Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Oxfam America's Strategic Development

In completing the readings this week, I wanted to better understand Oxfam America (OA) and its struggle adapting to the complexities of international development. I ultimately found an additional Oxfam America case that helped map the growth of OA as an international aid organization.

OA looked for unique ways to meet increasingly-global challenges and sought to expand influence and reinvigorate the organization by pursuing, for example, (i) organizational renewal (i.e., targeting thematic and geographic refinement), (ii) partnerships for learning (i.e., “developing OA’s programmatic and analytical excellence”), or (iii) advocacy for global equity (i.e., “converting OA into an effective, well-known advocate for Oxfam International) (Kondo & Austin, 1997, p. 6).  Likely as a result of this strategic evolution, contributions more than doubled between 1995 and 2001, and nearly tripled between 2001 and 2011 (Oxfam America, 2016). Such financial flexibility has allowed for continued reform in reacting to “a new set of challenges” posed by globalization, as well as a degree of flexibility in correcting or modifying ambitious attempts at global economic, political, and social reconciliation (Levy & Ballou, 2002, p. 2). Indeed, the organization has faced numerous challenges related to strategic stagnation; however, it continues to succeed as an advocate for marginalized groups as a result of its commitment to organizational and programmatic scrutiny coupled with an executive push toward strategic development.

For example, as the case made clear, in 1997 the organization sought to clarify its direction through strategic planning (Kondo & Austin, 1997, p. 6). The company ultimately settled on a direction titled “Partnerships for Impact,” which shifted focus toward rights-based development and “increased collaboration with other Oxfam affiliates through Oxfam International” (Levy & Ballou, 2002, p. 2).  In 2002, OA and OI then designed and implemented a “Make Trade Fair” campaign aimed at reducing trade disparities between developed and developing countries. The organizations pursued developmentally-beneficial reform and even succeeded in lobbying the World Trade Organization (WTO) to “exempt developing countries from cutting their import tariffs on agricultural products that are essential for food security and rural livelihoods (Levy & Ballou, 2002, p. 2).” However, with the continued failures of the Doha Development Round, efforts at promoting trade equity have since declined (Oxfam America, 2009).

Ultimately, despite frustrations associated with its attempt to influence international trade negotiations , OA has performed well in (i) educating the public, (ii) mobilizing grassroots organizations, (iii) advocating on behalf of those in need, and (iv) collaborating with like-minded NGOs on an international level (Levy & Ballou, 2002, p. 2). The organization continues to campaign for government aid reform, an improved international food distribution system, environmental disaster support, and a community’s right to challenge oil and gas companies with regard to revenue transparency (Oxfam America, 2013). In this sense, the organization continues to shift focus from reactionary intervention toward system modification. This shift represents OA’s and OI’s most significant and beneficial adjustment since the 1990s—that is, the shift from a crisis-relief organization to one focused on rights-based and sustainable development (Kondo & Austin, 1997, p. 6). Such a focus streamlined OA’s operation by necessitating reliance on regional partners and preventing operational overreach (Kondo & Austin, 1997, p. 6; Levy & Ballou, 2002, p. 2). Ultimately, should OA continue to view itself as a learning organization, should it continue to focus its mission, and should it continue to pursue programmatic and strategic innovation, it will likely continue to grow in terms of financial, political,  and social influence. Other organizations might benefit from a similar perspective.

Kondo, J., & Austin, J.E. (1997). Oxfam America. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.
Levy, R., & Ballou, D. (2002). Oxfam America in 2002. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Oxfam America. (2016). Financial Information. Retrieved from

Oxfam America. (2009). WTO Development Round Fails, but Make Trade Fair Campaign Continues. Retrieved from

Oxfam America. (2013). Campaign With Us. Retrieved from

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