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Thu, Feb 15th, 2018

All Our Reputations at Stake

Cecil Jackson-Cole Let’s ask a question. Does either of these names mean anything to you – Cecil Jackson-Cole or Roland van Hauwermeiren?

My money would go on a small percentage saying ‘yes’ to the first compared to a large percentage recognised the second.

Roland van Hauwermeiren is, of course, the former Oxfam aid manager in Haiti who was ‘allowed to resign’ in 2011 and whose story has now been exposed widely in the media. Cecil Jackson-Cole (pictured) was the Oxford businessman who was a driven philanthropist and was the driving force behind the creation of Oxfam in 1942.

How the wonderful work of good men can be readily undone by those unworthy intent. The term ‘turning in his grave’ cannot fail to come to mind when reflecting on the memory of Cecil Jackson-Cole now.

Allegations have piled on top of allegations, spreading to other countries where Oxfam has delivered aid this decade, to other aid charities and even to safeguarding in Oxfam’s shops, all further eroding public confidence in the charity sector, which is probably now at an all time low.

Why? Because Trustees did not do their job. Because there was an enthusiasm to sweep stuff under the carpet because of reputational risk. Well, let’s just compare the likely damage then to the shredding of reputations in this past week.

All those of us who take on the mantle of Trusteeship and other key responsibilities in the charity need to remind ourselves that one of the key tenets of the Good Governance Code for charities is ‘Openness and Transparency’. Public confidence depends on it and the reputation of the whole sector is at stake, not just that of a single organisation prepared to hide behind a shroud of secrecy.

A thousand good works do not hit headlines, one abject failure, not handled well, almost certainly will.