I’ve just been reading Baroness Stowell’s report on the Charity Commission’s statutory inquiry into Oxfam GB.
It certainly makes very sobering reading – and Lady Stowell does not pull any punches. In particular, she highlights the fact that although Trustees of Oxfam GB were made aware of events involving their staff in Haiti in 2011, the charity’s actions to implement the improvements which the Trustees had identified as necessary were insufficient, with the result that promised resources for safeguarding were not delivered 6 years later in 2017.
It is easy for small charities with fewer staff spread over much smaller geographical areas to sit back, and for their trustees to say “well, that would never happen to us!”
But it might.
Although Baroness Stowell says in her Foreword that “no charity is so large, nor its mission so important that it can afford to put its own reputation ahead of the dignity and wellbeing of those it exists to protect”, she then goes on to say: “no charity is too small to bear its own share of responsibility for upholding the wider good name of charity.”
The message here is that what happened at Oxfam GB could happen in any charity of any size, anywhere. None of us can afford to be complacent.
In her conclusion, Baroness Stowell identifies wider lessons from the Oxfam GB experience in Haiti. She states unequivocally that charity trustees are collectively responsible for their charity, and that effective trustee boards should lead by example. Significantly, she emphasises that whistleblowers deserve to be taken seriously and treated with respect; and that charities should have in place a process for listening to whistleblowers, assessing their concerns, and informing them of what has happened as a result of their report.
Does your charity have proper procedures in place for dealing with whistleblowers’ concerns ? Does it have systems for responding when things go wrong?
Your charity may not be as big as Oxfam, nor have operations in far-flung parts of the globe – but the principles of good governance and the need to protect your beneficiaries ahead of your PR image apply to you just as much. We all need to work at this, so that if an incident or a crisis does occur, we react firmly and fairly in the interests of those we exist to protect.