Managing an “Alphabet Soup” of Donors – How Oxfam Established Strategic Business Change

Cynan Houghton

Oxfam GB works in over 60 countries worldwide, tackling urgent humanitarian response and long term community development. Its geographic, operational and thematic scope means that the organisation deals with a true “alphabet soup” of government and institutional donors – EC, ECHO, WFP, UNDP, UNICEF, OCHA, OFDA, DFID, FCO, CIDA and SIDA, to name a few. The task is to deliver programmes for the donors while complying with complex grant rules under cost pressure. At OEB 2010, Cynan Houghton of Oxfam will illustrate how global online training has made a big difference.


Since 2009 Oxfam has introduced a virtual classroom training approach to ensure that their worldwide staff, manging over £100m per year of institutional grants have easier access to experts, with timely and engaging training.


“We developed a completely online blended learning approach, including both synchronous and asynchronous delivery, to support a globally decentralised requirement for skills in donor contract management,”says Cynan Houghton, Oxfam’s Capacity Building Coordinator for Humanitarian Funding. The technical solution is based around the use of “Elluminate” software and an in-house collaborative platform known as “KARL”.


The initial decision to adopt this method was driven by cost pressures in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. Cynan Houghton says, “These pressures were quickly relieved by implementing Elluminate-based virtual classroom training,” But the overall impact turned out to be much wider than originally expected.


Huge Impact on Overall Learning


So far, Oxfam has delivered live instructor-led training to staff in more than 40 countries, including many remote locations with limited bandwidth like South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But innovating and modelling this approach in the area of institutional funding – is leading to replication and spinoffs elsewhere within the organisation, for example in human resources and finance. “This began as a necessary effort in training cost-reduction. And that’s worked. Our team in Oxford now trains the whole world, at no appreciable extra effort than training just HQ staff – with a whole lot less travel. But it’s the additional benefits we’re seeing by transforming our learning model which are pulling us forward. Live online learning helps keep us together as a community of practice, and means we can offer the same equality of learning opportunity to staff at all levels, which really resonates with our values as an organisation.”


The impact has been to support stronger compliance with institutional donors’ requirements, lowering the risk profile of the oragnisation, and providing better assurance to the Board of Trustees on risk management.


“Ultimately this is ensuring Oxfam GB has a stronger organisational capacity and resource base to deliver for people in poverty.”


AT OEB 2010, Cynan Houghton will offer insights into the practical lessons learned into the adoption and implementation of Oxfam’s global online training approach, as well as reflecting on an analysis of a recent internal staff survey of the use of Elluminate in training, collaboration and teleconferencing.


His presentation on Establishing Strategic Business Change Under Pressure is part of the session on Coping with the Crunch: How Can We REALLY Deliver More for Less? which will take place on Friday, December 3, from 14:15 – 16:00.



More information on the work of Oxfam GB can be found here.
Follow the self-styled “accidental e-learning evangelist” Cynan Houghton on Twitter: @cynan_sez

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