Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Hans Peter Schmitz, PhD, Chair Zachary Gabriel Green, PhD, Member Paula Cordeiro, EdD, Member


organizational culture, humanitarianism, NGO, organizational wrongdoing, competing values


Humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (HNGOs) face a moment of reckoning brought on by decades of operational complexity and conceptual tensions between self-espoused values and external pressures as social change movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter demand organizational accountability. Humanitarian aid is being questioned systematically as most HNGOs continue reconciling with their colonialist origin stories from the Global North. Alongside a shrinking British foreign aid budget, and mounting pressures for proving value for money, HNGOs face a record number of natural disasters, energy crises, armed conflicts, and other major emergencies to respond to across the globe.

As the British aid sector continues to deal with the policy aftermath of the Oxfam abuse scandal from the 2010 Haiti earthquake, growing calls for new safeguarding measures have resulted in unresolved implications around organizational culture. This dissertation shows that the sector has delivered a largely technocratic response, with new policies, procedures, and management positions while trying to meet the competing demands of British aid actors. As public accounts of wrongdoing continue, these calls for sectoral change involve far-reaching goals but reinforce the lack of clear consciousness around the complex cultures surrounding these global giants of aid distribution. A more comprehensive understanding of the unconscious dynamics of power at play is critical for these accountability actors to achieve effectiveness across the institutional landscape of humanitarianism.

This qualitative dissertation utilized Cameron and Quinn’s Competing Values Framework (CVF) as the theoretical foundation for document analysis involving the Charity Commission and Parliament, with their institutional responses to the Oxfam scandal. After analyzing after-action inquiry reports and Parliamentary proceeding transcripts, the key findings center on (1) an overreliance on hierarchical ideas of organizational culture and (2) a lack of sufficient cultural consciousness around HNGOs on the part of actors responsible for their oversight and regulation. The dissertation builds on the CVF by proposing a new four-phase developmental model for greater cultural consciousness in HNGOs: (1) organizations have cultures, (2) organizations are cultures, (3) culture makes sense of reality, and (4) culture is reality. Policy recommendations for organizational development including humanitarian safeguarding efforts, charity oversight and regulation are proposed for implementation across the sector.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies