Expat, Local, and is it time for a ‘collective humanitarian consciousness’?

Some weeks ago a colleague brought this article to my attention: “Living Well” while “Doing Good”? (Missing) debates on altruism and professionalism in aid work, by Anne-Meike Fechter.

I confess that my initial reaction was to skim it quickly and then give it a quick yawn followed by an eye-roll. Just one more in an already crowded queue of aid outsiders getting flushed and hot, convinced that aid is failing because NGO expats in Phnom Penh go to parties. On second read, though, my impressions began to change. It’s a bit disconcerting to myself be under the lens of research scrutiny – normally I’m the one out in the field asking villagers those prodding, personal questions. But as uncomfortable-squirm-inducing as the article might be, I think that Ms. Fechter has hit key points. Using some of those key points as jumping off places, I’d like to invite discussion on the following:

At what point do our salaries matter? Or our lifestyles in the field? Ms. Fechter does a great job of characterizing the community-based intern or volunteer who lives in a village somewhere and then comes to the capital city and gets all moral outraged by the opulent lifestyle of the expats there. But she goes on to question the links assumed by many between aid worker sacrifice -> altruism -> effectiveness. I question it, too. To me, the argument which says that you have to be as much like the beneficiaries as possible before you can be effective is like saying that oncologists have to be cancer patients themselves in order to be good at their jobs. We’ll never be like them.Yet at the same time, I can’t help but believe that there are or ought to be limits. Over and above the abject cluelessness of the main character, shows like The Philanthropist grate precisely because the whole premise of some ridiculously rich dude getting all kinds of kudos for taking a few days off of real life now and again to swoop in and save some poor people feels vaguely hypocritical. After overhead, CEO and executive salaries are among the most hotly debated issues on charity rating websites.

So I put it to you, aid workers, students, aid outsiders alike: where should the limits be? Should aid work equal a life of deprivation as sacrifice as a matter of principle? If so, what principle, exactly? What is an appropriate salary for aid workers? Or if you can’t say a salary number, what lifestyle indicators would you point to as within or beyond the lines? Why those exactly? Be concrete.

What about local aid workers? What limits and principles apply there? I think it’s really important in this debate to consider the implications for our local colleagues. Ms. Fechter, along with a great many others (including that badly written and annoying poem by Ross Coggins), points out that by its very nature the aid industry confers on expats a level of social status they’d probably never be eligible for otherwise. Yes, yes – we travel to exotic places, have insight and perspective that our ordinary neighbors don’t, have deep wrenching experiences interacting with the bottom billion, and yet still find the time to wax melodramatic into our imported beer at the expat pub. That’s all as may be, and it may feel monumentally unfair that we all get to go home, eventually, and retire into our home country equivalent of genteel poverty. But let’s be clear: appearances aside, our supposed wealth and advantage rarely translates into any kind of real power or security for us in our world. I don’t know of any aid workers who have gone on to be, say, politicians at the Federal Government level (in the USA). Or who have gone on to run Fortune 500 companies. Heck, I can hardly think offhand of more than a handful of professional aid workers who have even gone on to hold senior leadership positions in INGOs – those slots are overwhelmingly filled with for-profit sector transplants.

Yet when it comes to hiring and compensating and retaining local staff, we very often intentionally or unintentionally create an elite class in the local context whose members absolutely and very tangibly benefit in dramatic disproportion to what they might using their skills and talents outside of the NGO world. It is common for by far the nicest house in the entire village to be the house of the INGO project coordinator. It is common for the mid-level national NGO manager or technician to use her or his contacts gained on the job to leverage a successful bid for prestigious roles in the provincial or national government. It is common for our local staff to retire early, after that working occasionally as consultants to the UN or World Bank, living a life of comfort and influence in their context far above what the expats who hired them could ever hope for in theirs. And I do not for one second begrudge our local colleagues their success – the vast majority of those I work with, if I am to be the judge, are utterly deserving. But – if we’re to make statements about the relationship between altruism and sacrifice and effectiveness of international aid workers, then we have to at some point contemplate what that all means for our colleagues who are from there.

So what do you think? Should exactly the same principles apply to expats/internationals as to locals? Is it a matter of simple fairness? Or should there be differences? What differences? Why?

Is it time to foster a collective humanitarian consciousness? Fechter argues that pretty much all discussion of development ethics to-date focuses on beneficiaries, ‘the other’, and as a result aid workers (whether local or foreign) become largely invisible. She’s right, of course: the tendency of our industry is to forefront those the work is meant to serve and their stories. And rightly so. We need to know the history. The movement to make things this way came out legitimate concerns a few decades ago that the predominant aid narrative was about aid workers and their heroic efforts. We’re right to focus discussion on the poor we claim to serve.

Yet, as I read and re-read ‘Living Well’ while ‘Doing Good’, I was repeatedly struck with the feeling that there’s really nothing in the aid world comparable to those professional fields we’re so frequently compared to. She compares our profession to nursing – a field which she says has a highly developed body of discussion around what nurses are and should be in their personal lives (my paraphrase), going on to suggest that maybe the aid world needs the same. Maybe it does. But I think that before that can really happen we need a level of collective humanitarian consciousness that we don’t currently have. Put firefighters or police officers or even physicians from around the world into the same room and before long you see a very distinct collective consciousness begin to emerge. Soldiers are famous for it. Despite differences in personal history or culture, there is an immediate bond forged by common experience and global sense of community.

pumpkin

I googled ‘collective humanitarian consciousness’ and this image came up… *random*

I think we need the same thing in the aid world. Right now we coalesce around individual NGO brands and to a much lesser extent, technical sectors. I think, though, that if we want to make aid better, not just technically, but for us all as individual aid worker people we need to begin thinking of ourselves collectively, consciously. I’m not at all suggesting that we become less loyal to our employers or that we’ll somehow automatically agree on everything that we used to argue about. Be I do feel strongly that before we can really have fruitful conversations internally about how we ought to live – not how to do good aid work, but how to be “good”, balanced, ethical, effective aid workers – we do have to have that collective humanitarian consciousness. (Fostering that collective humanitarian consciousness was part of the intent of AidSource, by the way.)

What do you think? Is a collective humanitarian consciousness something we need? Why? How do we achieve it? Or is the whole idea a load of rubbish? 

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I’d love to hear your perspectives on any of the questions above in the comments thread below this post. Alternatively, consider adding to the discussion in the Work & Life section of AidSource here and here.

