While ‘payment’ may not fit well with global norms of volunteering, as Patel et al. note (2007, p. 8), there is a need for a broader understanding of how it works in the context of the challenges of poverty being faced in the global South. Butcher and Einolf argue that “the issue of whether volunteering can be paid is more contested in the global South […] unlike in developed countries, in developing countries volunteers are more likely to come from the poorer classes, and stipends become an important motivation and even a necessity for survival” (2017, p. 266). Remuneration is part of enabling individuals from often poor or marginalised communities to volunteer (Patel et al. 2007; Wig 2016; Butcher and Einolf 2017) and plays a role in organisational strategies for inclusive approaches to volunteering. In this context, it is critically important to connect remuneration debates to a livelihood framework. Nevertheless, as detailed in the previous section, remuneration patterns are shaped by a diverse set of factors at global, national and household levels. Exploring remuneration in the context of single settings, sectors or projects, means we are unable to see how volunteer remuneration fits within and shapes broader economies of volunteering and development across different scales.
In this section, we bring our data into dialogue with the conceptual framework outlined in section two to analyse how donor-funded remuneration of volunteering is shaping volunteer economies in the global South. We do this in three main subsections. First, we explore how remuneration enables donors and development actors to exercise power in relation to the kinds of labour mobilised to meet their objectives. Secondly, we show how contemporary remuneration reflects a form of financialisation that is undermining existing volunteering practices in particular places. Finally, we argue that these impacts result from the ways remuneration creates a set of volunteering hierarchies that articulate with, and can reinforce, existing social inequalities if disconnected from a more nuanced livelihoods approach.
Remuneration, Labour and Power
Remuneration is intimately bound up with the ways donors and development actors exercise power to mobilise labour to meet their objectives. How remuneration is defined, organised and disbursed reflects how organisations position themselves and their volunteers’ work in relation to existing hierarchies and definitions of work. The politics of this positioning is perhaps most stark in relation to international volunteers. For some international volunteers, the language of the ‘salary’ is denied, but the remuneration packages closely resemble a benefits package one might associate with a job. For example, the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme offers their international volunteers allowances comprising “volunteer living allowance (not a salary)”, “travel expenses”, “settling-in grant”, “insurances”, “annual leave” and a “resettlement allowance” (United Nations Volunteers 2017). Other forms of stipended transnational volunteering are also recognised by the literature (Lough et al. 2016) as indicated earlier. This sleight of hand is not neutral and not confined to international volunteering. Most respondents in our research use the language of reimbursements, reflecting a focus on covering costs incurred: “not for service, but, yes, for any expenses that need to be incurred” (Staff member, Maldives, 12 February 2014). Jenkins notes how health promoters in Peru were given a ‘tip’, “reinforcing the voluntary and ‘non-work’ nature of their activities” and in a way that “does not suggest recognition of the skills and ongoing commitment that their roles require” (Jenkins 2009, p. 24). One respondent from our study who is based in Jordan explains that the label of volunteer helps them navigate national labour laws:
I think it’s harder to make them formal staff, even on short term contracts, there is a lot of paperwork involved and it can sometimes be hard to get them off the contract once the project is finished. It is just more complicated, it’s easier to call them volunteers (Senior staff member, Jordan, 9 September 2014).
Here, the label of volunteer enables the bypassing of formal employment contracts, with a ‘salary’ then constructed in ways to fit the volunteering label and bypass state legislation. In doing so, volunteering as a label works to effectively undermine the rights of people engaged in work. Similarly, an interviewee in Togo explained how permissible volunteering time is limited to disrupt the sense that volunteering is a job (8 July 2013). Our data show how different forms of remuneration (e.g. money, training, clothing, food)—codified in strategic ways by organisations—can flow into each other, and are likely to be experienced by volunteers at household level in inter-related and more complicated ways than organisations can predict at global level. The different labels afforded to volunteering in particular moments are critical to its relationship to work, development and the state. This creates an increasingly complex and flexible volunteering economy for volunteers themselves, but also for volunteer-involving organisations and donors. Data from Lebanon highlight the ways remuneration for activities relates to the particular context and needs, but also changes for individuals even as they do the same activities:
But there is one thing to provide ambulance services during the day, during weekdays where people are busy at work or in university, there are some volunteers that, because we have to maintain ambulance services during the day, some volunteers are paid on a per diem basis for the day, but these are about 100 out of 2700 volunteers in the EMS department and it’s called a per diem basis, but they actually are employed during the day, they volunteer at night and they are employed during the day (Senior staff member, Lebanon, 12 March 2014).
