The Hypocrisy of International Development Practitioners

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Even the good hearted wants to live a good life. Even development practitioners seek to have their cake and eat it too. Nobody wants to be a Mother Teresa. Hypocrosy reigns strongly even in one of the most selfless and altruistic fields of work.

ActionAid’s Real Aid 2 reported:

In Cambodia… typical adviser costs were found to be in the region of $200,000 per year, with similar costs observed in Tanzania. In Ghana, one UNICEF official said that $10,000 per month was usual for a highly qualified education consultant, which put them at the lower end of the pay scale, with the World Bank and African Development Bank paying as much as double this rate.

High salaries paid to expatriate advisers do not only raise questions in terms of value for money. They can also cause significant resentment among counterparts and the public in the south. In Cambodia, for example, adviser fees of $17,000 per month are several hundred times higher than the salary of a typical government employee, at only $40 per month. Salary differentials were raised as key concern by interviewees in Cambodia, Tanzania and Ghana. In the Ghana education service headquarters, government officials receive about $300 a month, what a relatively inexperienced Ghanaian consultant could expect to earn in a day, and a foreign consultant in a few hours.

Shocking, but not surprising.

The development industry is a huge business. It’s not merely about good will. Sad to say, it’s filled with some of the most hypocritical people in the world.

Yes, the development community is widely known and heavily criticized for not being to do an effective job of eradicating poverty. The benefits of foreign aid have been questioned. The effectiveness of many of the prevailing development policies and theories have been challenged. No doubt, these macro issues are important and need to be confronted. But so is the personal.

I’m not sure how any development consultant could think about accepting an utterly ridiculous amount of US$1,000 a day when most of the people they are seeking to help are earning less than a US$2 a day?

In low-income countries, the average income is only $500. This means that a typical western consultant will be earning twice as much in day as the average person living in that country lives on in a year. (Real Aid 2 key facts and figures)

Such astounding incongruity needs to be challenged…

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  1. Wah, its ok, they should encourage the next level of hypocrites like me who only endevours to earn half as much as the current hypocrites are earning. :)

  2. In the September 5, 2005 issue of Newsweek was a report entitled “Where The Money Is” with subhead “The $1.6 trillion non-profit sector behaves (or misbehaves) more and more like big business.”

    The report started with: “If it wasn’t for the raffia coasters and folk art in her office, it would be tough to tell Oxfam GB director Barbara Stocking from the CEO of a multinational corporation… Stocking says it’s her mission to ‘save the world.’ But unlike many do-gooders of the past, she’s doing it in a suit rather than sandals – and so are many others.”

    It continued: “To put these figures ($1.6 trillion) in context, the authors point out that if nonprofits were a country, they would have the fifth largest economy in the world… How to judge success, or regulate and police a sector in which many executives now make good money, yet still are not exactly in it for the money? … Where there is big money, there are consultants… In fact, salaries at nonprofits are rising as recruits arrive from the corporate world. Marsha J. (Marty) Evans, president and CEO of the American Red Cross, manages a $3 billion budget, and makes $450,000 a year (about $1,200 a day). She regularly hires from big businesses (her finance director came from a major bank), or from one of the dozens of new NGO-specific business school programs and courses at schools like Harvard and the London Business School. ‘The days when you could keep funds in a cigar box are gone,’ says Evans. ‘Our blood-donation program, for example, is run like a modern pharmaceutical business. When I’m spend $100 million on hurricane relief, I need people who can negotiate the best deals with suppliers.’ ”

    Personally, I don’t think the issue is really how much money one earns. Anyway, it’s John Wesley who said, “Earn all you can.” But he continued, “Give all you can.” And he was credible by walking his talk, giving away most of his earnings that had been increasing year after year, and leaving behind almost nothing at his death.

    If we make salary of development practitioners too much of an issue, we may face difficulties in supporting some of our favourite organisations e.g. the president of World Vision in USA earns $340,522 a year (nearly $1,000 a day).

    Here is an FAQ answered by Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator:

    Q: The CEO’s salary of my favorite charity seems high, should I make a contribution?

    A: While there are certainly some charities that overpay their leaders, Charity Navigator’s data shows that those organizations are the minority. Among the charities we’ve evaluated, the average CEO salary is roughly $140,000. Before you make any judgments about salaries higher or lower than this average, we encourage you to look at CEO pay as a percentage of total expenses (visible by clicking on the ‘show me’ link on each charity’s rating page). A charity CEO compensation of $200,000 for an organization spending $20 million per year (1%) probably seems much more reasonable than the same salary for a $1 million organization (20% of expenses for one person).

    These charities are complex organizations, with multi-million dollar budgets, hundreds of employees, and thousands of constituents. These leaders could inevitably make much more running similarly sized for-profit firms. Furthermore, when making your decision it is important to consider that it takes a certain level of professionalism to effectively run a charity and charities must offer a competitive salary if they want to attract and retain that level of leadership.

  3. Julius,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I agree with Wesley there. You could say it’s not how much one earns per se, but how much one saves then gives away. However, the trouble is, most people who do earn a lot don’t give most of it away. They spend it on themselves or their families.

    By the way, I wouldn’t call the president of an NGO a development practitioner. Nevertheless, I would still rather give to an organization that is led by a person who either takes a low pay or gives most of it away. I think such behavior is exemplary. Of course, that’s not very practical and it may be hard to attract talented professionals, as you said, but to me $1,000 a day for any person in a non-profit organization is way over the top, except maybe in exceptional circumstances.

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