When I recently re-joined the development sector, I was faced yet again with the issue of how much I should be paid. While eager to have some sense of self worth attached to my salary, a voice in my head reminded me that my friends in Kenya, Nepal or Rwanda would be grateful for half my wage.
I am not the only one faced with this dilemma. As a colleague once put it - why should those of us who attempt to right the world's wrongs be punished with crappy salaries, while ethically neutral work is rewarded with ludicrous financial benefits? While employees of development agencies are rightly demanding a fair wage for their services, wealthy donors are now expecting development agencies to spend as little as possible on "administrative" costs and to demonstrate levels of accountability that I am sure are not demanded of their favourite fashion labels or hair stylists.
Of course, I am not saying that we should not be accountable. In the old days when non-profit meant non-salary and development was really just hand-outs, people assumed that good intentions were enough, and as a result they sometimes got it horribly wrong. So it is good that the industry is changing. While committed people still exist, it's time to critically evaluate development work. We find ourselves thinking about "lessons learnt", "best practice" and "Codes of Conduct". We want a website that delivers a stronger donor base and we even write marketing plans.
But in the process of moving forward, let's not forget why we're here. At the end of the day, I want to know that I've made a difference, and I don't care (too much) what I earn. When I was reading a history of Quaker development work, I came across endless stories of truly committed people who had devoted their lives to alleviating poverty, addressing injustices and paving the way for peace. Most lived on the smell of an oily rag and achieved incredible outcomes. They did critically evaluate their work, and they did learn from their mistakes, but they kept true to their principles, and I think that's most important.