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39 Comments

  1. M.

     /  December 7, 2012

    Hei J,
    I tend to believe one good thing for evaluating expat salaries would be to assess skills and responsibilities as if the industry was other than humanitarian and based in the NGO’s fiscal /home country. The experience, training and skills necessary for professional aid work are generally massive, Medical doctors and surgeons come to mind, but not only. The investment and efforts to get what the industry asks are, too, quite considerable. If we start to assess a person with the same criteria than she/he would be assessed in finance, business or engineering, (where you also have for instance, project managers or specialists) then we can, I belive, be on a good start.

    Conditions of life and security ituations vary greatly in “the field”, depending on the mission and the raison d’etre of the “humanitarian” organisation. It might be possible to be in a village, or not. These are things that “outsiders” assess lightly, on the basis of what can be seen with eyes. But realities and possibilities are as we know much more complex. We should never confuse them with the position itself, and what is needed from it. If a war surgeon is needed, then a position should be open for it, retributed accordingly in the same way as it would be back in the US or Europe. You expect him to bring the same quality as he would in the US, right? then you should pay him the same.

    Its a job. a job like another job, except more difficult for different reasons. Its a work sector just like any other, with neds for a certaon kind of people. just like IT or whatever.

    Now, there is frequently confusion becasue in the wider public eye, all things “humanitarian” are the same, whether organising an 90.000 people IDP camp NFI distribution in Sudan, or teaching English to monks in Thailand . I don’t have anything againt teaching english to whoever. But It is not the same work. Nor the approach, nor the skills and experience required, (nor the political positioning of the actors involved). Then againm there is emergency work, and more long term oriented-dynamics-creation- work. There are NGOs financed by the EU in )=%, and NGOs financed by the private non-profit sector or foundations….etc…And the countries vary too, a lot. So alll these parameters are in play when assessing positions, and thus, salaires.

    People in the western world tend to think that good intentions will save the world, This is an ethnocentric view of the world, normal of course, but a nuisance for the humanitarian industry. Good intentions are morally accepted, but they cannot address the root complex interrelated dynamics that link poverty, injustice and violence.at the different levels in contemporary societies around the globe. It is not about good or bad. (unless one is working within faith-based organisations, or course, but you know my view on that). Good news is this can be adsresed as part of the communications aspect of NGO work, together with Brown Babies :-)

    Oh but I digress. Let’s pay people according to the position they hold and its equivalent in the NGO’s home country. And let’s assess the position according to what is required in terms of training, experience, and skills!

    thanks,

    Reply
    • M. – I think you’re hitting on a key point: “… in the wider public eye, all things “humanitarian” are the same, whether organising an 90.000 people IDP camp NFI distribution in Sudan, or teaching English to monks in Thailand .”

      It’s because of this that I am 110% in support of movements to professionalize the aid sector. It’s also part of why I personally think we need to foster a sense of global humanitarian consciousness.

      Interesting thoughts on good intentions and faith-based organizations.

      Reply
  2. Hello J, interesting, I’ve been thinking about this with regard to sanitation. On the one hand you might think that it was a good thing for a WASH person to be closely acquainted to the facilities he/she is agitating for. On the other hand, that kind of proximity may well make them sick and/or kill them, particularly if they are working as a temporary consultant on a project (and have not built up natural resistance to the local pathogen strains).

    As far as I can see, this whole idea of personal sacrifice is unhelpful. International workers have different salaries and lifestyles to local people. Yeah. Surely the focus should be on paying them the requisite wages necessary to get them to efficiently do the necessary job in a compassionate and safe way as possible. Forget being sacrificial – can you do the job, if you can do it, if you can’t piss off and let someone else do it. If there is a collective humanitarian consciousness, I’m pretty sure that a sense of self-sacrifice should not be part of it.

    OK, being concrete: I think that it is reasonable for an aid worker salary to be similar to that obtained by a university academic at home, possibly with additional payments for highly dangerous or stressful emergency situations. For many academics, the permanent scale begins (after a lot of studying, of course) in the UK on around £20k rising to around £40-50k with experience. In academia in the UK, once you get to a certain level you become a Professor grade and your wage is individually negotiated, up to £100-150k – depending on the income and research benefits you can bring to the institution. Not everyone gets to that position in their career, though. On location, I think you can expect to be given reasonable accommodation and conditions, even if this is more than local people could expect to receive. Most academics are not rich, they work hard and get a reasonable income. I don’t even see that long term workers should necessarily get lower wages, and of course if there are local workers who can do the job on lower wages, it makes sense for agencies to employ them.

    One thing I would like to throw into the mix is the apparent lack of a career path for international professionals. Maybe the UN career paths are a poor model, but if the agencies are not prepared to invest in career development, how are new workers expected to know what to do – other than by doing the kind of crappy volunteer placements so many disapprove of?

    I’m sorry for waffling.

    Reply
    • Hey Joe – Yep, totally agree: The idea of personal sacrifice is (in my opinion) completely unhelpful. In fact, I’d argue that it actually muddies the waters (I’ve written about this issue before, too, here: http://talesfromethehood.com/2011/03/20/dear-students-2/). I think we have to see aid or development or humanitarian work for what it is and for what it is not, and then make adult career choices, and then own the consequences of those decisions. Just like pretty much everything else in life.

      What I basically hear you saying is that in your view it’s fair to compensate internationals differently from locals doing the same work. (i.e. “I don’t even see that long term workers should necessarily get lower wages, and of course if there are local workers who can do the job on lower wages, it makes sense for agencies to employ them.”) What I’m not getting, though, is a clear sense for the underlying principle. Let’s say the tables are turned and we’re talking about bringing, say, Ghanaians or Afghans to, say, the US or the UK. What set of principles would allow us not just to come the point of paying the Ghanians and Afghans more than their American/British colleagues, but also to determine the salary differential? [asking rhetorically]

      You’re right: the whole career track thing is a complete fiasco in the aid world.

      Reply
      • ” Let’s say the tables are turned and we’re talking about bringing, say, Ghanaians or Afghans to, say, the US or the UK. What set of principles would allow us not just to come the point of paying the Ghanians and Afghans more than their American/British colleagues, but also to determine the salary differential? [asking rhetorically]”

        Demand, I think. In academia, people are often recruited from overseas and are paid whatever it takes to get them. The criteria used by the government with regard to work visas is that their employers have to prove that it is impossible to get suitably qualified local staff (and have tried). I don’t think there is anything to prevent an Afghan academic being made a Professor in a British university and paid more than a British academic. The criteria would simply be that his skills were in demand and that the university wanted the skills and therefore was prepared to pay for them.

        Of course there is a difference in the aid scenario rather than the academic one, not least because the agencies doing the employment are not usually from the countries where they are working. But that to me is the principle: if there is demand for a skill, then you pay what you need to pay to get it. If it is a skill which is available locally, it strikes me that it will almost always be cheaper to employ a local person.

