Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Urking Oxfam (1)

The impetus for this blog came from an unexpected and unsettling experience with Oxfam. In July 2007 I emailed them for a list of all the projects which they had funded in the tax year 2006-07 - so that I could see where in the world the money goes and what it goes towards.

But I was disappointed. The Supporter Relations department told me:
"If you have been unable to find the exact breakdown of our budgets and expenditure, then I'm afraid this information is not available to the public."

Looking harder I found that in their Annual Report for the 2005-06 tax year, Oxfam provide this pie chart...

...which indicates how £196.5 million was distributed between the five Oxfam aims - but it gives no more detail who is receiving the money or what they are doing with it.

The report states that over £40 million of the expenditure is made through grants (1,782 of them apparently) to other NGOs or other Oxfams. A quick analysis of the top 50 recipients reveals a pattern of expenditure as follows:

Oxfam regionGrants in £thousands
East Asia249
Southern Africa510
Central America, Mexico and Caribbean791
South America880
West Africa1,436
Middle East, Eastern europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States1,535
South Asia2,538
Horn, East and Central Africa3,708
Grand Total13,523

It is interesting to see how money is distributed around the world. But no meaningful conclusions can be drawn because these grants only represent a fraction of the total grants made in the year (about 12%) and most of Oxfam's money is not distributed through grants anyway.

In total, £176 million of Oxfam's income for the year came from voluntary sources (ordinary donations, legacies, public appeals, DEC appeals, the DfID PPA and other gifts). That's money that comes from you and me. In addition DfID and other public agencies (e.g. UN, European Union etc.) gave £48 million. That's also money that comes from you and me.

But as to what this money is actually spent on, we are left in the dark. There are no other details on:
  • Which organisations received grants from Oxfam
  • Where Oxfam's money was spent
  • On what activities Oxfam's money was spent
Why can't Oxfam be open and transparent about where our money goes?