Nanostructured carbon-based materials, such as nitrogen-doped carbon nanotube arrays, Co3O4/nitrogen-doped graphene hybrids and carbon nanotube-graphene complexes have shown respectable oxygen reduction reaction activity in alkaline media. Although certainly promising, the performance of these materials does not yet warrant implementation in the energy conversion/storage devices utilizing basic electrolytes, for example, alkaline fuel cells, metal-air batteries and certain electrolysers. Here we demonstrate a new type of nitrogen-doped carbon nanotube/nanoparticle composite oxygen reduction reaction electrocatalyst obtained from iron acetate as an iron precursor and from cyanamide as a nitrogen and carbon nanotube precursor in a simple, scalable and single-step method. The composite has the highest oxygen reduction reaction activity in alkaline media of any non-precious metal catalysts. When used at a sufficiently high loading, this catalyst also outperforms the most active platinum-based catalysts.