Today, we say goodbye to Phil Bloomer who, after 18 years at Oxfam and eight years as Campaigns and Policy Director, is leaving to take on the role of Executive Director at the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. Below is an extract from his farewell speech.
What has kept me at Oxfam for 18 years? Oxfam’s values, its effectiveness and its people.
The values of radical, progressive, and internationalist ideas: As William Blake put it: ‘Every night and every morn, some to misery are born. Every morn and every night, some are born to sweet delight.’ At the centre of those Auguries of Innocence is a protest at the obscene inequality in how we have organised our societies, and an awareness that the solutions are deeply about power.
‘The society we seek is one where power and wealth is in the hands of the many and not the few; where we live together in a spirit of solidarity and respect.’
These are eternal values and visions that inspired Oxfam’s founders, and continue to inform so much of what Oxfam does today.
The effectiveness of Oxfam in making progressive change happen:
Very few organisations have the resources, apparatus and drive to make a major contribution to transformational change. Oxfam continues to strive to ‘be that change we want to see in the world’ as Ghandi said. While the road to justice is always crooked, testing, and long, Oxfam remains one of the most effective change leaders inspiring, supporting, and being led by our partners and allies.
The people in and around Oxfam: I have never been so blessed to work with so many talented and decent folk as I have met in and around Oxfam. Pretty much every day I have been inspired by someone’s passion, humanity, insightfulness, creativity, commitment, or kindness. Thank you deeply for your friendship, comradeship, and tolerance.
And it is these same people, with our allies, who build the organisation and the movement. It is illustrative of the distance Oxfam has travelled on campaigns in the last 18 years that I was first recruited to manage one of two advocacy teams: the Reactive and Campaigns Team (whatever that meant!).
We were four people covering advocacy for almost all the Oxfam family (not yet a confederation) in Europe, UK, and all humanitarian action. Just for these functions, we now have a brilliant OI office in Brussels, affiliates in France, Germany and Italy; alongside a global OI and OGB Rights in Crisis team that has just delivered, simultaneously, an Arms Trade Treaty, and phenomenal campaigning for humanitarian assistance in the Syria conflict.
I have had so many rich and wonderful experiences in Oxfam, from all our programme and campaign experiences. It has been a privilege to spend time with our partners – many of them heroes who put their own lives at risk everyday to build justice and peace in their own lands: the Treatment Action Campaign and COSATU in South Africa, the Committee de Unidad Campesina of Guatemala, the Char-dwellers on
the sand-banks of the Brahmaputra in Bangladesh, the women’s organisations in DRC and Afghanistan, the health organisations in Ghana, the Pan-Africa Climate Justice Alliance… the list goes on.
It has also been a privilege to work with such high-performing and multi-disciplinary teams that have delivered Cut the Cost, Make Trade Fair, Climate Change Costs Lives, the Tsunami response, GROW, Control Arms, Robin Hood Tax, and many more.
No final victories or defeats
But, for a movement with such high ambitions as ours, we know that there are no final victories or defeats, but we can seek to always win major advances, and avoid as many set-backs as possible. As Samuel Beckett said: ‘Ever tried, ever failed, no matter, try again, fail again, fail better’.
Nevertheless, the last six months have been a phenomenal gift seeing the delivery of so many major campaigns and programmes coming together: the Robin Hood Tax (after 30 years of Tobin Tax advocacy), 0.7% in the UK (after 40 years), serious movement by the World Bank on land grabs (after six months of telling us we were ill-informed and
badly-timed); increased humanitarian assistance for Syria; new platforms for advocacy on land and tax cooperation opened up through the IF/G8 work; and the delivery of an Arms Trade Treaty after 10 years of graft by the team. Thank you to everyone who has helped to achieve these extraordinary advances of our movement, and in very difficult times.
An exciting future ahead
I am so excited at the future which will be Oxfam’s. The leadership team has inspirational new figures in it: a great new Executive Director at Oxfam International in Winnie Biyanyima, and at Oxfam GB we have a fantastic new CEO at in Mark Goldring and Ben Phillips will be a wonderful Campaigns and Policy Division Director.
And the major new campaigns being put in place could not be more relevant to our values and goals.
My principle wish for Oxfam is that it holds to its values and continues to speak truth to power – especially when they do not want to hear it and it is hurting the poor and dispossessed. And especially on two of the most powerful motors of poverty – rising inequality, and the worsening ecological crisis.
Oxfam can combine love and power to inspire and support a movement that stands in solidarity with, and practically supports, the movements of poor people fighting for their justice, dignity and freedom.
In that sense, Oxfam is a rebellion against fate (to adapt Malraux). It has been a privilege to be part of that rebellion for 18 years. Long may the rebellion continue.