Chair of Oxfam GB to step down after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease

Caroline Thomson, who joined the charity on a three-year term in 2017, says she will step down next year after a successor is appointed

Caroline Thomson
Caroline Thomson

Caroline Thomson will step down as chair of Oxfam GB next year because she has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Thomson, who has been chair of the charity since October 2017, told staff and fellow trustees at the international development charity today that she would not be seeking a second three-year term next year.

In a statement released this afternoon, she said she was announcing her plans to resign now in order to give Oxfam time to find her successor.

The former BBC television executive said she was sad to be leaving Oxfam GB at an exciting time when it was reimagining itself to be an even more effective partner to people in poverty over the next decade.

"This is a very personal decision," she said.

"Ordinarily, I would be looking forward to overseeing the next chapter in Oxfam’s 77-year history. However, in the circumstances this is the right decision for Oxfam and for me. While I feel fit and healthy now, I want to focus on staying that way.

"As a lifelong supporter, I have been honoured to contribute to its vital work.

"Oxfam occupies a unique place in British life, providing often life-saving aid to millions of people in some of the most challenging environments on Earth, publicly challenging policymakers when their actions hurt the poorest people and running a network of national shops that play an important part in communities across the UK."

Thomson led much of Oxfam’s response to the safeguarding scandal that erupted in 2018, after The Times newspaper revealed that Oxfam staff in Haiti had employed beneficiaries as sex workers in 2011.

At the time, she described the revelations as shameful and said the charity was deeply sorry, pledging that the criticism the charity received would spur improvements.

In today’s statement, she said: "During the past two years we have also had to challenge ourselves and learn from very public failings.

"I know that Oxfam’s trustees, leadership and staff are committed to building on the reforms we have made and delivering further improvements to ensure that Oxfam always lives up to the high standards we expect from ourselves and others.

She said she was confident that Oxfam would be in safe hands after her departure.

Danny Sriskandarajah, whom Thomson appointed as chief executive of Oxfam GB last year, said: "This has obviously been a difficult personal decision, but it is typical of Caroline that she has been open and frank and has put Oxfam first.

"We have been enormously fortunate to have Caroline as our chair, I would like to personally thank her for the opportunity to lead Oxfam GB and for her calm authority and insight which has been invaluable during my first few months in post.

"Caroline’s leadership and experience would have been valuable at any time but has proved indispensable over the past two years because she has ensured that Oxfam has not flinched in learning the tough lessons it needed to.

"We will be sorry to say goodbye to Caroline, but we fully understand her decision and I look forward to continuing to work with her over the coming months."

The charity said recruitment for the new chair would begin immediately, with the successful candidate expected to take up the role in the new year.

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