March 04, 2006

NGOs - overpaid?

Yo yo Addis,

What's happening on this gorgeous, sunny Saturday? Little bit of pollution, but that comes with all the old cars driving around. My weather predictions for the week were completely off base, so I'm thinking of moving to picking football matches. I'll take Coffee over Police in the first game this Sunday (3-1), with Cement struggling to regain past form and falling to Air Travel 3-2 in a nail-biter.

No, seriously, today the Fun Zone wants to instigate controversy by asking about NGO salaries - are they really worth it? (I realize I'm targeting myself as well by asking this, but what the heck, it's an important question.)

I've heard repeatedly from different sources that it makes little sense to pay a foreign NGO worker as much as 10 times what you could pay a local for the same position. I get the sense that government employees, especially, feel that NGOs could get far greater return by supporting their initiatives, rather than creating competiting ones that also cause brain drain from the public sector.

What do you think? The one positive I've heard about NGOs and their employees is that they bring a lot of new experiences/knowledge transfer. Foreign NGO employees often have unique skill sets that aren't available locally at all or in sufficient quantity.

The Fun Zone is torn on the whole issue. On the one hand, it's clear that few western NGO staff would leave the U.S. or Europe and work abroad if they couldn't make salaries comparable to what they could make at home. Also, I doubt that a lot of the donors to foreign NGOs and bi-laterals would feel comfortable turning their money over to host-country nationals. They would worry about accountability.

On another line, what about business? Is there the same feeling of distaste towards foreigners that create business? If I was to develop business in Ethiopia and be making $200,000 a year (oh, that the fates would bless me so), would there be that same line of comparison? Would the merchants in Mercato say that, if they just had the resources the foreigner had, they could achieve the same thing? (Obviously, there's a question here between investment and capacity-driven business, but too big for my brain.)

I can't come up with a good answer for any of these questions or even for the original - are NGOs overpaid? One thing I believe is that Addis would be a little less interesting to live in if there wasn't such a large foreign community, including Africans, Indians, Chinese, Europeans and Americans. Cosmopolitanism is a good thing.

Oh well, enjoy your weekend.


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