Fresh look, Platform

Two interns discuss charity pay

Pay reflects professionalism

by Ben Butcher

The recent ‘pay scandal; has been easy to sell. The Daily Mail gleefully bleated of the ‘hideous hypocrisy of the charity fat cats’, cynically claiming that ‘they bombard us with plaintive pleas for donations’ whilst their executives enjoy second-homes and glamorous holidays. The recession might not have dampened the British charitable donations, but stories of charity executives acting like bankers might.

Oxfam is far more than a charity. It is an international organisation which employs 5,000 staff, runs 700 stores and organises projects from “emergency responses” to “long-term development”. The old-fashioned expectations surrounding ‘what a charity does’ trivialises Oxfam’s work. In fact, it may well be more fitting to call it a non-for-profit business.

Charities must be held accountable, particularly when they are held together by well-intentioned donations and, in some cases, tax-payers money. Their salaries should be watched and, where appropriate, criticised if too high or not proportional with performance.

It is, however, absurd to suggest charitable organisations pay their staff six-figure salaries because they have been able to get away with it. They do it because that is what they’re worth. In fact, it could be argued, it is far less than they’re worth. Oxfam claims that a similar job outside of the charity sector would be paid £75,000 more.

Of course, for those of us at the bottom of the heap, the pay package of charity bosses may seem a slap in the face. With a salary of €150 a month, I am relying on grants and the charitable donations of my own parents to live and work for Oxfam in Brussels for ten months. I am incredibly excited, but is it justified that I will have to live with the constant fear of an empty bank account when my bosses are earning up to four times the average national income?

The truth is, it probably isn’t, but the internships, however, will still be filled. They may not be as competitive as the internships for HSBC or Deloitte or even private development organisations, but they will still be fought for by youngsters looking for a way into the aid industry. It may be unfair, but it is a reality of the job market. If you head into an underfunded industry with no experience you may well have to work for free and take what you deserve from that sacrifice: the possibility of a paid job and invaluable work experience.

Oxfam is happy to release a run-down of its spending: for every £1 spent, 84p goes directly to action projects and 9p to running costs. For the results they produce, this is an “absolute bargain”. I believe however that preparation for this backlash would have been pointless. No matter what they say, the word ‘charity’ will be associated with absolute altruism rather than the business style organisations they have become.

Pay needs to be re-assessed, bottom up

by Libby Wright

When I think of the charity sector, the first word that comes to my mind is altruism. It is an industry driven by an unselfish concern for others, not by the pursuit of remuneration. It may have come as a surprise therefore when the Telegraph amongst others released the salaries of many of the country’s top charity CEOs, bringing to light a reality which, for those outside the charity sector, has quashed this illusion that has been around for decades.

The claim ‘it’s-what-they’re-worth’ argument fundamentally fail to exonerate a philanthropic sector which prides itself on efficient and equitable distribution of resources. This is predominantly due to two reasons: it has damaged the sector’s accountability and it demonstrates a disproportionate treatment of staff within the charity sector.

In recent years, the UK’s biggest charities are and have become increasingly reliant on statutory funding (last year, Oxfam received £160 from the government compared to £130m from fundraising). As ever, we must be cautious of jumping on the right-wing opportunist band-wagon, but it certainly seems that such excessive spending on executive income is inappropriate at a time of wide-spread decline in donations and during a period of public disenchantment with foreign-aid contributions.

With such a large contribution to the charities’ revenues, whether directly or indirectly through public funding, taxpayers are entitled to know where there money is being spent. Unlike government, QUANGOS and private companies, charities receive far less scrutiny and allow less access on operational costs. I do agree that charities are not here to seek financial gains and to manipulate donors, however there is a need for greater transparency within the sector. How is it, for example, that Justin Forsyth of Save the Children has earned 22% rise in salary, despite a 3% decline in revenue?

Secondly, and from a far more personal perspective, the salaries of charity bosses comes as a blow to many of the lowly, entry-level employees of the sector. Having worked last summer with Build Africa, it is becomes blatantly clear how important, and often challenging, this ‘scut work’ is.