        Reply
  3. Hi J.,

    Thanks for another thought-provoking piece. First off, any chance you could post that article you reference as it’s behind a hefty paywall?

    Our lifestyles in the field definitely do matter. If nothing else, it’s because we are spending taxpayer money and some of them occasionally (though not often enough) pay attention to how we live. And when they do, they gain insight into the yawning gap between the impressions the aid world has created for them and the realities on the ground, a topic you’ve highlighted before. Additionally, though aid workers don’t have to suffer like the poor they are trying to help, a) they shouldn’t live in conditions so superior that they create resentment among those poor (what I suspect is a hugely understudied phenomenon) and b) they need to gain insight into the conditions they face rather than be separated from them by an aid bubble. Your example of the oncologist doesn’t work in this sector. The oncologist has libraries full of scientifically-proven treatments for his patients’ condition; if anything, feeling his patients’ pain will cloud his rational judgment. The aid worker is more artist than scientist, and as Easterly convincingly argues, his solutions must come from bottom-up observations. Those observations are difficult to make living in a capital city compound with CYA security rules. I can learn more from walking around a market for 10 minutes than I can from a year of deskwork.

    Moreover, the expats whose only real field exposure comes from 2 hour photo-opp stops in random villages inevitably make decisions that fail to account for many factors that affect programs. To give the most glaring example, an expat earning 20 times the local wage and benefitting from a cook who does all the shopping has no clue of the value of a dollar in the local society. Suddenly, the prices that aid worker is paying (for everything from local staff salaries to distributed food) make little sense in the local economy and all sorts of distortions occur, all without the aid worker’s knowledge (due to our lack of feedback and accountability systems). I remember hearing of local UN engineers in Chad whose field trips magically always took a few days longer than originally expected because their per diems were equivalent to a solid monthly wage. Then, as a consequence of the expats’ obliviousness, local staff naturally realize that a few dollars missing here and there on siphoned fuel, stolen equipment, and kickbacks don’t seem to have any negative effects on anyone. When the boss runs the expensive generator all day to power his laptop and two light bulbs, who’s going to bother to figure out that a sack of rice or three went missing?

    I don’t know how to set our wages, but I do know this: most of our work can be done by non-specialists, and every time I go home I talk to dozens of people who would love to do the same work practically for free. I also know that when I was desperate for an internship while getting my master’s, I was ready to work in the worst locations for free with a much higher degree of enthusiasm (and sometimes competency) than the people being paid fat salaries to do the same work. Finally, whether you support high salaries or push for low ones, the fact is that in the aid industry, we have both, and that’s never a healthy sign. People expect to get 2,000 USD/month working for an Italian NGO and 4 times as much doing the same (or easier) work for the UN, with predictable effects on turnover and morale. Oddly enough, we all know that the least motivated people in the field are generally the most highly paid; big salaries attract a certain type of employee. So I’m rooting for lower salaries, though not too loudly.

    When it comes to local workers, again I don’t know the solution, but allow me a few more thoughts. First, comparing expat salaries to the ones you can get back home is silly if you’re trying to attract competent but also motivated staff. MSF attracts lots of doctors with very low salaries. You do the work because you love it, not to get rich.

    Second, separating the work force into expats and locals is bad for morale (another hugely understudied topic), and keeps qualified expatriated locals from applying for jobs. Few locals in Chad have enough of an education to work in the positions there filled by expats, but I bet there are plenty of Chadians educated in Europe who would never think of returning home to accept a local aid worker salary and be subordinate to a clueless foreigner. At the same time, a local who can’t write a basic report shouldn’t be getting 10 times the salary of a local schoolteacher. Paying for competence should be the rule, though currently that applies to neither expats nor locals. In contexts with a highly-educated local population, such as in most Middle Eastern countries, locals really can do most of the work, and being an expat aid worker simply has no added value.

    Regarding your final point, I don’t see a collective humanitarian consciousness arising spontaneously now if it hasn’t in the past half century. Though blogs like yours are a start. However, that’s no reason to abandon serious reflection and self-criticism. Criticism of aid needs to move from the anti-aid right wing to a mainstream tendency. The taxpaying public needs to be better educated about the realities of aid work. The way to do this is to create donor pressure (via the real donors: taxpayers) to improve the industry so that navel-gazing is punished and real reform is rewarded. The current back-patting nature of the “admit your failures” movement is really not enough; I look forward to the day when admitting your failures as an organization is not a cause for adulation but rather a mandatory requirement as a publicly-funded institution.

    Reply
    • M.

       /  December 8, 2012

      @AidHappens: I don’t know the kind of aid work you do, or the kind of organisation you work for, but I have to say I find your discourse insulting for many qualified people who go on to work in the aid industry. I really do not think just anyone anyone can do the job of a doctor, a nurse, an engineer, a political analyst or a medical anthropologist . BAD managers? yes, that there’s plenty. Maybe you wer thinking about those?

      But be careful in what you say, because claiming, say, 6-13 years of formal training plus 6-8 years of aid work experience are irrelevant for aid work sounds really insulting.

      I notice the notion of good intentions and motivation still seems to be prevalent and considered important when speaking about aid work fficiency. No wonder the results of the industry, then.

      Reply
      • M., you may be a doctor or an engineer, but most aid workers are not. The majority of them are not technical specialists (despite their job titles), but essentially managers of different sorts, as a scanning of ReliefWeb’s job board proves. And I don’t think that doing a poor job for 10 years as a manager qualifies someone to be a manager more than a recent graduate. Yet when we look at job postings alone, we see that requirements focus on degrees obtained and years spent in the field, rather than asking about the quality of the work actually done. Heaven forbid an applicant’s university or GPA should be part of the selection criteria like it is in the private sector. We all know about the great potential employees stuck in the vicious cycle of not getting jobs because they lack experience. Experience is always relevant and useful, but it cannot continue to trump merit.

        Reply
        • @AidHappens,

          I am no doctor or engineer. And what you say about ngo labor requests does not reflect the truth on the field: profiles are requested when eeded and each ngo asks for a certain profile, e.g.you will find few doctors in ACF and loads of engineers and nutritionists; you’ll find loads of specialist doctors in MSF, and you’ll find logisticians everywhere. Managerial skills are always demanded but this does not mean the posts are manily managerial. Some doctors suck at management becasue its not their job. A political analyst with experience in the private sector as manager can be better suited. But these are jsut examples. See, life’s not all black or white.

