Our history: 25 years of Oxfam New Zealand

As we mark the 25th anniversary of Oxfam New Zealand, we'd like to thank all our supporters and partners for helping us make it to this particular milestone! We know the years ahead will bring many new challenges. It’s good to have you with us.

Let’s take a look back at some of the defining moments of our work.

Children at the water tap in Poisinami village, Central Bougainville. Photo: Tom Greenwood/Oxfam
With Oxfam’s help, villages in Bougainville are building clean water systems and toilets. We've been supporting Bougainville since 1991.

1991: the launch

A small group of dedicated and passionate New Zealanders set up Oxfam New Zealand back in 1991. Their initial fundraising appeal for victims of the drought and war in the Horn of Africa raised over $25,000 in just a few months.

Oxfam set up its first partnership in the Pacific, with the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM), and began its support for the conflict-ridden island of Bougainville, in Papua New Guinea, expressing concern at the PNG military blockade of aid to the province and launching an appeal to provide medical supplies.

1992: pancakes set the scene

In the early years, we set about fundraising through a series of Walk Against Want events across the country, a pancake toss and a waiter’s race in Wellington, with waiters from several of the biggest hotels in the city setting bottles and glasses on their trays and racing down Manners Mall, trying to keep their trays balanced in the midst of laughter and heckling from the onlooking crowds. These events helped raise funds for a women’s literacy project in Bangladesh.

Then Chairman Keith Johnson explained the approach and set out a vision for public involvement in our work, a vision we strongly believe in today:

“We start with the certainty that most people want to help others. We want to attract new people and add a feeling of hope and involvement. Caring for the inequalities in the world doesn’t have to be gloomy, earnest and sombre. People need to be confident their help will make a difference.”

1994: speaking out on Rwanda

Oxfam strongly advocated for New Zealand to use its influence as chair of the United Nations Security Council to stop the genocide in Rwanda. Donations from New Zealanders helped fund a team of water engineers to provide refugees in DR Congo with safe water following their exodus from Rwanda.

1998: opening the Bougainville office

After lobbying for the Bougainville peace agreement that was eventually brokered by the New Zealand government, Oxfam began work on the ground in Bougainville, setting up a programme office there, helping rural communities earn a decent income, building schools and supporting peacebuilding initiatives.

Suporting livelihoods and building peace in Papua New Guinea. Photo: Jerry Galea/Oxfam
Today our programme in PNG  is our biggest. We're providing water and sanitation, supporting livelihoods and peacebuilding, and working to end violence against women.

2001: expansion in the Pacific

By 2001, Oxfam had expanded its work across the Pacific and Southeast Asia with programmes in Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

Today, our PNG programme has grown to become our biggest with staff and partners operational across the country working on water, sanitation, gender-based violence, peacebuilding, livelihoods and climate change adaptation.

2002: ending unfair trade

Oxfam embarked on its Make Trade Fair campaign with the launch of a report entitled, Rigged Rules and Double Standards, in 2002. Unfair trade rules are one of the biggest obstacles to development and we're continuing to challenge the European Union, Australia and New Zealand to put the interests of the Pacific’s people and its environment ahead of trade liberalisation ideology.

2003: Water for Survival

The New Zealand organisation Water for Survival was amalgamated with Oxfam and we also joined forces with WaterAid Australia, greatly strengthening Oxfam’s water, sanitation and hygiene education programmes. In the world's poorest countries, ill-health from drinking dirty water is one of the most serious threats to human life. Today, we’re providing clean water and toilets to communities across the Pacific.

Fairtrade hits New Zealand. Photo: Fairtrade Foundation
Our supporters continue to play a major role in encouraging people to buy Fairtrade and asking supermarkets to stock more Fairtrade product lines.

2004: Fairtrade hits New Zealand

During May 2004, Oxfam promoted New Zealand’s first Fair Trade Week as awareness of this new model for trade – and its benefits to producers in the developing world – hit the mainstream. Since then, sales of Fairtrade products have skyrocketed across the country.

The government cites Oxfam’s lobbying as a reason for supporting the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty to control the flood of weapons to the most miserable battlefields of the world. Oxfam’s international campaigning with partners over the subsequent five years has meant that a treaty is now a real possibility.

2005: responding to the Asia Tsunami

Within days of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, Oxfam deployed water and sanitation engineers to Aceh and Sri Lanka, and launched a major fundraising appeal. The generosity of the New Zealand public was unprecedented, providing $1.9 million in donations. With funds from the New Zealand government included, a total contribution of over $3.6 million was made to Oxfam’s 5-year reconstruction effort.

2005: chooks away

Oxfam Unwrapped was launched in late 2005, immediately capturing the hearts of New Zealanders. These clever gifts were a big hit and are making a huge difference in the lives of people living in poverty. Goats, chickens, nutritional gardens and safe water are firm favourites today.

2006: Make Trade Fair

Oxfam Trailwalker takes off.
Every year, Oxfam Trailwalker participants inspire the New Zealand public to support the
$1 million fundraising target.

2006: Oxfam Trailwalker takes off

Over 700 people in 187 teams took part in Oxfam’s inaugural Oxfam Trailwalker – the challenge to walk or run 100km in 36 hours along a stunning trail in Taupo. Year in year out, Oxfam Trailwalker participants continue to inspire the New Zealand public to support the $1 million fundraising target.

2007: supporting farmers in Southeast Asia

By 2007, work was also underway with farmers in East Timor and Papua, supporting communities with agricultural techniques, tools, skills and access to markets, helping them grow enough food to eat, and to earn a decent income for their families.

2008: feeling the heat on climate change

Oxfam launched its climate change campaign “Feel the Heat”, highlighting the vulnerability of our Pacific neighbours to climate change and motivating the New Zealand public to speak out for action on this injustice. Tens of thousands of New Zealanders have joined us since then, with people calling on world leaders, and our government in particular, to cut climate change pollution and help communities on the frontline to protect themselves from the effects.

Samoa tsunami response. Photo: Jane Ussher/Oxfam
Nuusa Mamea plants organic watermelon seedlings that he received as part of the Samoa tsunami response.

2009: Samoa tsunami response

Oxfam immediately responded to the tsunami that ravaged the southern coast of Samoa in September 2009. With our partner, Women in Business Development Incorporated, we delivered emergency food, water, shelter and provided counselling. Our work with local communities continues today, helping people to rebuild their lives and their means of earning an income. Right now, we’re also supporting survivors of the earthquake in Haiti and the floods in Pakistan.

2010: cause to celebrate

Following on from the success of Kiwi music icon Neil Finn’s 7 World’s Collide project, which played a series of live shows and recorded a double album to support Oxfam’s work, another group of household names put their reputations on the line, auctioning themselves on Trade Me as part of Oxfam’s Biggest Coffee Break. Te Radar, Robyn Malcolm, Kate Sylvester, Steve Logan, Trade Me founder Sam Morgan and Faye Smythe all bravely took part, raising awareness about fair trade – and over $8000 for Oxfam.


2011: 20 years on

We believe in the power of people to change the world and that’s why we motivate and support members of the New Zealand public to take action towards a fairer, safer, more sustainable world. Over the last 20 years, we’ve come a long way, managing to involve more people and mobilise more funds so we can support local partners across the world to do more and provide real benefits and hope to people living in poverty.