Penny Lawrence, Deputy Chief Executive of Oxfam GB, has resigned, following allegations about some former Oxfam staff’s use of sex workers in Haiti and Chad. She said that she took “full responsibility” for the situation.
She joined Oxfam GB in March 2006 as International Programmes Director, and served as strategic and operational lead for Oxfam’s programme teams across 60 countries.
She said: “Over the last few days we have become aware that concerns were raised about the behaviour of staff in Chad as well as Haiti that we failed to adequately act upon. It is now clear that these allegations – involving the use of prostitutes and which related to behaviour of both the Country Director and members of his team in Chad – were raised before he moved to Haiti.
“As programme director at the time, I am ashamed that this happened on my watch and I take full responsibility.”
She added that she was “deeply sad” to make her resignation announcement.
She has led Oxfam through a programme of organisational change to ensure it becomes “more globally balanced, more relevant and impactful”. She has been taking on the role of interim Programmes Director until the new Programmes Director started.
She contributed to Oxfam’s Policy and Practice blog in 2014 from Freetown during the ebola crisis which she helped Oxfam respond to.
“Passionate advocate of women’s rights”
Lawrence describes herself as “a passionate advocate of women’s rights and economic leadership, building resilience in vulnerable communities and cross-sectoral collaboration, especially with big business.”
After teaching, the worked as International Programmes Director at VSO before joining Oxfam. She has over 30 years’ experience in development, and has lived and worked in Sudan, Zimbabwe and Ghana, as well as the UK.
She holds voluntary positions supporting other charities, following a lifelong commitment to international development work.
Having been Chair of ICVA (International Council of Voluntary Agencies) from 2012-2015, she is now Chair of Refugee Action and sits on advisory committees, such as Oxford University’s Centre for the Study of African Economies, and IKEA’s sustainability advisory board.
She said: “I am desperately sorry for the harm and distress that this has caused to Oxfam’s supporters, the wider development sector and most of all the vulnerable people who trusted us.
“It has been such a privilege to work for such an amazing organisation that has done and needs to continue to do such good in the world.”
Her resignation follows a meeting this morning between senior staff at Oxfam and Penny Mordant, International Development Secretary. The Minister had threatened to withdraw the government’s £31.7m funding from Oxfam if the charity could not satisfy her over its ability to meet safeguarding assurances.
Mark Goldring, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB, said: “I deeply respect Penny’s decision to accept personal responsibility. Like us, she is appalled at what happened and is determined to do what is best for Oxfam and the people we exist to help.
“I would like to place on record my sincere thanks for the years of dedicated service that Penny has given to Oxfam and the fight against poverty around the world.”
Image: Penny Lawrence – photo: Charlotte Ball/Oxfam GB
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