The Sin in Doing Good Deeds

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In his New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof wrote a controversial op-ed under the title "The Sin in Doing Good Deeds"

Some excerpts:

If a businessman rakes in a hefty profit while doing good works, is that charity or greed? Do we applaud or hiss?

A new book, “Uncharitable” (..) Mr.Pallotta's (the author) (..) frustration is intertwined with his own history as the inventor of fund-raisers like AIDSRides and Breast Cancer 3-Days — events that, he says, netted $305 million over nine years for unrestricted use by charities. In the aid world, that’s a breathtaking sum.

But Mr. Pallotta’s company wasn’t a charity, but rather a for-profit company that created charitable events. Critics railed at his $394,500 salary — low for a corporate chief executive, but stratospheric in the aid world — and at the millions of dollars spent on advertising and marketing and other expenses.

Mr. Pallotta argues powerfully that the aid world is stunted because groups are discouraged from using such standard business tools as advertising, risk-taking, competitive salaries and profits to lure capital.

“We allow people to make huge profits doing any number of things that will hurt the poor, but we want to crucify anyone who wants to make money helping them,” Mr. Pallotta says. “Want to make a million selling violent video games to kids? Go for it. Want to make a million helping cure kids of cancer? You’re labeled a parasite.”

I confess to ambivalence. I deeply admire the other kind of aid workers, those whose passion for their work is evident by the fact that they’ve gone broke doing it. I’m filled with awe when I go to a place like Darfur and see unpaid or underpaid aid workers in groups like Doctors Without Borders, risking their lives to patch up the victims of genocide.

I also worry that if aid groups paid executives as lavishly as Citigroup, they would be managed as badly as Citigroup.

In the war on poverty, there is room for all kinds of organizations. Mr. Pallotta may be right that by frowning on aid groups that pay high salaries, advertise extensively and even turn a profit, we end up hurting the world’s neediest. (Full)

I can not share the author's admiration for "aid workers, whose passion for their work is evident by the fact that they’ve gone broke doing it." This brings us back to the old question as aidworkers, are we allowed to have a life?.

If aidworkers go broke by trying to help, they are not effective. Punto. It is not by starving yourself, you will help those that starve.

On the other hand, should aidworkers be paid high salaries? My view: if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. No, aidworkers should not be paid salaries of bank executives, but they should not be paid hand-outs neither.

Sure enough, the humanitarian motivation should be part of the drive of an aidworker. Beyond any doubt. But if you want qualified and experienced professionals, you need to pay the price.

I started as an aidworker, being paid about US$1,000 a month, working for the Red Cross. Cost of living and housing came as an extra. Unfortunately there was no way I could maintain a family that way, no matter how strong the humanitarian drive in me.

Executives in UN aid organisations are paid in the range of US$12,000-14,000 per month. Often these individuals have the responsibility of programmes yearly worth hundreds of millions, sometimes billions of USD. They supervise hundreds sometimes thousands of employees in their organisation. While the salaries of these individuals are nowhere near what commercial companies would pay executives with comparable responsibilities, would you want to reduce these wages? Would that not make amateurs to run aid programmes?

Sure enough, thinking of monthly wages in the range of US$12,000-14,000 brings up visions of lavish offices and luxury cars, dining with the jetset of the world. However, think again... Often people work in conditions like Enrico once described in his short story.

The value of humanitarian work should not be measured by the salaries of the aidworkers, but by the effectiveness of their work.

NYT article found via Wronging Rights and Humanitarian Relief


Anonymous,  29 December, 2008 12:17  

Hoo...monthly wages in the range of US$12,000-14,000 is really a good pay i think.And also i feel value of human work should not be measured by the salaries of the aidworkers.

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