On Bill Easterly’ International Aid Worker Appreciation Day

Bill Easterly takes time out to tip his hat at aid workers by declaring today, the International Aid Worker Appreciation Day. 

Parodies aside, aid work is not all flying business class to stay in luxury hotels. The pace of travel can be punishing, the accommodations uncomfortable, the food unfamiliar. And sometimes conditions are dangerous. Aid workers by profession take risks that range from just inconvenient to lethal: jet lag, homesickness, food poisoning, petty crime, disease, terrorism, war.

A lot of international aid work can involve zero international travel; more than adequate time to get acclimatised in new places, to blend in as far as possible. Disease might be a problem, but most aid workers have access to the best medical facilities/health insurance available. This is of course in contrast to the large majority of local development sector workers who rarely enjoy such luxuries.

Of course these hardships are taken on voluntarily, and small compared to those of the people aid workers are there to help. But many aid workers are highly-educated and come from privileged societies, where they could have easily found jobs that pay more and require less dedication and hardship.

Aid workers are not necessarily smarter than their peers in other occupations. A significant number of them end up in the development industry because they tried and failed to enter their ‘ideal’ career preferences. And it is not just the frustration with unproductive ‘good intentions’, but quite often, the plain incompetence of many of us, that makes us the butt of so much ridicule and incompetence.

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