In defence of Oaktree

On 10th May, Daniel Rose wrote a critique of The Oaktree Foundation’s Live Below the Line fundraising campaign. He raised questions about the motives of volunteers, the passivity of those involved in Live Below the Line and the value of Oaktree as an organisation. Oaktree commends Daniel Rose on his acerbic wit and wordsmithery.

We do, however, feel it incumbent upon us to point out a few inaccuracies in his article and make clear the basic facts about Live Below the Line and Oaktree.

Oaktree works both overseas, by investing in education for disadvantaged young people, and in Australia, advocating for change and educating young people about the issue of extreme poverty. Our current partner projects are in Cambodia and Papua New Guinea. A majority of the funds from the 2012 Live Below the Line will go to opening two new schools for 1000 students in remote Papua New Guinea. The project will provide facilities and trained teachers to ensure quality education for future generations.

The Oaktree Foundation is a signatory to the Australian Council for International Development’s Code of Conduct. This code keeps organisations accountable and transparent in their spending. Oaktree complies with the industry standard ratio of 80:20, this means we do spend 20% on administration. It is necessary to spend a responsible amount of money on administration – it ensures we are running the organisation efficiently and getting value for money on projects, rather than wasting cash on projects that do nothing for intended beneficiaries and participants. We simply refuse to lob money across the ocean hope it finds the needy. Oaktree also holds strong pro-bono relationships with a number of organisations that donate their time and resources to help promote our campaigns, a lot of our “flashy websites” are the result of these relationships.

Oaktree is an inclusive and diverse community. We have no prerequisites about who can and cannot volunteer – apart from an age limit of 26. We do not issue a selection survey to volunteers to find out about the specifics of their educational or socio-economic background. It’s frankly none of our business.

We welcome constructive criticism and we grow exponentially from informed discussion and debate about our organisation and initiatives. And we have no problem with a healthy dose of cynicism – indeed, it is cynicism in the face of government inaction and the usual talk-fests about global poverty that lead many to volunteer.

But Rose’s article was sarcastic. He offered no alternatives to Oaktree’s work and no criteria for judging if it is worthwhile. Moreover, he simply had not done his research. It’s pretty easy to see that his cynicism and criticism is not the sort that creates robust organisations. It just serves the profile of the cynic. It creates suspicion and warps the truth. Oaktree volunteers would rather be getting on with their work than wasting their time responding to misconceptions and unjustified contempt.

Rose and fellow cynics, we implore you to actually spend some time with an Oaktree volunteer to better understand the organisation. We could even embark on an “I can change your mind about volunteering/Oaktree/Live Below the Line etc” jaunt – it would have to be zero-cost, so there will be no flashy documentary,  and we don’t think anyone will write a book about it – but at least you will be able to say you did your research.