National employees in Foreign Aid Agencies: those who stay put to let others move
Molly Sundberg (Uppsala University)
Paper short abstract:
In the field offices of foreign aid agencies, aid workers are primarily divided between local and sent-out staff. This distinction is about nationality, but also geographic and professional mobility. This paper discusses how the mobility of sent-out staff rests on the immobility of national staff.
Paper long abstract:
In the field offices of foreign aid agencies, aid workers are categorised according to one principal dividing line: that between staff recruited in the partner country, and staff sent out from donor headquarters. While this distinction is one of nationality, it is also one of geographic and professional mobility. Sent-out staff are expected to regularly move between headquarters and different partner countries in order to gain international experience, share their expertise with offices around the world, and advance their own careers. Locally recruited staff, meanwhile, are usually confined to the same office and position for as long as they work for the organization, expected to serve as vessels of institutional memory and local development knowledge. Based on interviews with some forty development professionals working for eighteen bi- and multilateral state aid agencies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, this paper discusses how the mobility of sent-out staff rests on the immobility of national staff. It also sheds light on the career paths and professional aspirations of locally recruited donor employees, given the structural constraints they face on the domestic and international development labour market. It suggests that current employment practices of donor agencies counteract goals of institutional memory and local development knowledge by compelling locally recruited staff to leave donor agencies for other kinds of aid work that offer greater mobility - perhaps not geographic but at least professional.
International intervention professionals - aid workers on the move