          Besides this, I’d like to highlight that not just anyone can be a head of mission of Afghanistan or RDC or Haiti (or…well, any country really). And that much, much more than “managerial” skills (which btw you seem to underestimate) are needed for these kind of position. And no, I’m no head of mission nor I was. You see, I do not always talk about me, I hardly talk about me in these forums, in fact. The fact that I voice my informed opinion does not mean I talk about myself.

          Actually your reply digresses from my reply and I dont really see in what way it is a reply to what I wrote?. You use this kind of discourse manipulation which consists on replying with something else that does not really relate to what was said. funny. Also, I never said or implied that long time bad work qualifies anyone for anything,

          What I do say now, in response to your sentence, is that, in fact, work experiecne counts, a lot, for things such as maturity, relation to others in a work context, ingenuity or naivety, distance/relativisation towards events, or simply knowledge of what means to live and work in war or extreme fragile contexts, for instance. That is why no serious ngo hires fresh graduates for certian positions. Age, but even more, experience counts, and it counts A LOT. again, Im not saying this in relation to me, although I tend to agree also in view of my own path for the last 18 years, when I first engaged in volontourism, before studying anything and before entering the proffesional aid field.

          Anyway. I still wonder what is your experience, with what organisation. You don’t reply to this, and your digressing, uninformed discourse gives me the impression you’re a young somewhat frustrated graduate with very little experience of the world in gneral and of the aid sector in particular. Just an impression of course. Now if you’re older it’s even worst!

          I was just saying that aid positions differ greatly and that not all are the same or require the same qualifications and skills. I am familiar with reliefweb, yes. And Its not the alpha and omega of aid either. And also, I don’t think what you say reflects the reality of the demand in the aid field. The demand is so varied! what you say simply is not true.

          Last but not least, I’d like to point out that diplomas and years or experience are important to first asses a profile and you like it or not, people actually learn from them, I knew a war surgeon once, who actually learned to operate at university!

          But then quality of work itself is assessed though interviews AND by checking out of references you have to provide when you actually pass to the interview stage with the ngo you applied for. Sounds familiar? did you ever got through a real recruitment process?

          OK, I stop here or I’ll become a bit mean, and that wouln’t fit my current zen line of relating to the world…:-)

    • So, I probably won’t post the article as all sorts of dire repercussions are promised for those who distribute without permission, yadda yadda. (But watch your hotmail inbox… ;) )

      “Our lifestyles in the field definitely do matter.” – On this much we agree. But if the reason is that taxpayer dollars pay our salaries, then we must begin to part company. I think the taxpayers are paying us to do a job, to deliver an outcome. Not to ‘be’ something or somebody. Moreover, ‘taxpayers’ is such a broad category – there’s virtually no chance of achieving consensus about what’s appropriate in aid worker lifestyles.

      “I can learn more from walking around a market for 10 minutes than I can from a year of deskwork.” – Pithy, punchy, and lots of amateur do-gooders who want to sit under the mango tree having deep conversations with beneficiaries but not fill out their expense reports (accountability to taxpayers) will love you for saying it. But it’s also utterly un-provable. More to the point, you have to have both. When you get a chance to read the article you’ll see Ms. Fechter’s comments on the myth that physical, proximal closeness to ‘the beneficiaries’ makes humanitarian workers more effective. It feels intuitively right, but the evidence is just not there to support it.

      “I don’t know how to set our wages, but I do know this: most of our work can be done by non-specialists…” – Totally disagree. I don’t know where you work, for what organization, or in what role, exactly, but I do know that every few ordinary citizens out there can do what I (and what most of us in the industry) do. One has to have specific knowledge, skills and experience to get this right. The fact that some organizations set the professional bar very low, over pay unqualified staff, hand high responsibility over to newbies, indulge the cowboys, and generally manage their workforces badly is a very real issue in the NGO world. But the fact of this problem in no way detracts from the level of professionalism and skill required to do the work properly.

      “I look forward to the day when admitting your failures as an organization is not a cause for adulation but rather a mandatory requirement as a publicly-funded institution.” - On this we would once again seem to agree. And I believe that day is coming. It is coming. Let’s remember, though, that there is a lot of non-public money in the aid world as well. Any kind of broad, industry-wide solutions around accountability, impact, transparency, etc. will never gain traction if the drivers are something about public trust and the fact that taxpayer dollars pay for it all.

      Reply
      • J., interesting discussion you’ve launched. Regarding taxpayers, I don’t think they should determine the conditions in which we work, but they are occasionally paying attention, and they do sometimes have it right that maybe a swimming pool in a desert compound is not super appropriate. It’s easy to lose perspective when we’re used to certain industry standards and customs, and an outsider perspective is a welcome counterweight. I agree that we don’t have to fit some random taxpayer’s model of how to be as human beings, and we do have a responsibility to use their money to deliver an outcome, as you say. Too often, however, we benefit from the lack of accountability to spend that money on unnecessary extras, like… well, no need to list them, I think we’ve all seen some outrageous wastes of money out there that we’ve been helpless to address.

        My market comment got a few people riled up so let me elaborate as I misrepresented my views. I totally agree with you that you can have both deskwork and contact with the local environment. I also don’t really think that physical proximity to beneficiaries is much of a solution. I’m as annoyed as you are by the dreadlocked volunteers complaining about (but secretly jealous of) the professionals’ distance from the poor. And deskwork is clearly crucial and where 95% of the work needs to be done. I realized, for example, during my first field posting that no one was reading their predecessor’s field trip reports and was wastefully reinventing the wheel with each field trip.

        However, too many so-called professionals fly in to contexts they don’t know and make assumptions that are not always disastrous, but often wasteful or downright ineffective. Too many of them, coming from relatively privileged backgrounds, have never spent time in the field anywhere. And by field I mean out there, in the bush/slum/etc., seeing how locals actually live for more than a few hours, even if it means being uncomfortable for a few days. The value in doing so is simply huge. Among other things, it allows us to establish a baseline understanding of local poverty (to put our specific beneficiaries’ situation in context), and to observe real needs and gaps rather than rely on quick interviews with people we hope will give answers that fit in our rubrics. I truly think that putting an aid worker in a village for a week to just survive and observe will allow him or her to learn far more than flying out to yet another training in Nairobi.

        If you totally disagree that much of our work can be done by non-specialists, then why are do the majority of job postings ask for a degree in a broad range of potential fields (development, economics, history, IR, etc.) and unspecified or very broad field experience? Yes, you can’t necessarily do most of our jobs walking in off the street, but let’s not pretend we are superhuman either. I think most reasonably intelligent people with a desire to leave their comfort zone can become aid workers. The point is, there is not such a small pool of available workers that the highest wages are justified. I believe as an industry we artificially keep wages high in some organizations by making the barriers to entry (primarily, years of experience) high, thereby reducing the available pool of workers, to the detriment of our programs.

        You say “there is a lot of non-public money in the aid world as well.” Can you elaborate on this point?

        Two final points… As the responses to your post make clear, aid workers’ opinions on the solutions to our problems widely differ, but no matter where we work, we largely agree that there are some fundamental problems to address, problems we’ve spent decades ignoring. These differing opinions need to be heard, not just in anonymous blogs, but within each aid organization working out there. Unfortunately, genuine criticism from within the system is still an exception rather than the rule.

        Finally, if you need ideas for discussion topics, I suggest starting a separate thread about why aid workers are so sensitive to outsiders’ criticisms, but constantly bitching to each other about their work (in private or in blogs). I say this in part because many commenters here seem to place importance on the source of a criticism over a comment’s merits. Aid is a weird world, but that doesn’t mean outsiders can’t grasp any of it or have nothing to contribute to the betterment of our sector. Lacking experience in most sectors has never disqualified people from criticizing them.

        Reply
    • @aidhappens: I have two responses to your main points. You said “I don’t know how to set our wages, but I do know this: most of our work can be done by non-specialists, and every time I go home I talk to dozens of people who would love to do the same work practically for free.” First, if this is really true, I’d expect you to be arranging a meeting with your line manager on Monday morning to discuss how to remove your position and instead to employ x local people to do your job instead. Second, I doubt it is really true. Or only true in the sense that ‘anyone’ could be a firefighter or paramedic – if they had sufficient will, training, experience and opportunity. I think that is a logical and practical fallacy. There are very few jobs in life that absolutely anyone can walk in off the street and do. The difference between most aid jobs and most other jobs is that you have the skills, training, opportunity, education and experience that others do not have, and therefore that makes your labour worth more than others. Otherwise people simply would be dragged in off the streets, no?

      Working for taxpayer money or donations does not necessarily imply additional moral qualms about taking a wage that you are worth. The morality is doing the most efficient job possible in the circumstances. The taxpayer or donor should have to pay whatever it takes to get the best job done. Or alternatively if they are watching the pennies, they have to put up with the fact that reduced funding will only pay for a reduced service.

      “I can learn more from walking around a market for 10 minutes than I can from a year of deskwork.” Oh, really? What did you say that you did again? Local exposure is important, but it is a bizarre sort of bullshit to suggest that preplanning and deskwork is useless. Maybe you’d like to try floating that idea with someone from the military and see how that goes down.

      “in most Middle Eastern countries, locals really can do most of the work, and being an expat aid worker simply has no added value.” Largely agree. So what are you doing working in the Middle East? What is the point of your job?

      “Regarding your final point, I don’t see a collective humanitarian consciousness arising spontaneously now if it hasn’t in the past half century.” I doubt that the Hypocratic Oath was accepted spontaneously and I know for certain that the scientific process did not emerge fully-formed. I doubt that people originally thought that firefighting required high levels of discipline. So what? Does that mean we shouldn’t think about it?

      After reading your post several times, I’m wondering if the main need amongst aid workers might be courses in ethics, because yours seem to be all-over-the-place.

      Reply
      • Joe, I’m not going to respond to your personal, uhm, comments, but you took the time to respond, so here are my thoughts on your other points…

        You focus on “skills, training, opportunity, education and experience” needed to be an aid worker, or a paramedic or firefighter. The difference is that even firefighters go through systematic and lengthy training to acquire certain skills no matter what company they are working in. Aid workers do not. Experience and education are important, but the skills required are generally quite soft. My point is, running a food distribution is not rocket science. It requires someone who can put up with emotional and physical challenges, can do basic math, and has the maturity to diplomatically deal with surprises. I’ve done this in countries where not enough locals were available to, for instance, do the calculations. But I’ve also done this in countries where locals could indeed do my job, in which case I made that clear to my managers.

        You write that “reduced funding will only pay for a reduced service.” Perhaps you truly believe that UN staff do 4 times better work than MSF staff, but I honestly believe there is serious wage inflation in some parts of our industry, and the opposite in other parts, and this should be equaled out.

        I didn’t “suggest that preplanning and deskwork is useless.” I’ll elaborate on that issue in my response to J.

        I don’t think the Hippocratic Oath is the model J. is proposing for a humanitarian consciousness. We all have codes of conduct in our organizations, and there’s a whole Red Cross code of conduct to which most of us must subscribe. That’s not really enough.

        Reply
        • @aidhappens – I think there will always be a problem deeply rooted within the sector when people are happy to receive payment in ‘warm feelings’ rather than paid what they are worth. And if you really think that you have no unique – learned or developed – skills, then you should not be doing the job. Give it up and do something else more worthwhile.

          I’d say your definitions of soft and hard skills are garbage. Are firefighting skills soft? They’re practical skills learned on the job. ‘Anyone’ can point a jet of water at a fire, there is nothing ‘special’ about what they’re doing. But clearly it takes a particular kind of person to be an effective firefighter. ‘Anyone’ can deliver aid at a food feeding station (according to you), but I doubt that is actually true. I suspect that very few people have the emotional maturity to do it. Exactly the same as being a paramedic – theirs are also ‘non-specialist’ in that they did not go to Medical School for x years, but that doesn’t mean that anyone could be a paramedic.

          I suspect that UN pay grades are closer to what people are actually worth, yes. MSF is an interesting case in that (as far as I understand it) many of their on-the-ground medical staff are on very short interregnum contracts from their early career medical jobs. So in one sense they are receiving payment in experience which will help them in their future (usually highly-paid) careers.

  4. Firstly, good god that poem is truly awful. ‘Classes’ and ‘masses’? Jesus.

    Secondly, I think the idea of a global consciousness for NGOs is difficult. It isn’t one thing. It can never be. It’s the whole issue of definition again: what is development? what is humanitarianism? what is aid? what is (to use a dirty word) charity?

    Nobody really knows. I tend to use the phrase ‘do-gooder’ to describe people in ‘the industry’ – whatever that means. It seems flippant but it’s probably about the only truly shared attribute your readers and yourself share.

    Don’t seek universal understandings, thrive in the different.

    That seems like a neologism someone could run with doesn’t it?

    Reply
    • Hey Rowan – Always good to see you in the comments thread. And, well, we seem to agree on the poem :) If you’ll read the post carefully, I’m calling for a global consciousness of aid workers – not NGOs. The difference is critical, and I actually do think that a global consciousness of aid workers is possible. You’re right about the issues of definition and distinction, and to a large extent we’d be building the semantic car whilst driving it.

      I have to be honest and confess that I positively loathe the term ‘do-gooder.’

      “Don’t see universal understandings, thrive in the different.” Great line, definitely run-with-able. But I don’t see it as mutually excluding the notion of a global humanitarian consciousness.

      Reply
  5. Jim J.

     /  December 8, 2012

    I don’t trust any aid outsider who places judgement and criticism on the expat aid worker life or salary – they simply don’t know what aid work actually entails and judge based on the need to (usually) get a hot story in print, that sells papers or magazines or books. “Dirt” sells…extolling the need of deserved breaks that highly-skilled aid workers take doesn’t sell anything. So, as a long-time aid worker who has learned to let go of the outside criticism…I urge all aid worker readers to these kind of articles to just leave it…don’t be guilted into defending what you do! Its a trap.

    I don’t know sh*t about being a journalist, but I could (if I wanted and my paycheck depended on it) focus and dig into the worst case examples of journalistic exploits, hedonism, false stories for fame, those war correspondent chics (who may or may not s*ck their way to the top), etc. However, I am wise enough to know while this may happen, it may not be the norm and their may be nuances and context that is key..and as an outsider…I just don’t get it and therefore, should not really comment on it!

    Reply
    • Well, Jim – I intuitively want to resonate with your comment. All the journo/economist/mom-blogger self-appointed pundit-watchdogs have no idea what I do or how hard it is, so they should bugger off. And as much as I personally get bored every time yet another volunteer with some BS startup NGO that no one has ever heard of holds forth over beer (that I bought for him or her) about how wasteful the BINGOs are and how I don’t know anything because these days I sit in a cube, and they by contrast perceive reality directly because they’ve spent six months in a village blah blah blah

      The truth is, The Public is up in our business and we have to deal with it. And not just for PR purposes. It is a reality that the world is changing and we – the aid world – need to keep pace. And that, to me at least, means dealing with issues like expat v. local salaries (although the salary issue by itself barely scratches the surface – there are issues of appearance, proportion and authority which run far deeper and are much more difficult, in my opinion).

      I don’t think we have to defend what we do. But I do think we need to be able to explain it, and where the explanation is a poor one, change our practices.

      Thanks for commenting

      Reply
  6. J – maybe what other professions have but aid workers do not is a union. Possibly the traditional model is not suitable entirely, but one can imagine an outside body which a) has a code of conduct/ethics of members b) provides support to workers in the field c) conducts spot checks on working conditions, pay etc d) provides a (more) formal career and training path for different kinds of workers and e) publishes a blacklist of agencies who blatantly abuse workers so that they eventually find it impossible to recruit the best unionised staff.

    I don’t see a union as contradictory to the aims of any organisation, and quite honestly I’d start to wonder murderous thoughts about any NGO that refused to recognise a worker union and any worker who refused to join.

    Reply
  7. Trying to positively intervene in peoples’ lives to support them generating something better for themselves is always complex and needs a multidisciplinary team (or ideas coming from multiple disciplines). It’s much harder than a 2 + 2 career, where there is a proven route to take and a scientific community telling how and what to do. And if you really care to listen to those you are suppose to support, you also need to remain flexible, open and be able to negotiate agendas with diverse stakeholders to follow what really people need, and not only what was planned in paper one or two years before. I really believe that if there is going to be an aid effectiveness strong agenda in the future, you can’t respond to it seriously with volunteers. Someone producing candy really needs to have lots of skills to do it. Do you really think that supporting attainment of human rights and equality among human beings doesn’t require certain skills? I ask this question to all those who have said anyone can go out and do this without preparation.

    Reply
  8. Just a technical note: I wonder whether you should ask Meike Fechter whether she has a sharable ‘pre-print’ version of her article. Many publishers allow researchers to share a version that is close to the final product. She may be able to post it on her institutional website and you could link to that? I know Meike and she is very approachable :)!

    Reply
    • Um, well – if you know her, could you ask her? :) Maybe even point her to this post and the accompanying discussions on AidSource? :) :)

      Cheers,
      ~J.

      Reply
  9. I think it’s less about the number and more about the ghandian cliche of being the change. For the uninitiated and greener than usual, that means taking on the appearance of simplicity, and looking the part of poverty. For me, it means trying my best to make the best choices that support my working values, honoring the why when I slip up, and treating myself with compassion when I can’t be the vision of my perfect self, and when I ( or others) don’t or can’t care about the things I do or care in the way that is familiar to me.

    On the second point, part of operating in social change structures, is voiding examples of success. Now, one can debate ad nauseum about if the biggest house in the village is success, or what the counter ( to the location) cultural values would request a ‘local’ to give up or shift to be that life. Expats and aid workers are the trailblazers who show what the western brand of prosperity looks like. However, in a more simple terms, that biggest house, or that compound sometimes means influence with the powers that be ( village chiefs, warlords, government officials, CEOs with a CSR department) and at the most base level, it provides a haven from where we work. It manages the human need to feel some familiarity after the honeymoon ends. ( I even see the same indulgence in the intern community, and the high level of nutella consumption, toilet paper usage, and other comforts– the same thing is at the center of the critique.)

    As for if it matters, having values matters, living the values, and taking the time to understand your role and your own in the values in the new contexts that aid operates… Some call this ‘ doing the work’ and while it needs to be done, and care needs to be taken to not disempower our communities of practice, with self righteous indignation.

    Reply
  10. @ joe and the @aidhappens thread

    Looking back at the history of helping people, I wonder how much of these kinks are working out because previously,min order to help, all you needed was more of something than those you were hoping to help– more money, more power, more faith.

    Later, all it took was having the perceived needed skill… If you could speak English, you could teach it, if you could pick up a hammer, you could build a house. In these cultures of scarcity ( however defined) the external visitor only needed the chutzpah to take the adventure of these encounters– face certain death, new foods, hot climates,pirates, unchristianly dressed natives, cholera.
    ( http://www.jimpreisig.com/.a/6a01310f536e64970c017c3334c868970b-pi )

    Previously, this was enough. I mean, if your skill was enough to get you paid, you certainly weren’t going over _there_ — there wasn’t any money in it, only glory. So perhaps, the balance between comfort and glory is offset. Travel is annoying, buy you probably won’t die of scurvy ( http://idlewords.com/2010/03/scott_and_scurvy.htm ) antibiotics and immunizations exist. Heck, you can be based not far from a KFC. You can get mail, beer, Internet, chocos and chocolate. And the glory, is still slightly impressive, but not groundbreaking. So what do we do with our free time, now that we aren’t dying of scurvy?

    We analyze our processes, and now that it’s easier, the skilled people can come, even if they are clueless as to the internal adventure that they are signing on to.

