The Old Salary Question

A few months back, a commentary on a NYT op-ed noted that the argument about whether people ought to be allowed to make good salaries while working with charity organizations is ultimately harmful to the work that needs to be done:

This is not something about which reasonable people should disagree. The attitude that professionals should not get paid what they are worth is poisonous to aid programs. Aid organizations have jobs to do. Doing that work costs money. They may be funded by donations, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to pay for stuff! No one thinks that it’s immoral for NGOs to pay market rates for food, or plane tickets, or socks. Why is it worse for them to pay market rates for professional expertise?

Certainly, just as it is ridiculous to expect community health workers in poor countries to not be paid for their work, it would be ridiculous to ask that nonprofit professionals, managers and executives in the U.S. to not receive reasonable salaries as well.  The problem, arises when the driving motive becomes profit (though there may be a time in the future where Muhammad Yunus’ world of ‘social businesses’ rule the day, we have a long way to go in righting injustices from the past, first).  Taking a Kantian view of things, ultimately  it is the motivation that matters in ending poverty. Nonprofit work must be driven at the core by a sense of equity. When this fundamental motivation starts to get clouded by other things – be it personal ambition, money or the overwhelming state of the world that makes us think that some things “just can’t be done”- then we start to run into the problems we’ve seen so many times in global health, from the arguments a decade ago about whether Africans could receive AIDS treatment to today’s parallel arguments about why African mothers with H.I.V. should breastfeed.

Nonprofit professionals should get paid. But the reason for being a nonprofit professional must continue to be based in a sense of justice.


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Welcome to the Students for Global Health Equity (SGHE) blog. Published by university students, the SGHE blog seeks to explore news and issues related to global health.

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