This provides an additional layer of “interchangeability” to Handy et al.’s (2008) discussion of shifts between paid and volunteer work; we can see fluidity across and between volunteering categories and the ways remuneration may attach differently to them at different moments. This example also serves to highlight the complex landscape in which volunteers go about building their portfolio of assets—be it skills, cash or professional networks. The line between a fruitful professional opportunity and somewhat exploitative working practices is evident in the quotation above. In addition, this example highlights the difficult calculations and decisions which volunteers must make when trying to consolidate their assets—it is not always obvious whether such volunteering positions will be beneficial to them in the long run, and this must also be considered within the wider social context; in this case, that volunteers are considered valuable enough to be paid only some of the time, when no other option is available to the organisation.
Different forms and distributions of remuneration then reflect but also produce particular volunteering economies as well as configurations of development. For example, the ‘tip’ for women volunteers in Peru reflects interlocking gender relations, historical ideas of whose labour counts, funding priorities for donors and their relations with NGOs at country level (Jenkins 2009). In the process, it reproduces and reinforces existing hierarchies and dependencies between development actors and communities even while it appears to be supporting local livelihoods and gendered empowerment. As McWha (2011) notes, hierarchies between different job categorisations, linked to issues and perceptions of pay, are connected to relationship building in aid work. While there has been research exploring relations between volunteers and paid staff, relations between volunteers are also important and often overlooked. This was clear from the perspective of one respondent based in Tanzania, who highlighted existing tensions between local and international volunteers, exacerbating the macro/local divide:
OK, the challenge is, one, because the international volunteers, they are well packaged, these are the international, they are well packaged. And when they are working together with our volunteers who are not packaged this becomes a very big challenge because you have now the, like a different, different scenarios, because they are working on the same but we find these are well packaged, they can afford their food, their meals, their transport, their whatever, but you are local volunteer, they are not affording, they cannot afford such, you find you, they are demoralised somehow and they feel inferior anyway when you are experiencing the same volunteering principle (Staff member, Tanzania, 27 June 2013).
This offers a stark illustration of the way donor prioritisation and resourcing of international volunteers create a hierarchy with local volunteers who are less well resourced. This reflects a much broader issue of unequal South–North resourcing of development activity. But we can also see more complex interlocking hierarchies produced among local volunteers. Remuneration plays a key role in aligning flexible, disposable and proximate labour with development priorities and needs, while also providing a public discourse of voluntarism that evokes local ownership and cost efficiency. This can produce a set of interlocking volunteering hierarchies since these alignment activities privilege particular kinds of volunteering in certain places and over particular time frames. In this way, forms of remuneration are not only critical to exploring where volunteering is well remunerated but also relationally, since remuneration practices affect the wider volunteering economy within the country or setting.
This is illustrated in the mid-level, specific country context of the theoretical framework, highlighting that the country context in which volunteers operate strongly influences their abilities to develop financial capital, as clearly evidenced in the quotation above. The local volunteers’ lack of access to adequate resources not only reinforces historically rooted and unequal global South/North relations, but also serves to devalue and undermine the very important contribution they are making. It is a clear example of how decisions taken at the macro-level by organisations can impact negatively at the local level. The striking inequality exhibited between the international and local volunteers in this instance resulted in the local volunteers questioning their value and lessening their confidence and can also inevitably lead to some local volunteers leaving their positions.
Remuneration, Financialisation and Existing Volunteering Economies
In the preceding section, we have shown how remuneration can enable the exercise of power by aid and development actors to produce particular volunteer and development economies. It is perhaps unsurprising that this can produce unequal relations between local and international volunteers. But our data show how it can impact negatively on wider local volunteering economies and how the growing use of volunteers by aid donors and development actors might be harmful to volunteering:
We came to implement this project in a branch that was already existing and was delivering a lot of activities in the community. It was an extremely rural area and very impoverished, our project was quite large, it provided a lot of funding and we gave per diems to the volunteers. The project brought a lot of good to the community and was able to achieve a lot but when we went back 6 months after the project had finished, the branch was doing almost no activities anymore. When we asked ‘why’ the response was that they didn’t have any money or resources to do anything and couldn’t get people to volunteer. But when we looked at it, prior to our implementing our project there were a lot of activities going on, with lots of volunteers, they just mobilised resources from within their own community, getting by with what they had. Our project upset that dynamic and seemed to have reduced their resilience in the long run as a result (Senior staff member, Norway, 23 February 2015).
