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A chat with Oxfam America chief rabble rouser Ray Offenheiser

Ray Offenheiser

Today’s Humanosphere podcast guest is Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, a Boston-based anti-poverty organization and American offshoot of Oxfam International headquartered in Britain. Most people have likely heard of Oxfam but may not know much about it – or what often distinguishes it from the many other humanitarian organizations out there working to reduce poverty, injustice and other forms of global inequity.

Put simply, Oxfam is not the least bit shy about naming names, chasing down bad acting governments and corporations or taking on the rich and powerful if it can advance the cause of helping the poor and reducing suffering.

Take, for example, the atomic message bomb Oxfam dropped on the gathering of the super-rich and elite at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year.

Oxfam3It was just a factoid contained in an Oxfam report – the finding that today some 85 billionaires own as much of the world’s wealth as 3.5 billion of the poorest people – but it arguably stole the show at Davos. The world’s media went nuts, forcing the attendees to address this grotesque statistic. (Even the super-rich cheerleader “world’s richest” list-loving Forbes magazine later jumped on board and corrected the figure, noting that the global concentration of wealth was actually worse than Oxfam reported).

This simple act of advocacy by Oxfam, this metric of global inequality, is now a meme that won’t go away.

In the podcast, Ray and I talk about some other examples of Oxfam’s ‘edgy’ approach to advocacy – including a campaign called Behind the Brands that holds food manufacturers accountable for their claims to be engaging in socially responsible practices; or the time Oxfam stood up for poor Ugandan farmers against corporate and government interests aimed at displacing them.

“It’s important at times to speak truth to power,” says Offenheiser. “Some might call that edgy … We think that’s part of what gives the organization integrity and our struggle is to do that well.”

Offenheiser was in Seattle for a meeting with ‘advocacy partners’ of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The meeting, which was closed to the media and the public, included representatives from Save the Children, the One Campaign and other anti-poverty and humanitarian organizations. All are focused on helping to advance and improve the fight against poverty and inequity. According to Offenheiser, Oxfam intends to remain focused on raising public awareness of how inequality – in wealth and power – is at the root of most of these problems and must be central to the development agenda.

So listen in and learn a lot more about Oxfam, how it got started in World War II, how it retains its ‘edge’ and how you can help them make the world a better place.

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.