    Reply
  11. To deliver quality programmes that do no harm and achieve optimal outcomes, qualified experience staff are required. To be effective and efficient, an organization need to retain qualified and experienced staff over a significant period. We need senior managers and specialists in our sector – 8-10 yrs plus experience in complex environments. All these points require providing competative salaries and packages that attract and retain staff. Organizations that attract and employ graduates, without significant support and professional development in the package, do harm, do not deliver and are know as humanitarian cowboys – not to be recommended. Think about it would you want a 22 year old negotiating and managing a disarmament and reintegration programme if children in country were abducted by militants and forced to fight against their communities. Would you want a volounteer with no previous similar experience advising your government on Education Policy and development? Could I, a manager and technical specialist be a volounteer for say,setting policies for the Police Force in the UK or if there were to be a large scale attack in the UK affecting say 2.5 million people, could a volounteer coordinate the disaster response. No. The sector must professionalise, humanitarian response is not a sector for volountarism of internationals, and whilst there are exceptions, in general, that can only lead to harm – making things worse when the goal was to bring positive change. In the context where I currently work, the majority of INGOs have 1-5 international staff in a total staff body of 100 – 25,000 per organization.

    Reply
  12. Travelngirl

     /  January 3, 2013

    There is a danger in looking at aid work solely as a moral commitment but also a greater danger in looking at aid work solely as a profession or business. As aid workers we live with professional skills as well as in allegiance to certain ways of doing our work connected to social norms–that is morals. I say morals and not altruism because altruism relates to an individual’s motivation, not a moral standard for how you conduct your work. Pro-Businesses folks love to minimize NGO work to altruism, because it makes room in their mind and argument for businesses to get their hands on the humanitarian $$. However, this is an invalid link to HOW we do our work. (However, if you want people to keep doing tough work at pittance pay–you better not forget that they are primarily motivated by altruism..but that is another story.)

    What I want to highlight that there is a central and necessary importance of accommodating social norms as an organization/industry/community –and it is central to the definition of what is effective in humanitarian work. Business systems are designed themselves to specifically separate themselves from any comparison or assessment according to social norms (again not altruism, but morals –see Alistair MacIntyre-AFTER VIRTUE) and these models are created to above all honor “efficiency” and specific short-term end outcomes, regardless of violation to social norms. These models are not intended to accommodate moral principles in decision making. Our work is intended to do that–and to do that before we consider how efficient it is (bang for buck.) As an example–humanitarians will choose the more expensive option if it means saving lives….and we will choose to leave the ‘great deal’ behind if it puts lives at risk. During the food crisis in Zimbabwe in 2002, the entire aid community had to completely abandon their supply chain and create an all new one when the president refused GMOs. Think about it–in a business “sustainability” has something to do with creating a long-term market where people are dependent upon my product; in humanitarian work sustainability is not about my long-term existence, but my disappearance..and supporting a community’s ability to sustain themselves. In a business, if you become dependent upon me–I’ve met my goal. This is the antithesis of our aims in humanitarian work.

    Making decisions that honor the humanitarian imperative, the red cross code of conduct, and a moral way of working with communities are at best marginalized via business models, and at worst impossible. Business “efficiency” remains a competing tension against the moral code (albeit the moral code is not static, easy or uniform) and efficiency in the humanitarian context holds a very different place in decision-making for us. It is not and cannot be first. Business models that claims to be more “efficient”– will always run the risk of being less effective within a humanitarian context.

    Reply
    • mmmm… you’re kinda all over the map, here :)

      Look – I think I get what you’re trying to say and I sort of agree.

      But. I think you assume more overlap than there actually is between ideals like “moral” and things like the Code of Conduct.

      Reply
    • Joe

       /  January 5, 2013

      Well, @travelngirl, I think you are making a false dichotomy between the ‘humanitarian imperative’ and ‘business models’ and are trying to make a moral case based on hotair.

      You seem to be arguing that an aidworker gets a free moral pass over and above any other profession, simply because of what they are doing. Businesses are immoral – according to you – because they focus on getting the job done. In contrast, you aidworkers are inherrently moral because you focus on the humanitarian imperative (whatever that is when it is at home. It sounds horribly like barely remembered and understood Kant).

      I’d argue that this attitude is dangerous in and of itself – because it seems to ordain sainthood to the aidworker whilst accusing the business-minded of bastardisation of the noble cause. Second, though, it is not even clear that the thing you complain about is actually a ‘business-model’. Doing a job as efficiently and effectively as possible given the constraints is not just the perogative of the businessman, but of everyone who wants to do the best possible job with limited resources. Moreover, it is not an attitude that would stand for more than 5 minutes in other jobs – the main characteristic of a fireman is not that he has an overblown moral image of himself, but that he listens, reacts and works in a team to effectively fight a fire.

      I appreciate that aidworkers are often working well beyond the point where others can reach, and that it is a job which requires commitments and courage. But as a donor, I simply want you to do the best job you can in the circumstances. If there is a choice, you should always aim to make the widest impact rather than divert scarce resources to an individual. I don’t particularly hold with Bentham in ordinary life, but in abnormal/disaster situations, I think that this kind of ethical judgement is the only way to work out how to do triage.

      This seems like Development Ethics 101 to me: do the best possible job with the resources that you have to make the most difference to the most numbers of people. If you know you are consciously choosing more expensive options – for no good reason – that is a sign of corruption rather than any sense of a moral imperiative, in my opinion.

      Reply
  13. Travelngirl

     /  January 9, 2013

    @Joe. Great thoughts. There may be a little mixing of apples and oranges here. It appears there are some assumptions that have been made, which I come across quite often when speaking on this topic. For (J) I will try my best to explain myself more thoroughly…however, there are quite a few hidden assumptions from the original article itself, and they all tend to be bound up together.

