Transforming Oxfam’s culture

We're sharing with the sector our experience, learning and perspective on the importance of living our values internally if we are to be legitimate in demanding those values of others.

Meg Otieno Atieli
Oxfam International’s Culture Lead

My name is Meg Otieno Atieli and I’m Oxfam International’s new Culture Lead. Our ambition is to build on the work already done and to achieve a workplace culture that genuinely models Oxfam’s values and is embedded on the feminist principles as an organisation, so that together we can prevent abuse with “zero tolerance”.

The first tranche of work involved an all-staff culture survey and the process that it resulted in ongoing dialogue. This was the most important first step in our journey – vital for staff motivation and for us to become a better place to work. Our own staff formed a network called “Living Our Values Everyday” that now has 1200 followers and growing. This network has sparked initiatives such as a Community of Practise on sexual diversity and gender identity and others similarly across our affiliate organizations. We’ve recently began facilitated discussions within our Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo teams which are among the countries where it is most challenging to deliver effective safeguarding. We’re beginning to create more “safe spaces” for staff to share and challenge the status quo. We’re continuing to promote these types of conversations too around difficult issues such as racism, sexual identity and hierarchy.

We have translated versions of our online training module about our stronger new Code of Conduct which all staff have been required to re-sign. We’ve also strengthened our Staff Performance Review process to focus more on “how” we accomplish our jobs, not only on “what” we achieve. The aim is to start shifting the mind-set of staff to focus on appreciating and understanding the cultural repercussions of their actions within Oxfam.

On World Mental Health Day this year, we organized an Oxfam staff “wellness and well-being” initiative, using various pages on our Workplace channel. We ran awareness-raising sessions in Asia, Horn and Central Africa, Southern Africa, Middle East and North Africa, and Western Africa in English, Spanish, French and Arabic.

Diversity and inclusion

We are working hard on diversity and inclusion. With the help of a very dedicated working group that comprises individuals across countries, affiliates and regions we settled on 4 key areas: LGBTQI, Disability, Gender, Race. In addition, D&I training course has been developed as part of the wider Recruitment & Selection course to be rolled out end of November 2019. Furthermore, The Global Programs Management Team (which includes the 7 regional directors, the Global Programs Director and others) have started an externally facilitated process. The purpose of this process is to support leaders to navigate diversity in their teams and the wider organization by first looking at themselves as leaders (the self), increase diversity literacy, learn from concrete situations and together build on the values, the feminist principles, Leadership model and Gender Sexual Diversity policy.

As part of promoting self-reflection in the confederation, the culture team used the Me and White Supremacy workbook as a tool to have difficult conversations around race. The book was shared in Oxfam offices in USA, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Denmark, Netherlands, Somalia, Kenya, Vietnam, Timor Leste, Canada, Belgium, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Spain and Tunisia. Work group sessions were also formed in some affiliates to collective feedback on individual reflections.

The team has been sharing learning with the sector in different forums. In September, the Culture team shared Oxfam’s experience and learnings on organisational culture change with directors from many INGOs including Save the Children, Greenpeace, ActionAid at the International Civil Society Centre (ICSC). In October, At the conference – “Global Perspectives 2019 – Legitimacy and Impact in Times of Scrutiny” Oxfam participated in a plenary panel discussion on Legitimacy and Accountability, sharing from the culture team’s perspective the importance of living our values internally if we are to be legitimate in demanding those values of others.