Whilst I was particularly lucky to have the resources to support myself, it is difficult to imagine someone from a polar opposite background being able to survive in the world of unpaid internships without making huge sacrifices. It is little surprise that earlier this year the charity sector was accused of being “too white, too male [and] too middle-class”. Surely if it wants to create a level of competition – and therefore applicant quality – for jobs akin to Deloitte or HSBC internships, they would find the funds for supporting at least basic living expenses for prospective interns?

These disproportionate salaries, therefore, can undermine, or in some cases take advantage, of a young, enthusiastic intern culture which is poorly-paid and over-worked. Hardly seems ‘fair’ and ‘efficient’, does it? This ‘scandal’, if it has earned that title, will do much to distract people’s attention from the real issues, but perhaps it will allow some time for self-reflection on the contrasting ways charities treat the top and the bottom.

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Experiences, Platform

Before The Internship: What I’m expecting

ERASMUS has achieved the impossible. With its repetitive questioning method and ability to irritate with the simplest inquiry, it has finally managed to make the prospect of free money boring.

The fact that is has taken me two weeks to do half an hours form-filling bears witness to this. Of course it will be done. In fact, it has to be, otherwise my move to Brussels and subsequent internship with Oxfam would be impossible. Anyway, there are only so many ways the kind bureaucrats at ERASMUS can ask me “What tasks will you be doing?”

With the move just under a month away, it is remarkable how little thought I have given it. ERASMUS and money lingers over my shoulder as does the annoyingly unresponsive house market in Brussels, but concerns about the job seem miles away. As a media and communications intern my job will be as diverse as “drafting media products such as press releases” to “helping organise advocacy events”; sure, it’s not the first image one imagines when they think development, but it is still a job with one of the world’s most recognisable and respected development brands.

I have the benefit of hindsight with the internship, albeit one based on the experiences of someone else. With the placement previously taken by a fellow University of Bath student, she was able to inform me on what to expect. She told me that, given the offer, she would happily do it again, a reassurance which pushed me to take the unpaid internship.

It was money which scared me about the job. With ‘pocket-money’ of €150 a month and a further €200 for my train from London, the job – which requires 38 hours a week – will pay €1700 for ten months work. God bless ERASMUS therefore who, despite making it incredibly tedious, pay me €3400. On top of that, my British Student Finance Maintenance Loan is helping with a further £4300. That brings me to the grand total of, roughly, €10,100 for the year. It is enough. Not to live glamorously, but enough to survive in one of Europe’s more expensive cities.

So with my money worries pushed to the side-lines a bit, what about the job? I’m a natural pessimist. Having come from three years of doing the very little students do, entering a job is relatively daunting. In fact, it isn’t even a job: it’s an internship. As much as I want to be like CJ from the West Wing, delivering important company announcements from a podium, I will be in front of it. That’s if Oxfam even has a podium to speak from in Europe. In my head, my role could be as irrelevant as fetching coffee for my boss.

The fear of being useless will be there right up until the day I start and, with little doubt, for about a month after that.

I have little experience in the tasks assigned to me, and where I do, it feels like it’s not nearly enough. Stories from others already working on placements resigning to play Angry Birds on their phone all day worries me; if they aren’t paying me very much, does it matter if I’m not working as much? Will they give me any responsibility at all?

Ultimately though, with my knowledge of Oxfam and conversations with the other intern, I look forward to working with two things I have enjoyed immensely over the past few years. Firstly, having worked with my campus paper, I am interested to see how those wanting to manipulate print media go about it.

Secondly, I could argue that I have fought on the ‘front lines’ of development, teaching English to impoverished Ecuadorian children for six months during my gap year. I am intrigued to find out if that is the front line at all or whether, as I am being increasingly led to believe, it is the law-makers, including the European Union, who fight on the ‘front line’.

Being this pessimist means that I always have a lot to worry about, so all I can do for the next month is hope for the best, find a house, and finish these bloody forms!

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Outside the colonial town hall, with its peeling white paint and general decay , something very peculiar is happening. It is a characteristically roasting hot day and two black men dressed completely in white are carrying what appears to be a smoking human head on a red velvet plate. One of the men is wearing a tall, busby-style hat which a fellow bystander reliably informs me is made entirely of human hair. Before long, the head-shaped object is placed on the floor and a soft but quick rhythmic drum beat begins. Further groups of white-clad men and women join in and, as the beat increases in volume, they move faster and more vigorously.

