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Records of Oxfam programme policy, management and administration


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This record group contains records of Oxfam GB (formerly Oxfam and Oxfam UK/I[reland]) only. These comprise key series of programme policy, management and administration materials.

Programme policy and management materials include minutes and related papers of the senior committees directing Oxfam’s programme, such as the Overseas Aid and Field Committees; Overseas Aid Department and International, formerly Overseas, Division Directorate internal and external correspondence; papers relating to planning and reporting processes; and programme reports, including country annual, development and humanitarian reports, and evaluations of development and humanitarian work.

Records of the Policy Department and its predecessors include correspondence of the Policy Director and staff, policy reports, briefings, position papers and discussion documents issued by Oxfam. Records of programme administration include correspondence of the regional Desks and of the Humanitarian Department and its predecessors.


  • Creation: 1943-2012


220.0 Linear metres (1320 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Conditions Governing Access

Some material is closed.

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, where available, e.g. MS. Oxfam PRG/1/1/1, fol. 1].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MS. Oxfam PRG/1-9

Collection ID (for staff)

MS. Oxfam PRG


Records of Oxfam programme policy, management and administration

Biographical / Historical

The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief was formed on 5 October 1942 at a meeting in the Old Library of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. It was one of several similar groups set up around the U.K. during the Second World War, in support of the National Famine Relief Committee, to lobby for the relief of suffering behind the Allied blockade in Greece and other countries under German occupation. The Oxford Committee initially raised funds to be channelled through the Greek Red Cross. Throughout the remainder of the war it also campaigned, unsuccessfully, for the lifting of the blockade to allow relief supplies through to starving populations. In March 1943 it was registered as a charity under the War Charities Act.

In the post-war years, the Oxford Committee remained in existence to raise funds and dispatch supplies of food and clothing to refugees and others in Europe through agencies such as the Salvation Army and the Save the Children Fund. In 1948 it broadened its aims to include 'the relief of suffering as a result of wars or of other causes in any part of the world' and turned its attention also to aid for refugees in the Middle East and people affected by conflict in Korea in the early 1950s. In the 1960s, it gained national recognition through its humanitarian response to war and famine in the Congo and Biafra. In 1965, the shortened telegraphic address, 'Oxfam', which had been used informally since the 1940s, was adopted as the charity's registered name.

During the 1960s Oxfam began to highlight the need in many countries for long-term development work to address the causes of poverty. It played a leading role in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation's 'Freedom from Hunger' campaign, launched in the U.K. in 1962, which aimed to combat food shortages, not by giving food aid but by enabling people to grow enough to feed themselves. Oxfam's grants to local agencies for work in areas such as agriculture and public health increased throughout the decade. By the early 1970s, it was supporting 800 projects involving local communities, overseen by eleven Field Directors based in the countries concerned. Public education, campaigning and advocacy on issues affecting poor people also became a major focus for the organization at this time.

Today, advocacy and campaigning, development work to help poor people work their own way out of poverty, and humanitarian work in emergencies, assisting those immediately affected by conflict and natural disasters, remain the basis of Oxfam's programme. As a major, international non-governmental organization, Oxfam is a world leading expert in public health in emergencies.

In 1962, Oxfam was launched in Canada. Other Oxfams followed, in America, Belgium and elsewhere. Oxfam International, a confederation of non-governmental organizations, was formed in 1995. Oxfam GB, the organization founded in Oxford in 1942, and other national Oxfams are members of Oxfam International.

For further information see M Black, A Cause for our Times: Oxfam - the first 50 years (Oxfam and Oxford University Press, 1992).

Oxfam's programme:

A Grants Sub-Committee was set up in November 1955 to oversee and report to Oxfam's Executive Committee on the funding and management of its programme. Membership consisted of trustees and external expert advisers, with staff in attendance. From 1963, Field Committees for geographical regions, responsible for considering grant applications, reported to this Committee, renamed the Overseas Aid Committee in January 1964. In 1975 the Overseas Aid Committee was stood down and its responsibilities transferred to the Executive Committee. Field Committees were stood down in 1992 and their functions passed to a new, global Overseas Committee.

