Oxfam International convened its Global Strategy Forum from September 16 to 18, 2019 in Nairobi, Kenya. The forum brought together 120 participants which included activists, experts and Oxfam staff to contribute expertise and experience, and have debates that will inform the organisation’s next global strategy and to shape its future.
Using a thinking environment approach, the objectives of the forum were: to reflect on a number of transformative scenarios and other strategic inputs developed across Oxfam’s global network; debate the potential implications for Oxfam’s future ability to have transformational impact; and propose strategic options, priorities and pathways for Oxfam as a framework for its next 10-year global strategy.
The organisers stated that they were excited to see every one of us and were particularly eager to hear what the externals or non-Oxfam staff had to say. During the opening remarks at the forum, Winnie Byanyima (the outgoing Executive Director, Oxfam International) said: “Forty percent of the people here are external participants, 80% are from the global south where the problems lie and it is important that the people who live the reality are here, three out of four are women; we are here to think together on how to change the world together.”
I was very proud of Oxfam’s efforts to reach out to representatives of student communities and youth groups, the vulnerable, marginalised and socially excluded groups, and the diversity of the participants.
Prior to the beginning of the forum, participants had been added into various “Homegroups” online which were small networks within which we could share our expectations, thoughts and activities. Meeting the homegroup members face to face was our first activity on Day 1 (after registration, of course), we also converged and had exchange of views every morning, and this was one of the major aspects of the forum that stood out for me.
On Day 1, participants focused on sharing ideas on nine strategic issues which were identified by Oxfam, these issues were: Alternative Economies, Cities, Climate Change, Democratic Governance, Digital Information and Technology, Multilateralism and Global Order, Patriarchy and Gender Justice, Peace and Security – Humanitarian, and Social Protection. We each had to choose three out of these issues which we felt most strongly about and join in sessions on them which were facilitated by Oxfam staff.
The issues had been framed, and we also got information on Oxfam’s current work in these areas, key dilemmas as well as key unresolved questions; ours was to look out for potential connections, synergies and overlaps between these issues and systems to make it easier to identify the most pressing themes.
The information we provided in our sessions on what we will add and/or transform, helped the Critical Chorus Group (made up of five volunteers from among the participants) during their review of all the answers from the sessions to whittle down and merge the strategic issues to five: Gender Justice, Climate Justice, Social Protection – New Economic Models – Cities, Governance and Active Citizenship – Technology – Cities, and Humanitarian.
These System Change Clusters, as they were called, were the focus of the Day 2 of the forum. And again, we split into sessions based on which of the five clusters we felt our interests aligned with to share our thoughts on some issues.
We had intense discussions and, at the end, came up with proposals which were presented in a gallery/dialogue walk fashion, in which participants (in pairs of an Oxfam staff and a non-Oxfam staff) had to “shop” around the proposals that were put up on the walls by the various groups to review, criticise, give feedback, make recommendations and propose suggestions.
The day ended with an open space/self-organised time during which we discussed Oxfam’s activities and where we felt the organisation needed to adjust both internally and on projects it took on.
On the third and final day, the Global Strategy Forum deviated from its original plan for the day as Oxfam did a complete changeover of its agenda, based on some of the feedbacks it had gotten from the previous evening (which I felt was really impressive, it gave me a sense of pride that they had listened to us).
It created an open space for participants who felt they weren’t given enough freedom by the organisation to express themselves around themes they chose themselves and where they felt their inputs mattered the most, to debate on where Oxfam can add value and take a stronger stand on its feminist values and the fight against inequality.
More opinions came up from the conversations, and the system change clusters from Day 2, which some of us had also chosen to build up on and flesh out. These became the strategic change proposals that the forum agreed upon to communicate to the Oxfam International Executive Board as the proposed framework for the organisation’s future global strategy.
Oxfam International Global Strategy Forum came to a close on Day 3, to also look at (literally) a recap of our activities for the past three days, we viewed the artistic representation of the conversations we had which was done by one of us while the proceedings were ongoing.
The global strategy forum was not just all brainy talks and presentations, we had a cocktail party and social evenings during which we converged for dinner and drinks, networked and got to understand the work and impact other changemakers are making in various spheres all over the world.
Great relationships and friendships were developed, and people found common ground where they could work with others for greater positive impact.
On one of these evenings, we had a Ghetto Classics presentation from young people from the Art of Music Foundation; and we also listened to a chat between Winnie Byanyima and Lady Justice Martha Kome, a Judge of the Court of Appeal in the Kenya High Court. The Lady Justice discussed her journey as a Human and Gender Rights Defender.
For me, the Global Strategy Forum’s method of engaging participants encouraged fresh thinking and active conversations. We felt free to point out and address areas where we felt Oxfam could touch on to collapse the existing patriarchal and oppressive systems and advance her feminist principles.
Oxfam had planned the forum to listen to the views of opinion formers, both internally and externally; and I thoroughly enjoyed the energy that resonated from us all through the event. I am also eager to see how our activities in these past three days will shape the Oxfam of the future.
By Adesuwa Obasuyi, Abuja (Nigerian social development worker and environmental activist, Obasuyi was one of the participants invited to the Global Strategy Forum as an external participant)