A day in the life of an Oxfam researcher – fancy joining the team?

May 8, 2018

     By Duncan Green     

Guest post from Deborah Hardoon

Psst, want my job? This is my last week as Deputy Head of Research at Oxfam. It’s a role which is as fascinating as it is challenging. You get to work on important global issues, with brilliant and bright people from all over the world. For details on the role and responsibilities, here’s the job description (closing date 27th May). But if you want a window into what the job is really like, here’s a taster – a day in the life…

9:00am. Open emails

Usually there’s plenty of overnight traffic from the other side of the world. I have some questions from Amy, the Research Fellow who I manage in Myanmar. There are a few hours in the morning where we overlap, so I’ll get to those emails first. She’s written to let me know that she’s just had her abstract on inequality research in Myanmar accepted for an academic conference in the UK – it’s great to see her work reach audiences outside the country context.  The three Research Fellows (Tin in the Philippines and Aromeo in South Sudan) are in their first year of an 18 month posting, jointly managed by the global research team and a content lead in the Oxfam country team.  I established this programme to build in-country research capacity, the foundation for a strong evidence base for national programme and campaign work. It also ensures that national expertise and evidence informs our global work. As a pilot, we’re learning loads from the three Fellows in post about how to take this way of working forwards.

11:00. Inequality team meeting

Get an update on all the current policy and campaigning activities and share relevant research and evidence. Hot off the press, the Oxfam Malawi team have just published a national report. Some questions on the inequality statistics used in the report have come in. I do some additional analysis of the data to inform Oxfam’s response. Some pretty striking data, when you look at the change in income per decile. I’m being asked lots of data-related questions on inequality. Despite many data gaps (particularly when it comes to disaggregating by gender and other horizontal inequalities), there is also much data to play with and a variety of ways to measure inequality. But in analysing data, recognising the gaps and limitations (such as under-reporting of top incomes) is key to understanding inequality, as is the politics of what gets measured and why.

13:00. Progress report on joint thought piece

Skype Call with Kaori in the private sector team, Chiara the inequality policy lead and Greg, our co-author from Finance Watch to discuss some feedback we have had on the paper we are writing together. The paper explores the relationship between the finance sector and inequality. This built on a think piece we wrote for the UK Financial Conduct Authority. We find that the relationship works directly, in the different products and rates offered to people based on their financial position, but also indirectly, through how money is created and global financial risk is managed.

This project has given me a fascinating insight into the financial sector and the impact that financialization has had on the wider economy. But the purpose of the project has also been to make these issues accessible to a non-technical audience. Because if finance remains impenetrable to everyone except those who work within the sector, it will continue to be oriented towards its own interests and those with the assets on which it depends. Instead, we argue, the sector has enormous potential to act as a level for progressive change, if it acts in the interests of society more broadly.

15:00. Webex with the IMF

I present remotely to the IMF on our Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index, together with our partners at Development Finance International. The Index scores and ranks 152 countries on the progressivity of their tax, spending and labour rights policies.  The IMF have many questions and comments, ranging from the technicalities of specific indicators to the scope of the policies the Index covers. I was Oxfam’s research lead for this Index, published last year, ensuring rigour in the calculations used to analyse each component of the Index, and the technique we used to aggregate all the data into an index.

Last year’s index was a pilot, and we gathered loads of great feedback from Oxfam country offices and partners, policy makers and academics and students from around the world. Last week I presented the Index virtually to the World Bank for their input, and this week it’s the IMF. All of the consultations will inform the next iteration of the Index, to make it an even richer source of data for civil society to use to hold governments to account on their policy choices.

What a great job, hey! And if you ever need any support or guidance on any of this, then my/your boss Irene Guijt will always have your back. She’s a passionate do-er, with loads of inspiring ideas for innovative research projects, building research partnerships and making sense of what we know. All conveyed brilliantly in her straightforward (Dutch) style.

Here’s how Irene describes our ideal candidate: Precision, pragmatism and passion about inequality and economic development are your calling cards. You communicate clearly. You number crunch nimbly. You speak eloquently. You revel in working with others across the globe. Helping people get the best out their research efforts gives you a buzz. You’re already a top-notch thinker – and keen to dive into new angles on inequality, poverty and economic development. Your strategic mind makes you deliver well, at scale and on time. With an appetite for innovation, you’ve got robust and novel ways of analysis and communicating what can help reduce poverty.

So if you’re a bit of a data nerd, interested in inequality and enjoy making these issues come alive, then Oxfam would love to hear from you. Here’s the link again.

May 8, 2018
Duncan Green