From the 1960s, Oxfam's programme was managed by the Overseas Aid Department, reporting to the Overseas Aid Committee. As the Department expanded it was renamed the Overseas Division in 1975 and, in 1995, the International Division.

In 1961, Oxfam appointed its first Field Director, based in southern Africa and tasked with overseeing and developing the programme there. Other such appointments followed in Asia and elsewhere. Field Secretaries in Oxford were points of contact for the Field Directors. This administration grew to form 'Desks' based on geographical regions, including Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

In order to improve Oxfam's response to humanitarian emergencies, a Disasters Unit was established in the early 1970s, alongside a Health Unit and, later, a Technical Unit. As the Disasters Unit grew in the following decades it was renamed the Emergencies Unit (late 1980s), the Emergencies Department (1993) and the Humanitarian Department (2000). In 1993, following the disbanding of the Health Unit and the Technical Unit, a Public Health Team relating to these functions was formed within the Emergencies Department.

Field Secretaries and Desks were concerned with the entire programme in their regions, whether in terms of development or response to disasters, while the Disasters Unit and its successors led Oxfam's humanitarian emergency response. A process of decentralisation in the 1990s, referred to as 'regionalisation', resulted in management responsibilities being transferred from the Oxford Desks to regional offices in the countries in which Oxfam worked.

A Public Affairs Unit was established in the Communications Division in 1974 to develop links with government and professional bodies and to research subjects relevant to the programme. In 1992 it was brought into the Overseas Division as part of a move to create a corporate policy unit with a remit to lobby for policy change on issues affecting poverty and development. This new Public Policy Department also encompassed the work of the Overseas Division's Development Policy Unit. Following restructuring in 1993 and the addition of a Gender and Learning Team (previously the Gender and Development Unit), a Programme Development Team, and a Publications Team, it was renamed the Policy Department. Strategic Planning and Evaluation staff were brought into the Policy Department in 2000, a Programme Policy Team was created, and the Department was incorporated into a new Campaigns and Policy Division.

The Gender and Development Unit was established in 1984. Its task was to raise awareness among staff at all levels of socially constructed differences between men and women and the unequal power relationships that result, and to incorporate a gender perspective in Oxfam's programme. A staff network, Action for Gender Relations in Asia, was established in the same year. In 1990 the Unit initiated a publishing strategy. In 1992 the Gender and Development Unit became the Gender Team, with an advisory function, located in the Policy Department. In 1996 it merged with the Programme Development Team to create the Gender and Learning Team.


Oxfam’s functions have remained fairly constant over many years, but a number of organizational restructurings have resulted in functions being transferred between departments and teams. To preserve continuity, records have been arranged according to function (in this case, Oxfam's programme) rather than department or team.

The arrangement reflects the original filing system where that is apparent, and is usually chronological and / or by country or region.

Reports relating to particular countries are arranged according to the current country name, regardless of date. For example, reports relating to Upper Volta appear in the catalogue along with reports relating to Burkina Faso.

Original file titles, where they exist, are given in inverted commas preceding descriptions. Titles of reports are also given in inverted commas.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to the Bodleian Library by Oxfam GB in 2012.

Related Materials

Bodleian Library catalogues of materials relating to other Oxfam functions are available. These are Appeals and Fundraising (Shelfmark: MS. Oxfam APL), Communications (Shelfmark: MS. Oxfam COM), Campaigns (Shelfmark: MS. Oxfam CPN), Publishing (Shelfmark: MS. Oxfam PUB), Donated Collections (Shelfmark: MS. Oxfam DON) and Project Files (Shelfmark: MS. Oxfam PRF).

Catalogue of the Oxfam Archive: Programme Policy, Management and Administration
Finding aid prepared by Chrissie Webb, Rosanna Blakeley, Rachael Orchard and Rosie Dodd, based on an earlier finding aid by Rosie Dodd and Chrissie Webb
Language of description
Script of description
Catalogued with the generous support of the Wellcome Trust
Edition statement
Final edition

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom