Profile: Thomas Schultz-Jagow, comms director, Oxfam GB

Thomas Schultz-Jagow is drawing on his military strategy background in his new role as Oxfam GB's comms chief. He tells Kate Magee his battle plan.

Thomas Schultz-Jagow
Thomas Schultz-Jagow

As a former academic on military strategy, Thomas Schultz-Jagow is well-versed in the art of war. But as Oxfam GB's new comms director, he is using his powers for good; to fight injustice and poverty. He is convinced these are problems we can solve in our lifetime and echoes the words of Sun Tzu, who wrote in the ancient Chinese military treatise The Art of War: 'Let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.' Schultz-Jagow certainly has the campaigning pedigree to make a powerful attack.

The German-born 47-year-old took on Oxfam GB's newly created comms director role, effectively the top global comms job across the organisation's 14 affiliates, at the start of May. He is the first to sit on the charity's management team and is currently 'shackled to his desk', drawing up a battle plan to increase knowledge of Oxfam's work across the globe.

The strategy is multi-faceted: to invest in digital resources to help affected communities on the ground, and to amplify their voices overseas; to turn Oxfam into a lifestyle brand that engages UK consumers through high-street shops, the Oxjam gig series and book sales (Oxfam is now Europe's largest second-hand bookseller); and to make Oxfam better known as an 'agent of change', for its political and social campaigning. A further aim is to create stronger links with the corporate sector.

Schultz-Jagow's career in campaigns began at university when he studied war and conflict on his history and politics course, before writing papers on military strategy for the Institute for Peace Research in Hamburg. He was quickly politicised but became bored writing papers, so he moved on. He rejected the corporate sector, where he could have done something 'very nasty' with his knowledge, and chose to do something practical.

He joined Greenpeace in 1991, working on its nuclear disarmament campaign, where he worked on 'all the good stuff' such as the reprocessing of Sellafield and French nuclear testing in the South Pacific. He then joined WWF in Germany, moving to Geneva as its global comms director before joining Oxfam.

Effective campaigns, Schultz-Jagow believes, have the power to change the world. 'Campaigns address the underlying structural problems of injustice and inequality. The future is not going to be about big international organisations writing strategy papers in an ivory tower, but about co-creating ideas with affected people,' he claims.

Empowering affected communities to help themselves is critical, Schultz-Jagow suggests. 'We want to move away from the development model where you parachute in Americans or Europeans who do the job but come home when they're exhausted. You've got to empower the people in the country to do the job themselves. It's not about handing charity down,' he says.

Schultz-Jagow is well respected among his former colleagues for having a clear and ordered approach. Winnie De'Ath, the long-time comms director for WWF UK, says: 'Thomas is clear and direct - a great person in a crisis. He is also full of ideas, a good communicator and his team appreciated his leadership qualities.'

Sam Barratt, Oxfam's former head of media and now media director at football campaign 1Goal, agrees: 'Thomas is incredibly clear about how to deliver communications that matter and will bring a strong international perspective. Media and communications can at times be pulled around by the interests of an organisation and this will be challenged with Thomas in charge. For him "form follows function" rather than the latest fetish.'

Schultz-Jagow now enjoys the Oxford scenery, preferring it to London: 'Having to fight seven million people to get to the office in the morning is not my favourite pastime.' Instead he enjoys good food, spends time outdoors and reads German novels and books about history and politics.

He says his military terminology can cause 'interesting clashes' with young campaigners and activists. He has taken to adding a disclaimer when addressing this group: 'I start by saying you may dislike my language but I am a pacifist at heart.'

He adds: 'The language helps you to understand strategy derived from waging wars. All the famous generals were looking at the state of their troops, the deployment of forces and tactics versus strategic objectives. That's still the core of the matter whether you're fighting for world peace or for an end to poverty and suffering. You need to be smart about aligning your objectives with your resources and your tactics.'

In the words of Sun Tzu: 'It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.'

 

THOMAS SCHULTZ-JAGOW'S TURNING POINTS

- What was your biggest career break?

Leaving WWF and moving to Oxfam, because it allowed me to go back to the campaigning roots of my life, and allowed me to do this corporate level role within a big new division.

- Have you had a notable mentor?

I benefited from working with a coach at Greenpeace to learn the management ropes. I still go back to some of those reflections because they were all true and all the mistakes I've made since are because I didn't take some of that advice literally. At Oxfam I have my 'kitchen cabinet' of colleagues whom I trust.

- What advice would you give to anyone climbing the career ladder?

Stay true to yourself. If the role starts to mould you rather than you moulding the role, think about moving out. Trust your instincts in times of information overload. In my career so far it's been about people. Resources are always an issue but if you mobilise the right people to fight the fight with you, you'll win.

- Which qualities do you prize in new recruits?

People who are confident enough to speak up and have a view, and who are bold enough to try new things.

 

CV

2010: Comms director, Oxfam GB

2007: Campaigns director, Oxfam GB

1998: Comms director, WWF International

1996: Comms director, WWF Germany

1991: Director of nuclear disarmament campaign, Greenpeace

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