Linking Salary with Localised Expertise: The Challenge for NGOs
Please note: This post has been written by an external author for the People In Aid website. As such, all views expressed are those of the author and not of People In Aid.
To coincide with our recent newsletter on Reward, Jonathan Potter, People In Aid's Executive Director, reports on the Listening Project's findings with regards to the disparity between local and international staff.
What I have done here is to read many of the wonderful and insightful reports written by the Listening Project and pulled together examples and evidence relating to salary. It is striking how consistent is the view within beneficiary community representatives that expatriates may well not be beneficial to aid. The choice and compilation of extracts is entirely mine and not the Listening Project's:
Inequalities between the salaries of local and international staff stood out as a concern, particularly from the local staff of NGOs and CBOs and sometimes from government officials. People pointed to the implicit message that these significant inequalities sent about the value of local expertise and noted that the differences in compensation raised expectations of the quality of the highly paid international staff and consultants. Additionally, the inequality between salaries for local staff of aid agencies and the average incomes of community members was brought up, especially by people in communities. Echoing a common complaint, someone in Timor Leste said, “Advisors and consultants in particular were criticised as lacking in skills, yet making a high salary, causing an inflation of salaries of unskilled staff."
“The differences in local and international salaries are insulting,” said a Lebanese government representative. “You have internationals coming with huge salaries but nationals probably do most of the work. This leads to frustration among locals. We need to revise our understanding of what we are worth. We have beautiful minds.”
Many people mentioned that there are local experts who are much more knowledgeable than the foreign staff and consultants that are paid high prices as “experts” even though they are not familiar with the context in the country. As a man in Solomon Islands said, “Donors always hire outside consultants to do evaluation and designing work. Is there no one qualified in Solomon Islands to do the work? Aid meant to help the community goes back when hiring outside consultants. So donor, think good before becoming a donor.” A community member in Sri Lanka expressed a similar opinion, saying “Why don’t you value local knowledge and capacity? We have engineers and experts too.”
In a number of places, people suggested that the money spent on foreign staff could do much more if it were invested in hiring and building the capacity of local staff. A lawyer in Kosovo noted that, “One expatriate expert costs more than an entire department of local staff. Money could have been used to increase local institutions’ salaries so that they have more qualified people there.” A man in Ecuador concurred saying, “We know of projects in which the foreign staff receive salaries that are so high, that this amount of money could pay the salaries of three local staff who could do the same work and maybe even better, because they know the communities and are part of this culture.”
There was a feeling among those we spoke to that for such a “high price tag” the international hires should be considerably more experienced and talented than locals, and be committed to building and mentoring local capacity. When international hires do not meet expectations or are viewed as being chosen over comparable local expertise, frustration rises. People point to the institutionalised prejudice as well as the financial frustration that high salaries flow back to support the economies of donor countries rather than staying in the country which is supposed to benefit from the assistance. A student in Solomon Islands noted that, “Aid has contributed to the high increase of unemployment. By coming in with their own agendas, they created very competitive job opportunities hence they need their own high skilled personnel—while our educated people/youth are the ones left without jobs.”
For much more discussion on this issue, read The Listening Project's paper on The Role of Staffing Decisions
You can also view our most recent Newsletter, this time themed around Reward, online.
Monday 29 October 2012
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