Like everyone else, I have watched, read and listened with utter horror as the story has unfolded of how some Oxfam employees and those in a number of other aid organisations/NGOs, have taken hideous and indiscriminate advantage of the desperate poverty-struck people (usually females) in Haiti, Bangladesh, Chad and just about in every other poor country where they have been ‘helping’ people.
This whole scandalous situation is tragic because it reflects badly on all of the people who do fantastic work to help the world’s poorest nations, but we aren’t talking about any heroes and heroines here.
How quiet the #metoo and #Timesup brigade have been on this subject. Good for all of you celebrities for wearing your luscious virtue signalling black dresses at glamorous events, that makes a huge difference to the world. A conspiracy of silence or maybe they haven’t noticed what’s going on where it really matters.
And what about the people who ran or now run Oxfam? The head of comms at the global charity must have had a metaphorical heart attack when the current Chief Exec Mark Goldring said that the charity hadn’t murdered any babies in their cots, implying really people, what’s all this fuss about?
Catastrophic doesn’t come into it (and why is the former female CEO Dame Barbara Stocking who sanctioned the Haiti cover up still President of Murray Edwards College in Cambridge? Likewise, why aren’t her students demanding she goes?)
There isn’t a hyperbole big enough to cover the words ‘PR Disaster’ in this case but from my professional perspective there are always lessons to be learned, so here goes. Firstly, don’t cover up a scandal because eventually it will come out (cf BBC Jimmy Savile). Roland Van Hauwermeiren who was in charge of the Haiti Oxfam operation allegedly had prostitutes, or maybe women willing to do anything so that their children would survive – visit his £1500 villa, when he should have been sleeping in a basic tent, and all the other Oxfam bods who held orgies while helping people through the devastation of an earthquake which killed 220,00 people, injured 300,000 and left 1.5million homeless. This in a country already one of the poorest in the world.
Of course all involved should have been fired on the spot, Dame Barbara should have informed the Charity Commission instead of saying it was just ‘serious misconduct’ in the hope it would quietly go away. So kind of her to give Van Hauwermeiren a dignified exit and one month’s notice, with a decent reference for his next high powered aid job.
As in all crisis management and of course I am using the term loosely here, you have to admit mistakes because it will only get worse if you don’t. There are ways of trying to implement damage limitation but cover ups and lies come back to bite you seriously in your most sensitive regions. In the case of Oxfam millions of ££s in donations and public money.
It’s not the fault of Oxfam’s PR department, they are employees and would have been told what to do. CEOs don’t usually take sound advice from their in house experts if they have any. They just panic and hope it’s all gone away quietly. Goldring must have hoped that the departure of Penny Lawrence the Deputy Chief Exec would have given him a breathing space, he hasn’t yet accepted that he has no choice but to fall on his sword too. The fact that Oxfam is not a lone wolf will not help him at all, it is possibly irreparably damaged by this situation and so tainted it might never recover.
What the charity needs to do is a big sincere apology, a mega mea culpa and then aim to get as much information to the media of all of the good work that the charity has done in the past year, if not longer.
It needs to answer where the money goes. It needs to show it has shining examples of the highest quality leadership (not you Goldring, clearly) in the many disaster zones where it is operating. It needs to appeal to the public, Parliament and the media, saying that if you pull the financial rug from under us, these are the millions of poor desperate people who will suffer.
It has to be simple and sincere, not a glossy advertising campaign. You can’t just throw money at something as bad as this, it needs professional experts in charge and if they don’t have anyone in house capable of handling this tsunami then they should hire outside help fast. Sorry Oxfam, I’m too busy.