What’s Wrong With International Development

Head on over to the website for Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Find your way to the page dedicated to the Office of Career Advancement, and download the Employment Overview for their Class of 2010. The document will give you all sorts of interesting stats about these illustrious alumni and how they’re finding their way in the world.  Flip to page seven. Look at the graphic detailing salary information.  Here, I’ll save you the trouble:Naturally, some of the lowest salaries belong to those humanitarians who have gone to work in the nonprofit sector, a group that includes many graduates of the MPA/ID program, where students focus in international development.

But what’s this? The highest salaries– by a considerable margin– belong to MPA/ID graduates as well: those who have gone to work in the private sector. Where are they getting paid this much? I can virtually guarantee you it’s at international development contractors that do a huge fraction of America’s development work, working on contracts supplied by USAID.

Why would a graduate in international development who goes to work at a private company make 30% more than a public policy generalist who does the same? And why, one might ask, would USAID dole out contracts to companies that pay their analysts double what USAID pays its own HKS grads? If they’ve got the budget, why not hire their own people and do the work themselves? These are not new questions, but this illustration of the truly inexplicable quandary in U.S. international development work is particularly graphic and disturbing.  Think about it.

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About Sam duPont

Sam duPont is a Field Fellow at Dimagi, a Boston-based technology company focused on addressing public health issues in the developing world. He is jointly based in Kamphaeng Phet, Thailand and Cebu City, Philippines. Sam is a writer and photographer and is the author of the blog Global Mobile. He is a graduate of Tufts University.