    So, I did not say businesses nor business models are immoral. They are neither moral nor immoral. They are amoral–they do not talk about, nor want to have anything to do with “morality”. This is business 101, no? It is a similar argument for guns..they don’t pull the trigger to themselves…there is an operator. And a business system is thought of the same way. To be clear, I am talking about a system–I am not making any statements about an individual’s morals or ethics for neither business people nor aid workers. However, precisely because there is no systematic check and balance for morality within the business system, in fact, it can very easy be immoral (however, I am not making this as a universal judgement, just stating the risk.) The business system is built to be accountable to costs and profit first and foremost–foundationally. And this is a risk incompatible with aid work. To your point, the incompatibility with aid work is not that the business “gets the job done.” It is that it may be getting a different job done than the one intended. The “job” a business system focuses on getting done, is not in alignment with what humanitarian and development work aims to do–we have different goals (and hence require different tools.) So, I believe you are right–the argument for how I do my job may not stand for 5 minutes in any other job..because this is not a job based on $ and markets. It is logical that this argument does not support a business goal argument. As far as a firemen go–they also do not operate via business principles/rules/models, and in fact, operate by way of a moral code as well. This is another topic or example where business models are not compatible, but we digress…

    Second, I am also not saying aid workers/organizations get a ‘free moral pass’–in fact I am saying the opposite– those organizations conducting aid work require systems that are able to accommodate and assess against social norms. Which business systems cannot do. Business systems, very much run the risk you state.. of a “free moral pass.” Why? because by design, they do not accommodate these moral considerations, this way of prioritizing, and decision-making, where humanitarian and aid systems do. Business models can only accommodate a conversation on personal ethics (ethics is a personal view, morals are social norms….individual vs the collective–and the collective as a cultural standard and not a market) For a business–what society thinks, or impacts on society (unless accommodated for in law or negative impact to profit) are neither here nor there…and the business system will press on to create profit. Aid systems, however, are designed (and required) to consider a wider range of societal impacts ahead of this. Because humanitarian and aid workers are expected to accommodate social norms (where businesses are not)–they require a different system to be effective.

    The humanitarian imperative part of the Red Cross Code of Conduct which is the moral code for operating which all reputable humanitarian agencies have signed: http://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/publications/icrc-002-1067.pdf
    It is shared code by which we aim to operate. We pledge allegiance (if you will) to this over efficiency or profit. Again, the overall point is that effectiveness within aid work is starkly different to what a business model thinks is effective.

    Further, according to this code by which we strive to operate, it is actually not the donor’s goals that are our sole objective–it is first and foremost the recipient’s needs. Principle #2 = Aid priorities are calculated on the basis of need alone. Most donors, of course, subscribe to this as well. They do not want me to be efficient first. They want be to be effective first…ie…save people lives, and secondly do that as efficiently as possible within the constraints I have. Being effective does NOT mean NOT being efficient…but it puts it in a different place in the system. Aid systems can honor efficiency* as well , but not at the expense of our moral code.

    (*Albeit we could do efficiency better when it becomes the priority–but I would argue business practices can and have only marginally helped with this. Business models generally create a much more expensive way to do humanitarian work, in particular, but this, again, is another subject.)

    Reply
  14. I just received a message from Meike Fechter that TWQ/Taylor & Francis agreed to make the article open access for one year. This should be happening very soon…

    Reply
  15. If you follow the link right at the beginning of your post you can already download the full article from the official TWQ website from publisher Taylor & Francis.

    Reply
  16. The question of pay and indeed lifestyle are very valid areas that continue to raise questions with donors and fundraisers. Many reports have flagged the fact that expat aid workers live a relatively flamboyant lifestyle; do they really need houses with swimming pools? All those vacations and lounging and parties? Surely there are cheaper yet safe accommodation that can be found? The locals also have the mindset of “let’s spend this money” and most are absolutely unhappy when financially rewarding trips (or other such activites) are discouraged or hefty salaries are not negotiated. At the end of the day,I believe that both expats and locals should get fair salaries and benefits obtainable in Govt/Private sector and their qualifications. It must be a cross between both sectors,not unfair but certainly not extravagant. Clearly Humanitarian,Aid or Development work is not just equivalent to working in an orphanage, flying in from Hollywood for 2 days, or volunteering with a local mid-wife. The truth is this sector has now become a career path,and is run by professionals in specialist areas. Outsiders do not understand that.

    Someone once told me that his biggest problem with aid workers is the fact that they lived relatively “lavishly” off the “generousity” of others. It shut me up for a bit.

    Reply
  17. Angry Wife

     /  August 3, 2014

    I am a foreigner working in a developing country. I work for a private international school but most of my socialising is with expatriate NGO and UN staff. Yet somehow, along the way, I fell in love with a local doctor. He used to work for the ministry of health but it couldn’t sustain his lifestyle (which involves eating and taking public transport – neither of us own a car and my local salary wouldn’t allow us to take taxis all the time – so we use the bus). He has just gotten a job as a field doctor in MSF. God love him, but he wants to stay in his country and help it get better. All of his siblings have left to greener pastures. Without the dollars they send home, his mother and him wouldn’t have survived or maybe would have just survived.

    My husband took a job as a field doctor in MSF – an organization reknowned for its excellent work. He is doing very well. There is only one little thing that drives me crazy – I understand that local staff will get paid less. Even though he now lives in a conflict zone far away from me, far away from everything he knows and understands, he lives in a dangerous area for about 400 dollars a month. He tells me to think of the big picture. Experience – jobs closer to home, etc. I understand the local staff will get paid less than their foreign colleagues – I get paid more than my local colleagues. I get it. Once again, there is one thing that makes me steaming mad – expatriate rest and relaxation is for 2 weeks every 4 weeks. They get to hang out in a city they don’t know with people they don’t know for 2 weeks every 4 weeks. I don’t understand why a local staff member who has a family in a distant part of the country is given 4 days off every 6 weeks – apparently travel time is included in those 4 days – despite the fact that getting a helicopter and a plane takes about 2 days, I am a little confused and angry that somehow those 4 days have become 2. In those 2 days, as the only remaining son in the country, he needs to ensure that his mother is happy and satisfied and that his wife is still sane. In one year, I might see my husband for maybe 24 days. Wow All I want to do is stop being super supportive and a nice little wife and kick his butt into doing the Canadian/Irish/American/Saudi/Medical Board exams and just getting the hell out. Okay – I don’t know whether my rant has achieved anything or even if it is relevant but I really needed to get it out.

    4 Days is insufficient. As far as I am concerned, MSF and other NGOs that treat their local staff in inhumane manner – I would go so far as to say like slaves, need to wake up and smell the roses/pit toilet. The expectation from the organisation for complete dedication is not reciprocated in turn. Staff should be looked after. I am not talking money here – I am talking time and other benefits that should be rewarded to local staff but just isn’t. To be honest, it kinda turns my stomach.

    Enough!

    Reply
    • Hmmm… What to say? Thank you for commenting. Two initial reactions:

      1) One of the problems, from my perspective, is the wide range of salary and benefits packages within the industry, irrespective of expat/local differentials. Your husband works for MSF… which would be a different experience compared with Save, and different yet from Goal, etc.

      2) I don’t know why, exactly, but somehow your comment got me to thinking (again) that if the tables were turned–that is, if Oklahoma was a war zone with expat doctors from (SOME OTHER COUNTRY WITH A DIFFERENT CULTURE) popping in… well, we’d see some very different thinking in the industry around expat/local differentials.

      Reply
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