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60 jaar Oxfam Novib

  • 3 oktober 2016

Oxfam Novib bestaat zestig jaar. Ter gelegenheid van dit jubileum hield Oxfam Novib een congres over Civic Society Space, in de nieuwe REgentes in Den Haag. Directeur Farah Karimi opende de dag. Lees hier haar speech terug.

'Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends—

A very warm welcome to our celebration of 60 years of Oxfam Novib!

60 years!

On behalf of the whole organization, past and present, I am delighted that you are able to be here today.

Sixty years of Oxfam Novib are impossible for me to condense into my short opening remarks. Indeed, 60 years ago, the world was a very different place.

For starters, I wasn’t born yet!

Our organization was born out of the work of Simon Jelsma.

Sundays, beginning in 1954, Simon Jelsma encouraged people to come out to the Plein, the public square, to discuss the world’s most pressing issues: war and extreme poverty.  

By 1956, he and other founding heroes, including Nobel laureate Jan Tinbergen, had built a movement. One based on building bridges spanning activism and knowledge. These Sunday discussions had become NOVIB—the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Internationale Bijstand.

This was a time when the world truly needed us.

Debates were dominated by the Cold War and decolonization. Here in the Netherlands, post-war trauma, and fear of an unknown future, divided intellectuals, communities and dinner tables.

Simon Jelsma encouraged us not to be at odds with each other, but to have a different sort of discussion, one that could stand up to the binary politics of the time. This alternative path—called the Third World Movement—was built upon dialogue, upon partnership, and upon positive action. It is the guiding spirit with which we were founded.

We started with essential work. Supporting schools. Building small clinics. Always together with local people and partners.

By 1963, seven-year-old NOVIB was already seeing that our impact could prove generational. In that year, educator and NOVIB supporter W.H.L. Bloem visited a NOVIB-supported school in Chrysoupoli, Greece, and reported that the school was “blooming.”

High praise. Especially coming from a Mr. Bloem.

For decades to come, NOVIB would continue to support the blooming of vibrant civic society—

we truly did pollinate the world with partnerships!

The number of our Dutch supporters, and of our global partners—as well as our own knowledge of how we could leave the biggest impact—continued to grow.

Decades later, in 1995, NOVIB, Oxfam in  the UK, and a number of other like-minded organizations around the world came together to form Oxfam International. As Oxfam Novib, we take enormous pride in combining the strength of NOVIB’s roots, and focus on civil society, with the truly global reach of Oxfam.

We couldn’t have achieved so much without the effort, financial support, and belief of the public—and so many of you in this room—over the years.

With you we fought injustice around the world.

Apartheid, dictatorships, disasters, violation of women’s rights, and global hunger. Together, we have achieved great things.

For all of our shared successes, however, the results I’m personally most proud of are our longtime and strategic support to, and partnership with, local initiatives. Some have become very respected and influential actors themselves.

By supporting civil society organizations like IBASE in Brazil or BRAC, in Bangladesh. Millions of people were empowered and literally millions (!) managed to defeat poverty.

In Myanmar, METTA started small but became a huge community development network and played a leading role in tsunami response.

Across much of Africa, ACCORD has become a leading regional development and humanitarian organization.

Social Watch, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, the Global Campaign for Education, Via Campesina, the World Social Forum. All bring voices from around the world together to hold the powerful accountable, and push global social justice forward.

We couldn’t be prouder of our partnerships with all of these organizations.

Today, I am very happy that Abdel Basset Ben Hassen and Sandra Kidwingira are with us representing two of our current partners, the Arab Institute for Human Rights and Tax Justice Network–Africa.

We are also joined by Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary General of CIVICUS, and Bart Romijn, Director of Partos, for the Dutch launch of the CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report. The report is absolutely crucial for understanding civil society trends all over the world, and I am so pleased that we can have this landmark study underpin today’s discussions.

And I am also glad Minister Lilianne Ploumen will join us after the break to participate in an absolutely essential debate on the future of civic space. For decades financial and political support of different Dutch governments, and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have been instrumental in our work around the world.

So, even though we’re here on our 60th anniversary, today isn’t a celebration.

We’re not here to have a party.

The issues of the present—climate change, rising inequality, conflict, and the injustice of poverty—are too pressing.

Oxfam Novib is back in Greece—some 50 years later—not to visit blooming schools, but to ensure that the basic needs of refugees are met.

We’re here today because our movement needs to continue to adapt if we are to succeed in supporting today’s most critical civil society moments.

Throughout the world, inequality and polarization are on the rise. Pick up any newspaper, turn to any channel, and you see it. Rich versus poor. Young versus old. Native versus migrant.

These polarizing clashes occur as much here in Europe as they do anywhere else in the world.

Too many people everywhere feel left out.

Socially. Economically. Politically. And they are seeking answers that manipulative populists and dogmatic ideologues are only too ready to provide.

We rely on civil society to counter the bullies of polarization, and to speak up for equality.

Yet our voices—the ones that say “Make Poverty History”, “Land Rights Now”, “Refugees Welcome”, and “Black Lives Matter”—are being pushed from the public square.

In the name of security, religion, culture, or the war on terror, laws and regulations are issued that shrink the civic space.

This is why we made civic space the central topic for today’s commemoration of Oxfam Novib’s 60th anniversary. 

Whether on Simon Jelsma’s plein, in the mass media, at the community hall, or in Facebook feeds, civic space is the oxygen that civil society needs to survive.

We must take back that oxygen. We must take back civic space

—or organizations like ours will suffocate.

That would mean no one to organize and hold the powerful to account; no one to propose a better path. Inequality and that gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” could skyrocket unchecked.

Fortunately, we have six decades of history to show us that our movement can, in fact, push back against efforts to shrink the civic space.

Our struggle is a noble one, full of brave women and men with whom we worked— and who continue to inspire us.

Wangari Maathai.

Miriam Miranda.

Raji Sourani.

Fou Malade.

Roberto Bissio.

Ragia Omran.

Fartuun Adan.

Malala Yousafzai.

Desmond Tutu.

Maha Abu Dayyah.

Other heroes—Berta Cáceres in Honduras, Kem Ley in Cambodia, and Jo Cox in the United Kingdom—paid the highest price for their activism.

The names of countless other civil society activists we don’t know yet. Or don’t dare to name for fear they’ll be harassed if associated with foreign support.

Shrinking civic space means that every day, our staff, our partners, and our allies are facing new dangers. They are being watched. They receive anonymous phone calls threatening their life and family. They are undermined and prevented from using their voice. They are directly targeted, even in humanitarian aid convoys or while working as journalists—and we remember especially Jeroen Oerlemans, who was killed yesterday in Libya.

To speak out in such circumstances requires enormous courage—and the support that all of us in this room can harness.

So, can we make such a big change happen? There’s no question: we can.

People said we couldn’t end extreme poverty. With a collective effort, we’re well on our way to doing just that: global extreme poverty has been cut in half in just 15 years and we are working to eradicate it entirely by 2030.

I truly believe we can do it IF we mobilize political will. And if we do, the Sustainable Development Goals agenda can transform our world.

This effort—whether fighting for civil society space, defeating poverty, or standing up to powerful interests on behalf of citizens—is what we’ve done for 60 years. It’s who we are.

Today, let’s bring courage and idealism to all of our discussions. And when we leave, let’s be even more resolute in our pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals by defending civil society space and by bringing others to our movement. We need the public with us.

Simon Jelsma and Jan Tinbergen, 60 years of history, and generations of civil society to come demand no less.

Thank you.

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