Picture 41I heard today the very sad news that Guy Stringer had died at the beginning of the month.

Guy joined Oxfam in 1969 in the specially created post of commercial director where he was responsible for the development of Oxfam’s shops and was involved in a number of important firsts, including helping to set up New Internationalist magazine,  the importing of handicrafts as a trading partnership and an early venture in large-scale recycling.

In 1983, Guy became the Director of Oxfam and held the post until 1985.

I first met Guy in 1988. I’d just started work at ActionAid as Marketing Officer and in my first week was luckily whisked off to Amsterdam to attend the International Fundraising Workshop. I knew very little and was going from introductory course to introductory course when Andy Holiday, ActionAid’s community fundraising manager, recommended I attend Guy’s presentation for senior charity directors.

I went along with the same feeling of apprehension I felt when trying to see Enter The Dragon at Lewisham Odeon when I was just 16. And was equally surprised when they let me in.

Guy then spoke about some of the issues he’d faced at Oxfam and how he’d overcome them. One story stayed with me and has helped me in a number of surprising ways over the years. As my own particular thank you to Guy, I thought it should be passed on for others to learn from.

It’s called the Russian Sled Theory…

Picture the scene. A dog sled is racing across the frozen Russian Steppes. From out of the distance comes a howling pack of wolves who have caught the scent of the sled and are in hot pursuit. Within a few minutes they are snapping at it’s rear. The driver urges his dogs to run faster but knows they can’t keep up this pace for long.From under a fur blanket he pulls out a great hunk of meat and throws it over his shoulder. The wolves stop in their tracks and fight over the piece of meat, ripping it apart until it has all been devoured. Then they look up and see that the sled has disappeared over the horizon – to safety.

For Guy, the shops were his hunk of meat.

If he had a particularly contentious issue to discuss with his trustees – such as needing the release of additional funds to tackle a problem in one of their country programmes – he would put this at the end of the meeting and just before would table an item on re-branding the shops or introducing a new line of goods.

The trustees all had an opinion on shops and a heated debate was guaranteed. Guy would let this continue as each person said their piece and put over their point of view. With time ticking by, Guy would ask for consensus and a decision would be made. He would then turn to the final item on the agenda and ask if anyone had any concerns as he thought it was a fairly simple decision to agree.

Satisfied by the fight over the shops, the trustees would quickly approve his recommendation before collecting their papers and getting ready to leave. Guy would then return to his office and implement the life-saving work that the trustees had just allowed to go ahead.

Thanks Guy. You’ll be really missed.

Update: Some of Guy’s other stories can be found on sofii.org. They are recommended reading.