In this example, we can see how project-based remuneration from an external actor helped deliver a particular set of activities, but inadvertently de-stabilised an existing volunteering economy. Analysis that focused on immediate project delivery and processes of volunteer recruitment might have offered a positive assessment of this project and its impacts. However, looking over a longer time period reveals how remuneration shapes voluntary activity beyond conventional project time frames and objectives. One respondent from Jordan identified the growth of volunteer payment with the arrival of international organisations in the country to address the growing refugee crisis:
You know it was you the foreign organisations who started this practice of paying volunteers, before that we didn’t have a problem with it, now all the volunteers want to get paid (Senior staff member, Jordan, 9 September 2014).
A global policy logic around volunteering and an urgent need to support refugees articulates with local labour availabilities through a financialisation process, to produce unintended negative consequences for the local volunteering economy. Taken on their own, remuneration approaches may seem effective to meet other demands for engaging locals rather than international staff. But the impacts extend across the wider volunteering and development economy within particular places. Remuneration can create hierarchies which privilege some kinds of volunteering but undermine others. As interviewees from Burundi and Sierra Leone noted:
This type of volunteering [paying volunteers beyond expenses], is at best distorting community volunteerism and at worst undermining it (Senior staff member, Burundi, 16th August 2013).
The concept of volunteerism [without financial incentive] seems to be slipping not only in our country but in Africa as a whole (Senior staff member, Sierra Leone, 10 December 2013).
The growing financialisation of volunteering may be helping mobilise and mainstream volunteering within aid and development practices so that donors meet their labour needs. As well as meeting global structural demands, as outlined in our model, this approach may also meet country needs in the context of reduced budgets for state spending. It may also, in the short term, support individual and community assets through the provision of an income source. But we can see how it is undermining a livelihood asset by changing or reducing forms of volunteering that are embedded in and support communities.
The process of disrupting and undermining historically rooted and active volunteer practices, and consequently the livelihood, social and community assets they bring, is troubling, but not surprising, given the neoliberal professionalism of volunteering (Baillie Smith and Laurie 2011). But what is key here is that to date, insufficient attention has been paid to the livelihoods impacts of these processes in the global South. The financialisation of volunteering must also be understood in the context of calls to shift resources from NGOs and development actors in the global North, to organisations in the global South. While rhetorics may point to the engagement of ‘local’ volunteers as an example of change, the financialisation of volunteering effectively enables the repurposing of social and community action to meet externally defined agendas and in ways that undermine local resources and assets.
None of this is to suggest that volunteering lacks hierarchies and inequalities without remuneration nor is it to suggest that remuneration strategies can determine volunteering. As volunteer managers in Syria and Sierra Leone comment:
Yes, we do [pay per diems], but they are motivated regardless. At the end of the day, the volunteer needs to feel valued, they are important and that they are cherished (Senior staff member, Sierra Leone, 10 December 2013)
Yes they do get paid, but I don’t think this is the only reason they are doing it, they are also upset by the numbers of their people dying and want to make a contribution (Former senior staff member in Syria, 15 April 2015).
These comments show that motivation may link to remuneration, but cannot be reduced to it (Pawlby 2003, p. 69; Wilson 2007). Research conducted by Hunter and Ross (2013) supports this, suggesting that while the stipend received by volunteers in South Africa did assist them as a survival strategy in some cases, it was by no means the only reason they volunteered. For many, the primary motivating factor was the work they were doing within their communities and its social capital: “I believe that the stipend-paid volunteers that are here are here because they want to be here and normally if a person is here because of money, I can tell you from experience, they don’t last because this is not a place where you can come and earn money without giving back (Manager 1, O3)” (Hunter and Ross 2013, p. 753). It was commonly acknowledged that while the stipend was welcome, it was often too small to have a significant impact on their financial precarity overall and so was seen as a way to initially attract volunteers, and make the act of volunteering somewhat easier for people in their situation, but rarely the reason that they continued to be involved in volunteering activities. This conclusion is supported by recent work conducted on health volunteers working in rural communities in Northern Uganda (Singh et al. 2016). There too, volunteers received financial aid such as transport stipends, but their length of service (over 20 years in some instances) supports findings that volunteers do not approach volunteering where stipends are offered as simply a low-paying job (Hunter and Ross 2013), but as a means of strengthening different pillars of their lives. For this reason, we turn to explore how volunteer remuneration produces volunteer hierarchies that intersect with existing social hierarchies and struggles for livelihoods.
