Annual Letter from the Trustees

2016 was a tumultuous year for the world – and for the issues on which we work. Political change, social upheaval, conflict among peoples and ideologies, brutal wars, continued migration flows – we saw it all. Like all organisations, Oak Foundation struggled to understand and to adjust its strategies in response to external events. We provided well over USD 217 million in grant-making. This included USD 20 million in a special initiative grant to form the Climate Justice Resilience Fund. We also: formalised a new area of grant-making – illegal wildlife trade; launched a new programme – the Joint Brazil Programme; and responded to feedback from our grantees through our second Grantee Perception Survey.

This report highlights this grant- making and some of the most significant challenges our partners faced. They include:

  • Putting children on the agenda of the world’s most powerful institutions. Our partners have succeeded in getting the World Bank to add the needs and concerns of vulnerable groups to its new economic and social standards. This resulted in swift action in the wake of a report of sexual abuse and exploitation in a World Bank road construction project in Africa. Similar efforts are underway with mega-sporting institutions.
  • Ridding our oceans of plastics. Without dramatic action, there will be one kilogram of plastics for every kilogram of fish in the world’s oceans by 2050. We are working with a broad coalition of partners to: redesign plastic for multiple rather than single-use purposes; encourage companies to find alternatives to plastic packaging that support rather than destroy the environment; and promote zero-waste disposal facilities. We remain committed to joining the global movement to change society’s perception and use of plastics.
  • Protecting migrants from destitution. In the UK, we are helping partners to reach out to the most vulnerable newcomers in big cities and to advocate for approaches that prioritise access to shelter and basic services. In Denmark, our partners offer safe spaces to migrant sex-workers trapped in exploitative situations who lack access to basic healthcare. In other countries, we support groups that: protect migrants’ rights to due process and freedom from arbitrary detention; adopt rights-based approaches to helping victims of trafficking; and promote the rights of internal migrants fleeing destitution and injustice.
  • Improving the lives of women. We continue to support efforts to address the root causes of inequality and to ensure that women across the world are safe from violence and free to exercise their human rights. This year our programmes worked with: a network of shelters that protect victims of domestic violence in Mexico; two global coalitions that improve responses to trafficking and severe forms of exploitation; groups that help women escape abusive marriages and work conditions in India; and organisations that support the upgrading of women’s skills – as construction workers in India and as care-givers in Zimbabwe.
  • Ending impunity for gross violators of human rights. Supporting organisations to hold perpetrators to account for gross violations of human rights and provide victims with the redress to which they are entitled continues to be a priority. This year saw a number of unprecedented human rights victories including: the guilty verdict for high-level Argentinean officials involved in mass torture, killings and the abduction of children; the imprisonment of President Hissène Habré of Chad for the deaths of over 40,000 people in the 1980s; and the victory for the Sepuro Zarco women who were subjected to sexual slavery by the Guatemalan military in the 1980s. We hope that these victories send a strong message of hope to those who continue to live in fear and deprivation.
  • Helping all students reach their potential. We supported partners to use personalised learning. If used well, it can: build the skills and understanding of teachers of a wider spectrum of learners; empower students to advocate for their needs; and create environments that bring these two together. We will be making major investments in this area in 2017. In addition, we are supporting an innovative, online university that aims to transform higher education from a privilege for the few to a basic right, affordable and accessible to all. Thousands of students – whose income or circumstances made higher education a distant dream – are now earning university degrees.

All these efforts are works in progress and we are not naïve about the tasks ahead. But we remain optimistic, inspired by our partners’ determination and the progress described in this report.

The Trustees of Oak Foundation:
Caroline Turner, Kristian Parker, Natalie Shipton, Jette Parker, Alan Parker, Christopher Parker