Story to inspire: A doughnut-shaped future for Oxfam Novib

Dutch development organization Oxfam Novib is putting ‘the doughnut economy principle’ at the heart of their organisation.

Dutch development organization Oxfam Novib is putting ‘the doughnut economy principle’ at the heart of their organisation. The doughnut is the central concept of the new economic model of former Oxfam researcher Kate Raworth, writer of the book ‘Doughnut Economics’. Boris Alberda, Manager Innovation at Oxfam Novib, also sees the importance of the doughnut economy as a model for the future and explains.

The ‘doughnut economy’ is a visual model of what a new circular economy should look like. The edible part of the doughnut represents the safe and just space for humanity. According to Raworth, humanity should move within this part of the doughnut. The inside of the doughnut is the social foundation, the social threshold of humanity. The upper bound of the doughnut stands for the ecological ceiling of the earth, a boundary we should not cross. Alberda: “On the inside of the doughnut we can find all matters regarding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Oxfam is already working really hard on this part, as our mission is to defeat poverty worldwide and to make the world safer and fairer for everyone. The model shows that there is always an interaction between the inside and the ecological ceiling”.

Above all, Boris finds it interesting that Raworth specifies seven ‘new ways of thinking’ in her book. “Take for example the growth of the economy. Limitless growth should solve problems like injustice. She totally disproves this, because the idea does not seem to work at all. And even if this idea would work, we would completely weaken the earth.”

Why the doughnut works
Alberda is enthusiastic about the doughnut. “Thinking about new models is interesting. The model of Raworth provokes cooperation and has a regenerative and distributive design. We are not doing enough at the moment and see a lot of opportunities. There are a lot of development organisations who are working on topics that emerge from the doughnut economy.”

Raworth’s book is a follow-up of an article of hers during her Oxfam time and became the groundwork for Oxfam’s  ‘The GROW Campaign’. Alberda: “We have actually been working on all different aspects of the doughnut economy for years. However, I see the added value in the fact that the model clarifies connections between all aspects. The model communicates really well. At this point we are trying to translate the principles and mindset of the doughnut and thinking of different ways on how to apply these in practice. It would be really inspiring if we could work with other NGOs and stakeholders to find a joint effort.

The doughnut model is useful, because it communicates really well.

Oxfam Novib and the doughnut
Apart from the GROW campaign, Oxfam wants to focus on two specific issues: food-scarcity and climate change realization. Moreover, the organisation wants to see how they can use their own power in a more pragmatic way. “Food-scarcity has always been an issue, but the problem is getting bigger. What we have to do is take Kate’s model and look how we can cooperate with other groups or stakeholders,  where you have never collaborated with before.”

Alberda hereby mentions the example of the new megacities in the world. “How can you ensure for example that a city can be fed in a sustainable way? You could think of designing a specific neighborhood or supporting a community to make a certain design distributive. Everyone has to benefit from the making of a circular economy.” To learn more about this topic, Oxfam Novib invited Metabollic Lab for a workshop in April this year. “We would like to build on the practical experience of the Metabolic Lab, a unique place at De Ceuvel in Amsterdam-Noord. De Ceuvel is a sustainable hub for innovation and creativity. It’s a vibrant community of entrepreneurs and artists where old houseboats have been used to create sustainable work places. In this part of Amsterdam they are really working on creating a circular economy.”

Oxfam Novib finds it important to support spontaneous ideas that put the doughnut into practice. Twynstra Gudde organises meet ups for everyone who wants to think about or wants to work together on the model. ILUMY, another partner of Oxfam Novib, has designed a prototype for a ‘doughnut game’ to make it easier for organisations to oversee what the model can mean for them.

“Through the initiative ‘SDG Challengers’ Oxfam Novib, Twynstra Gudde and Better Future offer organisations and their new generation the possibility to challenge themselves regarding the SDGs. It is not easy for organisations to make well-informed considerations. To see links between the SDGs can help with this. The doughnut model is again useful because it communicates really well.”

Towards a future in the edible part of the doughnut
Overall, the doughnut economy is an economic model in which Oxfam Novib sees a future. Alberda leads a team of innovators that develop innovations within the Oxfam Novib team and has his own innovation fund. To qualify for this fund, teams can propose new ideas or solutions and thereby apply. Alberda: “Teams are originated from different countries where Oxfam works and can have various compositions. Oxfam employees for instance, or partners such as NGOs or social enterprises. Together we work on new innovative ideas which we also test in the field.” By supporting different initiatives and with various focal points, the organisation wants to specify and translate the principles and mindset of the doughnut. Cooperation with other NGOs and stakeholders is necessary to make this happen. “If we work together, we can ensure that humanity can move forward within the edible part of the doughnut.”


NB: The doughnut principle is also at the heart of Partos / The Spindle’s Future Exploration for Dutch development cooperation. Learn more here.

Stories to inspire #9: Flashdrives for freedom

Read more

Stories to Inspire #8: 3D printing in fragile areas

Read more

Stories to Inspire #7: A feminine claim to civic space

Read more

Sign up to our newsletter and stay up to date