Volunteering Hierarchies and Social Inequalities
In this section, we argue that the uneven distribution of development and aid interventions (Bebbington 2004) results in varied capacities to offer reimbursement. In turn, this can exacerbate inequalities to produce a series of overlapping and interweaving volunteering hierarchies in planned and accidental ways within and between settings and sectors. The logics driving particular aid and development objectives and associated mobilisations of labour intersect with national level and household inequalities and social cleavages to create unintended volunteering hierarchies.
Remuneration works unevenly in settings, impacting people and organisations differently. The quote below captures perfectly the interplay at work between macro- and local levels, and the reciprocal effects of asset accumulation:
We are in competition with other humanitarian organisations that motivate their volunteers by giving them money. This is contrary to what the Red Cross does. Most young people of this generation are also job seekers, so if they find better work somewhere else, they will leave. This is the challenge we are facing today (Staff member, Togo, 8 July 2013).
Intervention linked remuneration of volunteering then articulates with employment pressures in rapidly changing economies, with humanitarian actors drawing upon those pressures to mobilise volunteers in particular ways. As one respondent from Central Africa noted: “when we have an activity, projects which can give them a small per diem, the volunteers are very motivated, and arrive en masse” (Senior volunteer leader, Congo, 13 August 2013). Volunteers who are spatially and socially mobile, or have in-demand professional skills, are more likely to be able to take advantage of better-remunerated volunteering. These groups can then also benefit from the skills and employability enhancement associated with volunteering activity:
Basically, the payment of incentives depends on the nature and the consideration of the volunteer. For example, for the regular volunteers, this normally, they are not paid as such but they get some incentives through either a box of soap, some protective gear, but if it’s in terms of emergency for example, because it is, it consumes a lot of time and they, some, for engagement of somebody, they are paid a kind of allowances, money which can afford them to, either transport, but also it can afford to get some meals, yeah. And for professional (Staff member, Tanzania, 27 June 2013).
Set in the context of increased earning pressures, the desire for career development and the challenges of recruiting and retaining volunteers in a competitive volunteering economy, aid-funded remuneration becomes particularly important in attracting professional volunteers, producing volunteer hierarchies that mirror unequal patterns of reward for employment and accumulation of financial capital.
Volunteer remuneration is also part of the spatial hierarchies of development:
When we ask a volunteer to do humanitarian work in an area, as in the West for example where humanitarian action is well established because of the different crisis that occurred, when we ask a volunteer to do social work in these areas, he tends to ask for money because other humanitarian organisations would give allowances or even salaries to people from village for the same social work. Therefore they expect the same from us although we do not work like that (Staff member, Ivory Coast, 23 July 2013).
The places that donors and humanitarian actors choose to prioritise in their work, as well as the organisations they choose to work through, shapes who then volunteers in those places as well as how they volunteer. Individuals who are more ‘fixed’ in areas of less project interest, and who are unable to cover basic expenses such as food and transport, are less likely to be remunerated since they cannot access well-remunerated volunteering activities. In this way, framing volunteering to support the delivery of development projects or externally set objectives can reinforce socio-economic hierarchies. When volunteering is a “legitimate means of survival”, individuals might not be able to afford to volunteer as expected by external counterparts (Wig 2016, p. 84).
Volunteering in a place and form that does not fit global aid and development logics can also intensify existing hierarchies and exclusions:
Yes, it’s not fair, if you work on a project you can get some money, but if you are what we call community-based, then you don’t get anything, not even reimbursements (Volunteer, Sierra Leone, 8 December 2013).
Seen in the context of the prioritisation of professional volunteers, remuneration can undermine the role volunteering plays in building community assets. Existing hierarchies between professionalised and mainstreamed development activities, with their associated timelines and auditing processes, and community owned and driven strategies, are exacerbated by the ways volunteering is remunerated. This can also produce further hierarchies between types of labour at household levels:
Because the volunteers we use at local branch level are not permanent, we use them when there is an activity when there is a project, but when it is finished they are no longer used as salaried staff but as volunteers (Senior staff member, Benin, 18 July 2013).
A similar issue is presented by a staff member in Madagascar, who notes how salaried roles closely resemble volunteer work, as in the case of government-funded ‘community organisers’ in Madagascar, but “operate a bit like our volunteers, they work and carry out activities in the community but they also receive per diems” (Senior staff member, Madagascar, 15 July 2013). Again, different hierarchies interweave as remuneration privileges and defines particular forms of labour for development. In these processes, claims for volunteering’s positive impacts on development are consequently undermined.