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The growth of Oxfam into one of the world’s largest humanitarian relief and development charities is an inspiring parable of what a few people can achieve if they have a clear enough vision, strong enough determination and some capacity to organise.

The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief began with a meeting organised by the vicar of of the city’s university, Canon Milford, in 1942, to help Greek civilian victims of war. By 2010 Oxfam had grown into a global confederation of 14 national organisations, with spending of close to $350 million in 63 countries.

It had also extended its reach into campaigning about the causes of social injustice, and in 2004 OxfamGB commissioned Public World to explore the institutional and organisational arrangements required for ‘equitable and good quality public services based on good governance practices and strong civil participation’.

Our team carried out a literature review and field studies in four of the world’s poorest countries, each with a distinct colonial legacy in terms of public administration structures and systems. In Mali and Tanzania we focused on primary education, while in Mozambique and Yemen we studied basic health care.

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