Who we are
Oxfam America is a global organization working to right the wrongs of poverty, hunger, and injustice. We save lives, develop long-term solutions to poverty, and campaign for social change. As one of 17 members of the international Oxfam confederation, we work with people in more than 90 countries to create lasting solutions.
Our vision: A just world without poverty.
Our mission: To create lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and social injustice.
We've spent four decades working to change the world one village at a time. Through enduring partnerships with local organizations, we have helped millions of people to not only survive the devastation of wars, famines, and natural disasters, but to rebuild their lives. We trust local people to develop the best answers to local problems.
But we have learned that, even with intense grassroots efforts, no amount of village-by-village work will ever be enough on its own. Why? Because millions of the world’s poor people are economically paralyzed by systemic barriers they cannot dismantle on their own. All too often, a superstructure of laws, policies, and customs conspire—sometimes unintentionally—to trap people in poverty forever.
More and more, we have come to see the local problems of the world's poor as inextricably linked to global, national, and corporate practices and policies. And we have the political expertise and international leverage to make a difference.
At Oxfam America, we are committed to continuing—in fact, to deepening and expanding—our local work. But we are also committed to blazing a new trail, one we believe will make our local efforts dramatically more effective and could begin to change the way development work is done around the world.
It's an ambitious proposition, certainly. But it wouldn't be the first time Oxfam America has helped lead the way to creative change. From here, the future looks very interesting indeed.
We invite you to learn more and to join us in this exciting journey.
Raymond C. Offenheiser
President, Oxfam America
Oxfam America is committed to being a responsive, efficient, and effective steward of our donors' resources; to applying these resources in ways that will achieve maximum impact; and to learning from our failures as well as our successes.
Oxfam America is committed to providing a humane, collaborative, creative, and caring work environment for its employees, and to ensuring that they have the supervision, training, and tools to do their work. We are also committed to encouraging excellence, innovation, and risk-taking.
Finally, Oxfam America is committed to building a more environmentally sustainable world in all it does, both through its programming and through its own operations.
In 1942, a group of Quaker intellectuals, social activists, and Oxford academics formed the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief in response to the plight of refugees in Greece. After the war, Oxfam (a name derived from its postal code abbreviation) continued its work, sending materials and financial aid to groups aiding poor people throughout Europe. As the situation in Europe improved, Oxfam’s attention shifted to the needs of people in developing countries.
A group of volunteers founded Oxfam America in 1970 in response to the humanitarian crisis created by the fight for independence in Bangladesh. Oxfam Great Britain provided a loan for the group, and at first Oxfam America funneled funds exclusively through Oxfam Great Britain. Originally located in Washington, DC, Oxfam America relocated to Boston in 1973, where its small staff worked out of a borrowed room in a West Newton church basement.
The next few years were pivotal as several key supporters made prophetic and significant decisions that defined Oxfam’s mission and principles:
- Oxfam America decided not to accept US government grants and to instead try to build broad-based, grassroots support that would remain independent of government foreign policy.
- Appeals for support would also avoid promoting a condescending attitude toward poor people; communications would be thought-provoking rather than emotional.
- Grants would focus on small projects that could serve as models for others.
To develop a US constituency and funding source, the Fast for a World Harvest campaign was begun in 1974 and has grown to become one of the largest anti-hunger campaigns in the US. It was an exciting and nerve-wracking time for Oxfam's few staff, board members, and volunteers, who did everything—including selling cards and dish towels outside a local department store—to augment the overseas budget and meet the payroll.
From 1976 to 1979, Oxfam America's structure evolved to allow the agency to more clearly define and expand the roles of staff and board members. The board hired an executive director and elected a management-oriented chair, who introduced strategic, annual planning and divided functions among departments: overseas, fundraising, development education, and administration. It was also during this time that Oxfam America became both financially and administratively independent of Oxfam Great Britain.
The crisis in Kampuchea in 1979 demonstrated the importance of Oxfam America's decision not to accept US government funds. The organization found itself in the national spotlight and realized a ten-fold increase in revenues. This led to a tripling both in the number of staff and accompanying demands for management and systems. The 1999 crisis in Kosovo and the Hurricane Mitch disaster spurred further growth.
The 1980s marked the start of campaigns designed to educate the US Congress and the American people about such issues as the Khmer Rouge and "empowering" approaches to relief and development. This trend led to a stronger advocacy focus at Oxfam America, where staff member took on such issues as debt relief and fair trade. An office was opened in Washington, DC, in 1994, and the organization now invests in a popular campaigning infrastructure.
In 2010, Oxfam America celebrated its 40th anniversary. While the organization today is a very different place—one that has grown and changed to address both the times and the changing needs of developing countries—several things have remained steadfast: the commitment to addressing issues of injustice and poverty, and the set of core values that has informed our work—legacies passed down through three decades of staff and board members.
Learn more about Oxfam America and the international confederation Oxfam.
This series of videos began as a pilot project March 2013. The videos were unscripted—based on informal interviews. Our hope was to create a series that showcase some of our remarkable staff around the world, our values, and our theory of change—that is, our belief that Oxfam's greatest resource is first and always: people, and our conviction that we each have a crucial role to play in righting the wrong of poverty.