New Oxfam International Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, comes to Brussels
By Natalia Alonso, Head of Oxfam’s EU Advocacy Office
Winnie Byanyima, the new Executive Director of Oxfam International, travelled to Brussels last week to introduce herself to colleagues from Oxfam and other NGOs working in Belgium and vis-à-vis the institutions of the European Union, to get a taste of their important work, and to discuss the issues that matter to Oxfam with decision-makers and journalists alike.
At a reception hosted by Oxfam Magasins du Monde, Oxfam Solidarité and Oxfam Wereldwinkels to welcome Winnie to the city, we learned that this was not her first visit. Far from it, in fact, since Africa’s first female aeronautical engineer was a familiar face at the airport for many years, and would return while representing Uganda as both a diplomat and an elected politician. Winnie’s career would then take her to the African Union and the United Nations Development Programme, where she continued the fight for social justice, and for the rights of women in particular, which she will now take up as Executive Director of Oxfam International.
Winnie Byanyima speaks with Natalia Alonso, Head of Oxfam’s EU Advocacy Office, and Guggi Laryea, International Affairs Officer at the World Bank
In an interview with the Devex development newswire, Winnie reminded us that it is indeed a fight, because poverty and inequality “will not go away by just saying ‘please,’ but by serious struggle.” However, the role of Oxfam and donors such as the European Union is not to take on this contest directly, but to empower our partners in each country to do so themselves, and to push their governments and corporations to do the right thing for people living in poverty. This support for active citizenship is foundational to Oxfam’s six-sided strategy to weave together the complex web of our joint efforts as we seek to overcome poverty.
The Executive Director took this message to meetings with senior EU officials, emphasising the importance of consulting with civil society, and welcoming the continued opportunity for Oxfam to provide input with regard to the EU’s partnership with Africa in particular during preparations for the next EU-Africa summit in 2014.
The challenges of development in a changing world demand that donors adapt themselves, and none more so than the European Union, as it seeks to maximise the impact of its aid where it is needed the most. Winnie discussed with EU officials the challenge of making sure that EU Member States and the European Commission jointly prepare their strategies and programmes and divide labour better amongst themselves, and brought up Oxfam’s experience in bringing closer together 17 organizations with shared goals. Putting this into practice requires not only a joint vision but also a willingness to give up some ‘national visibility’. It is not always easy to put aside the individual short term interest for the common benefit, but in the long run it achieves better results for the people who need support in their fight against poverty. And it is always with this goal in mind that Oxfam and its partners across the world – all ‘warriors’ for social justice in the words of Winnie Byanyima – will continue to work.