Ricardo Fuentes wants you to apply for his job as Oxfam’s Head of Research – here’s why

Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva  (@rivefuentes) is leaving and his  job as Head of Research at Oxfam GB is being advertised RicardoFuentesNieva cropped(deadline July 30).

I’m inviting you to apply for a job whose highlights include:

Why? Because I’m heading back to Mexico to take over as Executive Director of Oxfam Mexico. Exciting move, but I’m acutely aware of what I’m leaving behind.

The Head of Research (HoR) covers four main areas of work: campaigns and advocacy; thought leadership; managing the research team and learning from our programmes.

Definitely a candidate
Definitely a candidate

Making sure Campaigns and Advocacy are evidence-based:  The HoR is a kind of master of evidence within Oxfam – which can be a tricky position. In this role, you ensure that the organization uses the most up-to-date and credible sources (including academic literature and new databases and methods) in its communications and publications. There is often a tension between being rigorous and making a simple, strong point in campaigns and advocacy – the HoR has to get the balance right, i.e. that we can confidently back up what we say if challenged.

Top example: the trend analysis on the concentration of income and wealth presented at the last two World Economic Fora: Working for the Few and Wealth: Having it all and wanting more and the accompanying killer fact that the world’s 80 richest individuals now own as much as the bottom half of the population – 3.5 billion people (how many times have you heard that one?). For those papers, we used databases put together by respected academics – which was just as well, because we had to defend the results against some forensic scrutiny – including on the famous BBC programme More or Less.

Schmoozing lots of clever people Thought Leadership: The HoR is bombarded with invitations to present at seminars, conferences etc with policy makers, academics and students. These are opportunities to communicate research findings and the accompanying message, but also a great chance to float ideas, develop new arguments and meet some really smart people.

Managing the Team: The HoR often gets plenty of media or wonk glory (something Duncan recognized long ago

Definitely a candidate
Definitely a candidate

when he was in post!). But s/he also manages a small team of (seven) extremely talented and hard-working people who do most of the actual work. The managerial duties are an important part of the job and include representation in different Oxfam internal processes and, very importantly, connecting with other Oxfam researchers across the globe.

Learning from our programmes: One of the main research and learning assets of an organization like Oxfam is its presence in hundreds of communities around the world. This is a goldmine for those trying to understand what works and what doesn’t in international development. Our colleagues in Oxfam’s evaluation team (separate from the Research Team) carry out rigorous impact evaluations for some of Oxfam’s projects. Once the results of the quantitative evaluations are in, Oxfam’s researchers conduct follow-up qualitative analysis to better understand what is behind interesting or surprising project results (whether positive or negative). This is a new but expanding area of work: So far we have conducted follow-ups in Pakistan and Zimbabwe, but several more are in progress.

The job is great, a close-to-perfect mix of thinking and practice. Last week, I said it was one of the best jobs in international development. It wasn’t hyperbole.

To be honest, I’m really only leaving to get away from the British weather and food.

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One Response to “Ricardo Fuentes wants you to apply for his job as Oxfam’s Head of Research – here’s why”
  1. Matt Berkley

    “…the famous BBC programme More or Less”

    If you type “poverty” into the BBC search engine, you see as Editor’s Choice a More or Less page on the dollar a day. It falsely claimed the World Bank had a “basket of essential goods” to judge poor people’s prices – until a complaint.

    The word “essential” was removed as it “could be misunderstood” according to the editor. It remains in the Spanish translation and the podcast.

    The page still makes the ridiculous claim that the World Bank use a “basket of food”. It wrongly states that Ravallion’s team collected prices of “goods” from “developing countries”. It mistakenly says “household surveys” and “census data” are used to judge how much you can buy in different countries, misinterpreting what Chen and Ravallion’s methodology papers say about those data sources.

    Ravallion himself likes to say that his statistics are “real” values – meaning adjusted for inflation. But in reality World Bank economists have no global estimates for prices faced by poor people for any year from 1981 to 2015.

    On 21 July 2015 the complainant commented on a blog post by the Director-General of the BBC. A few hours later, the Head of Editoral Complaints suddenly emailed him after a delay of several months, partly about his complaint of 27 May 2012.

    The Director-General or whoever saw the comment seems not to have noticed the words “conflict of interest”.

    The ECU made an error about the dollar a day in a published ruling of 2005, wrongly stating that it was influenced by exchange rates – meaning it was overvaluing the dollar a day by a factor of typically two or three in a poor country (to the extent that such comparisons make sense). Of course, if they made the error, programme makers were likely to. The entire Mike Wooldridge “A Dollar a Day” series, which I thought had some very good aspects, unfortunately converted real local currency to real dollars – as is evident from the web pages.

    The comment to the Director-General is on a worse, and widespread, error made by More or Less on 10 March 2012 and elsewhere.

    A smaller matter is that like the three initial complaints about More or Less in 2012, a complaint that More or Less in 2014 treated the International Comparison Programme’s purchasing-power-parity numbers in the way the ICP told people not to, was completely ignored by the BBC.


    Some background:


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