Okayyy, here we go again: I’m back to sitting in the library until my bum gets so flat you could turn me upside down and use me as a nightstand. And what does that mean for you, my dear readers and friends? It means that you will profit from the excellent education I’m receiving at this wonderfully mainstream-critical university. You up for it? You better be, because I had to read like A MILLION pages to come up with the following couple of paragraphs…
When I read this article the other day, I sat at my desk looking like this for about half an hour:
So, the deal is that the salaries of CEOs of NGOs in the UK have apparently risen by up to 60% over the last three years and are now somewhere in the lower 6 digits. This revelation has provoked heated debates around several pay related topics that have been simmering under the surface of development cooperation:
- entry level payments in the sector are extremely low in relation to the levels of education and work experience that are required to be one of those annoying do-gooders for a living
- local staff from low-income countries often receives far less mon-ay than expatriate staff for the same type and amount of work;
- and finally, since the budgets of these organizations usually consist of donations from private people and foundations, spending transparency holds a moral dimension for NGOs that ‘normal’ businesses don’t have to worry about- but NGOs certainly do.
In my opinion, all these examples represent that damned misfit of capitalist principles and principles of altruism and equality: help as a business remains a paradox, everybody.
(Why do I want to be part of this again? Oh yea, right. Because people are dying of poverty. Ahahaha. Sometimes I almost forget about that…)
Soooo, to dive into the first topic: of course the idea to do good for a living is so attractive to young idealists that the market for entry level jobs in NGOs is flooded with highly qualified, motivated and internationally experienced applicants (COUGH LIKE ME COUGH SO HUMBLE). Consequently, these jobs are usually very demanding, yet underpaid. I have worked and volunteered in a governmental development agency, a large international NGO and a grass-root local NGO, and everywhere I encountered the same atmosphere among my (btw: mostly female) colleagues:
If you’re not heading towards or just recovering from a burnout syndrome, you’re not worthy of your job.
Work-life balance – Schmork-wife-balance. In development cooperation, the lines between work and life are not only blurred, but completely dissolved by the enthusiasm for your project, the notion of responsibility for other people’s lives, and the emotional content of one’s work. Try planting a tree without smiling. Can’t do it? Fine, try A MILLION and then let’s see if your still smiling.
psycho psychologist, so I see this as a direct consequence of cognitive dissonance in young employees (EVERYthing is due to cognitive dissonance in the eyes of a psychologist). People go like “I hardly get paid enough to afford my favorite fairtrade coffee, yet I work so hard that I get bitter when I look at my friends Facebook pages.” One way to dissolve this paradox is to align your work attitude with your efforts, so that you think of your job as the o n l y means of personal fulfillment. Which looks something like this:
That’s always a great idea. Very healthy. Nooot.
Awareness for this vicious circle is high. Indeed, all of my former colleagues warned me about entering the sector. They mentioned family issues, alcoholism, alienation from friends, depression…
(Again: why do I want to do this?!? Right. I’m an overprivileged white girl and the world’s a shitty place so I gotta try and fix that a wee bit. Where was I?)
Yet, those colleagues, too, expected the new employees and interns to stay at their desks until late at night and to answer e-mails from home. Apparently personal experience and reflection don’t seem to break the habit of exploiting young work force. So, maybe a standardized payment in aid agencies and other NGOs would help with this problem.
The second argument for standardized payments in NGOs is the gap between local and expatriate salaries in internationally active NGOs. Again- tons of psychological implications: what do you think it does to local identities, power relationships and people’s understanding of justice when white people naturally get more money than their local co-workers? It’s damn obvious, isn’t it? Un faaa haaair!!!
And because it’s so damn obvious, the terms pay transparency and alignment have made it into the Paris declaration on aid effectiveness and into most NGO agendas. Yet, an established theory of best practice doesn’t translate into actual practice. The gap still exists. I could name several unfortunate incidents and misunderstandings during my work in Madagascar in 2011 that were direct results of a power hierarchy created by unfair pay. So what to do, what to do? You think the ones in charge, the people from Western countries who are working in development cooperation will be like “Meh.” about their privileges, and initiate pay alignment? That’s right. Noooot gonna happen. Standardization from far up above across NGOs seems to be a valid solution.
And finally, the moral obligation of accountability towards donors would be guarded by standardized pay. Many people are frustrated by the outcome of the last 40 years of aid. Only very high levels of transparency can decrease the growing distrust in the effectiveness of development cooperation. Globally standardized pay would be a reason to trust all those annoying do-gooders again, don’t you think?
So, back to explaining my initial reaction to the article. I still look like this
because the whole scandal – though as ALWAYS totally misreported by the stupid mass media to the stupid masses (to quote one of my favorite internet gurrls: You are stupid, I am stupid, we are all stupid.) – is still publicity for academia’s struggle to understand why making the world a better place is so damn difficult. Let’s hope some big fat capitalist cat will pay attention to this debate (and I mean the real fat cats, not some mediocre NGO not-even-Millionaire). What development cooperation needs, is more research on the individual, organizational and societal dynamics that are triggered by non-profit work. So, please, fat cat, fund some psycho research on those dynamics, so that I will find a job at some point.
Oh, and of course so that people stop dying unnecessarily. Ahahaha.