Oxfam America, an international relief and development organization, works to end hunger, poverty and social injustice in developing countries throughout the world.
With such an expansive mission, how do you reach supporters across state lines, income brackets and ethnic, religious and ideological backgrounds? Sometimes, through music.
Oxfam has worked with a wide variety of music artists—from Mavis Staples to Coldplay—to spread the word about some of the most pressing problems faced by poor people, and to talk about solutions. Of course, this all becomes possible when you have a staff member like Bob Ferguson, music outreach manager at Oxfam America, who is dedicated to creating relationships between musicians and Oxfam’s work.
This past summer was Oxfam’s fifth at the Bonnaroo music and arts festival. A crew of 10 volunteers staffed the Oxfam tent over three days, signing up over 3,600 new supporters. “The Bonnaroo experience is unique for us because people come back year after year. So it’s a chance for us to introduce people to Oxfam for the first time, as well as talk to returning music lovers,” says Ferguson. “People who are visiting us at Bonnaroo for the second or third time have contagious enthusiasm—they come back and are excited to tell us what they’ve been working on via Oxfam and other local organizations they care about. Oxfam’s music outreach has become a way to create and nurture activists.”
In 2011, thousands of music lovers at Bonnaroo pledged to support Oxfam’s GROW campaign to ensure that the planet is ready to feed 9 billion people by 2050. With the GROW campaign, Oxfam is advocating for positive solutions for the billion hungry people on our planet now, and an end to the mix of bad policies that make hunger worse. Oxfam is campaigning for world leaders to invest in small farmers (who are the ones best-positioned to fight hunger, but are already facing more-frequent droughts, floods, and storms due to the changing climate) and to hold corporations accountable when they bet on food prices (causing costs to spike and people to go hungry).
In a totally different music experience, imagine what you can do with one band, one show, and one audience at a time. State Radio’s Chad Stokes created Calling All Crows—a nonprofit that engage fans in activism and humanitarian issues—and teamed up with Oxfam America to talk about how a simple stove can help families in Darfur.
On previous tours Stokes has taken the “Darfur stove,” as it is known, on the road with the band to share with fans how this simple device can provide a safe, reliable, efficient fuel source for women living in camps in Darfur. The stove came off the bus every night right along with the stage equipment. In an interview for Oxfam, Sybil Gallagher (tour manager and co-founder of Calling All Crows) told us that fans would go look at the new t-shirts, and then they’d see the stove on the merchandise table. She said Stokes would talk about the stoves from the stage, or they’d have flyers on hand to explain how it worked. Sometimes, there was a pile of $20 bills at the end of the night to support the stove program. Over the course of a year, Calling All Crows and State Radio raised over $100,000 to support the stove program—enough to provide stoves to 5,000 families.
This summer, the 10-year collaboration between Oxfam and Coldplay will continue as the band crisscrosses the US on its next tour. Ferguson will be working with over 800 volunteers at 40 shows throughout the country to talk to fans about the GROW campaign. “We’ve done such successful work with Coldplay for so long, we can use this moment to engage fans at an even deeper level—getting into the real substance of the campaign,” explained Ferguson. “Everybody cares about food. It’s practical, emotional.”
“Music and its fans are as diverse as Oxfam’s programs throughout the world. That works. We talk to people and connect them to what makes them passionate about social justice.”
To learn how you can make a difference, visit oxfamamerica.org/actfast.