Trust after Oxfam – a resource we must protect

21 Feb 2018
by Michael Leng

Framework employs some remarkable people – people who are driven to work in demanding, sometimes upsetting environments with some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

They are our most valued resource because, ultimately, they are the people who make all of our work possible.

There is, however, another less tangible resource on which we depend absolutely: Trust – the trust placed in us by our service users, our supporters and the trust placed in us by the people who commission our work.

The busy nature of life in our organisation can lead you away from thinking too deeply about such issues, but it is now right at the forefront of my thinking as earlier this month the Oxfam scandal placed the issues of trust and morality under a forensic microscope.

As appalling as the behaviour of certain staff was, the scale and ferocity of the backlash against such a well-known and respected charity has been consuming - with ramifications for all of us working in the Community and Voluntary Sector.

Oxfam isn’t the first major institution to stand accused of betraying public trust, nor will it be the last. Indeed, as journalist Andrew Rawnsley makes clear in this excellent piece for the Guardian, the list in recent years is depressingly long. From bankers and parliamentarians to media institutions, football clubs and the Church, those institutions in which we invest our faith, and indeed our money, have all, to some extent, broken the bonds of trust on which they depend.

Yet the current scandal affecting Oxfam and (worryingly) a growing number of aid charities, has certainly affected me more deeply, and I doubt that I am alone. That such horrific breaches of trust should happen in a charity devoted to the wellbeing of vulnerable people is shocking and concerning in equal measure.

Although some people in the media and in politics are clearly using such awful events as a stick with which to beat the very notion of foreign aid , the very real backlash is proof that charities will always be held to the highest possible level of trust and accountability by the people who support them.

This is equally true of Framework and our work with homeless and vulnerable people. It is also entirely appropriate and something we welcome. As a charity that depends on public and stakeholder support, our reputation forms the foundations to everything we have achieved and everything we will achieve in the future.

We must, then, hold ourselves to a higher moral standard than people working in other industries, and ensure that at all times we ensure that we are worthy of the trust placed in us by others.

*Michael Leng is Operations Director at Framework.

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