources. And we need to distribute more people, money and resources. We don't always have the capacity to absorb, and we don't always have the capacity to coordinate or harness that goodwill and energy.

So we need great innovation to happen between crises too. We try to build our capacity to absorb and coordinate, and to build the processes and procedures and structures that will allow us to scale up at short notice. We are never short of help in a big crisis: what we are sometimes short of is the capacity to direct and harness that help. That capacity can come from the volunteer community, and it can be a foundation stone in our ability to respond. Continuing that foundational work is what this session was about today.

So I do believe that the Crisis Commons and the projects you do can help with this shortage in capacity. Technology can help with engaging, recruiting and training people. Creative, innovative systems can support the work in the fund-raising countries as well as in the fund-receiving areas. It's not just about rebuilding houses: its about raising money to rebuild houses, its about campaigning for change to make sure that those houses are no longer in war-zone or in a flood-zone.

One of the comments in one of the break-out groups was about the "culture of preparedness". We are trying to build this in our organization and to develop long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships with volunteers who have clear roles and responsibilities and the right to innovate. The phrase that springs to mind is that "every fireman knows his or her place in the fire truck". If we succeed in building such a culture internally then it will easier to harness the energy and skills and goodwill that Crisis Commons has to offer.

So lets continue to talk.

Thanks everyone!


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