An Interview With Ken Mallette, Director of Oxfam America's Annual Fund
In 1942, a group of Quaker intellectuals, social activists and Oxford academics formed the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief in response to the plight of refugees in Greece. After the war, Oxfam (a name derived from its postal code abbreviation) continued its work, sending materials and financial aid to groups aiding poor people throughout Europe. As the situation in Europe improved, Oxfam’s attention shifted to the needs of people in developing countries.
A group of volunteers founded Oxfam America in 1970 in response to the humanitarian crisis created by the fight for independence in Bangladesh. Oxfam Great Britain provided a loan for the group, and at first Oxfam America funneled funds exclusively through Oxfam Great Britain. Originally located in Washington, D.C., Oxfam America relocated to Boston in 1973, where its small staff worked out of a borrowed room in a West Newton church basement.
The next few years were pivotal as several key supporters made prophetic and significant decisions that defined Oxfam’s mission and principles:
- Oxfam America decided not to accept U.S. government grants and to instead try to build broad-based, grassroots support that would remain independent of government foreign policy.
- Appeals for support would also avoid promoting a condescending attitude toward poor people; communications would be thought-provoking rather than emotional.
- Grants would focus on small projects that could serve as models for others.
To develop a U.S. constituency and funding source, the Fast for a World Harvest campaign was begun in 1974 and has grown to become one of the largest anti-hunger campaigns in the U.S. It was an exciting and nerve-wracking time for Oxfam’s few staff, board members and volunteers, who did everything — including selling cards and dish towels outside a local department store — to augment the overseas budget and meet the payroll.