What Oxfam’s campaign on Yemen can teach us all about change

How to turn that around? Our campaign on Yemen has highlighted the catastrophic humanitarian crisis and the urgent need for a ceasefire. It has sought to give a platform to Yemeni civil society and described how Yemeni women are striving for peace. …

There were three main reasons:

  • Precisely because governments that we had a degree of influence over were so complicit in the crisis, we had an exceptional opportunity to reduce the suffering in Yemen.
  • Oxfam had been in Yemen for 30 years. We have a strong programme on the ground and we were one of the first NGOs to scale up operations in response to the intensifying conflict.
  • Oxfam had campaigned for ten years for an Arms Trade Treaty which was designed to prevent the carnage caused by just these kinds of arms transfers.

So on our side, we had both legitimacy from our on-the-ground presence and moral clarity.  We had a clear call that stirred passions and could be easily understood. People get the connection between arms sales and suffering.

So let’s recap the main ingredients that helped get us here:

  • Moral clarity
  • Legitimacy from our programmes
  • Trust among the core group driving change + leadership from the top
  • Space for creativity and speed
  • Powerful images and human stories
  • Unusual methods and establishment allies.

But so far, there is little cause for celebration. The Trump administration is reportedly on the verge of revoking the arms sale suspension. UK arms sales continue as the government digs in its heels.

Being bold: what Oxfam’s campaign on Yemen can teach us all about change