The men are from the santeria religion, a merge between West African spiritual groups and Roman Catholicism, and the event is the Fiesta del Feugo, an annual festival carried out in Santiago de Cuba to celebrate Caribbean and Latin American culture. This particular exhibition of Afro-Caribbean culture would soon be joined by Mexican mariachi bands, Brazilian salsa groups and, naturally, a dozen different dance, music and spiritual groups from across the extraordinarily diverse island of Cuba.

This display of celebration belies the well-known mantra within the country: ‘el cubano no vive, el cubano sobrevive’. The Cuban doesn’t live, the Cuban simply survives. In fact, all across Cuba – festival or no festival – the idea that they do not live seems far-removed from reality. From the rum-sipping youths on Havana’s malecon to the Cienfuegos bars releasing melodic trova ballads into the air, the country appears entrenched in a constant mood of festivity.

These celebrations are often a façade for the real tribulations faced by so many Cubans, albeit a façade far greater than in any other Latin American country I have visited. The reality is that Cuba is falling apart, not just economically but politically, and the culture is increasingly the only thing holding the cracks together.

The Revolution is in its 54th year, a fact of which Cubans are reminded every day through regular TV announcements and billboards smothered with propaganda. It was a revolution which saw hundreds of thousands flee to America, the establishment of Marxist-Leninist regime and the relinquishment of property, a policy which the state has only recently began to retreat on. The outcome of this has been a state synonymous with hand-outs, authoritarianism and dependence.

The revolution did come with some highly publicised success stories which continue today. Cuba is second only to Argentina in Latin American literacy rates and the state maintains 10% of spending on education. In 2006, a Newsnight special report concluded that the country’s renowned healthcare system – which produces similar health statistics to its great antagonist, the United States – is one of the few reasons the Castro regime continues to be on top.

But these successes are beginning to wane as a wider picture of Cuban development emerges. It is one of a state which is complacent and not bothered by the finer details, typified by the attitude of “you may not have text-books, but at least you’re at school”. More worrying for the regime are the views of the young in Cuba. Experiencing the wonders, and inequalities, created by Raul Castro’s ‘mini-capitalism’, they are increasingly disenchanted with the revolution.

Jesus, a young, underemployed taxi driver from Santiago de Cuba, is anxious at first but, after a couple of minutes, begins to reel out tales of gross incompetency from the regime. When I tell him that Cuba has a remarkable reputation in healthcare he reminds me that doctors are paid around 20 Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) – about £15 – a month and that no matter how many doctors they have, no matter how professional their prognosis, it appears that they only ever have one medication to prescribe. He throws me a packet of brown pills before sticking up his middle finger and saying ‘fuck the politics’. He smiles:

“Five years ago, I would’ve gone to jail for saying that to a tourist.”

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Cuba is still officially a socialist state, but the growing inequalities are only too clear to see. One of Havana’s exclusive nightclubs charges 10CUC entry (half a doctors salary) and is filled with the sunglass-wearing, young middle-class. These are the lucky few in Cuba; the children of the military, the musicians, the entrepreneurs manipulating Cuba’s new opportunities.

Cuba has, incredibly, become a country where a busker can earn far more than a teacher or a doctor.

For the rest of Cuba, dependence remains. It is, however, an increasingly unsustainable dependence which is hindering any productive development in the country. State subsidies continue, but food still costs too much. Aid for the most vulnerable is still handed out, but it is increasingly less. We heard one story of a man whose house was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy who was given 500g of screws to build a new one, but little else. Socialist rhetoric is still rife, but Cuba’s Gini coefficient rose from 0.21 in the late 1980’s to 0.42 a decade later.

Cuba’s young did not live through the indignities of the pre-Revolution. For many years Cuban’s have lived in the belief that although things might not be perfect, they are certainly better than they were. Now, the youth want change from what they have always known. The system is imperfect and the vibrant spirit which has always sustained Cuba is no longer enough. They want the shoes, the car and the lifestyle to go with it. With small increases in economic mobility emerging, Cubans no longer want to survive-they want to live.

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Experiences, Platform

Culture Holding Cuba Together, But For How Long?

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