Trinity College Dublin

Skip to main content.

Top Level TCD Links

Aid salary discrepancies and development workers' performance.

Funded by ESRC/DiFD

This research project is jointly co-ordinated by Professor Stuart Carr, Poverty Research Group, Massey University, New Zealand and Professor Mac MacLachlan, Centre for Global Health, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. According to the Paris Declaration best practice in aid work means pay should be aligned and harmonised across worker groups (World Bank, 2005). Although pay may not be a primary motive for development workers, discrepancies in pay nonetheless have the potential to influence perceptions of organisational justice, which can in turn affect work performance. Moreover, because injustice is a motivation for much aid itself, perceptions of unfairness in aid work may have an inherent salience and undermine its necessary constituents, especially cooperation and capacity building. This project explores the effects of aid salary discrepancies in the health, education and business sectors of six countries: the landlocked economies of Malawi and Zambia; the transition economies of India and China; and the island economies of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Bringing together an international team of psychologists and sociologists from 10 different countries this project focuses on the human dynamics of aid salary discrepancies and their significance for capacity building in low-income countries.


Dual Salaries and Project ADDUP: Are Development Discrepancies Undermining Performance?

A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. 
Carlyle’s adage reminds us that decent remuneration is integral to the International Labour Organisation’s “Decent Work Agenda.”  Yet in many lower-income settings, there is a glaring institutional inequity:  Dual salaries. Compared to local colleagues performing the same or similar jobs, expatriate workers are usually paid much more.
This double standard is not simply about gaps in skills or experience. Many lower-income countries have invested well in local education and training since Independence. International salaries are higher mainly because expatriates originate from higher-income economies, and labour markets.  The resultant gaps contravene Paris and Accra declarations on aid effectiveness, which instead promote harmonisation and alignment. They are also, arguably, discriminatory.

An Elephant in the Development Parlour.
Contravention of initiatives to improve the effectiveness of aid may partly explain why the topic remains taboo - and under-researched. Project ADDUP acknowledges the elephant in the parlour, and breaks the silence. A multi-disciplinary study reflects the voices of over 1300 professional workers and community representatives from 200 aid, government, educational and business organisations in land-locked (Malaŵi, Uganda), Oceanic (Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea) and emerging economies (India, China).
ADDUP systematically explores the human dynamics of dual salaries, by: (a) documenting the extent of salary discrepancies; (b) exploring their consequences for work performance; and (c) determining the potential for salary alignment and harmonization to boost cooperative work performance, build capacity and more effectively reduce poverty.

The Project
We began by asking workers to provide “critical incidents,” or work stories, about dual salaries and their daily impacts on capacity development. Based on these incidents, we designed a radically new survey instrument. Participants answered questions about their remuneration levels and standard of living, remuneration-comparison, -justice, -motivation, job satisfaction, work engagement, turnover and thoughts about global mobility. We ran control measures of cultural values, culture shock, and a range of demographic variables, e.g., gender, highest qualification and years’ experience.  At the conclusion of the survey phase we took the data back to the communities from which they were lent. There, subject-matter-experts and key stakeholders interpreted our initial analyses of the data for their practical and moral value.

Local Relevance
The main findings are that: (a) excluding a negligible number of local respondents on international remuneration and expatriates on local pay, ratios in purchasing power between international and local pay average 4:1, leaving most local workers in economic need. The greatest disparity occurred in Island Nations (approaching 9:1); the least in emerging economies (approximately 2:1); with landlocked nation’s in-between (3:1).
Multi-level modeling highlighted a resultant (b) sense of injustice among the locally-remunerated workers, which was the major predictor of work motivation/de-motivation. This together with job satisfaction and work engagement predicted turnover and international mobility intentions - brain drain.
According to subject-matter experts who interpreted the findings via in-country workshops, these data indicate that (c) closer harmonization and alignment of dual salaries would reduce poverty directly among workers, boost cooperative work performance, build capacity, and help reduce poverty. A range of technical options for closing the gap, and enhancing equity, were suggested.

Global Dissemination
These findings are set to appear in the peer-reviewed flagship journal of the International Union of Psychological Science, the International Journal of Psychology (2010). The findings have reached a range of workshops and keynote addresses at development-related conferences, such as the Annual Global Development Network meeting (2008) and at the “Psychology Serving Humanity” conference in Cape Town, by the international Union of Psychological Science (for 2012). 
The findings from addup also inspired a ground-breaking new book, The aid triangle: recognizing the human dynamics of dominance, justice and identity (May 2010, MacLachlan, Carr & McAuliffe, Zed Books, London and New York).

Project ADDDUP has been instrumental in the setting-up of a first Global Task Force for Humanitarian Work Psychology ( This is an international network of researchers and practitioners from lower-, middle- and higher-income countries, whose goal is to promote and build capacity by applying humanitarian principles in work settings through multilateral bodies such as the United Nations and the International Labor Organisation, as well as with policy think-tanks like the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). 

The Task Force has just submitted our first full submission to the United Nations through its call for fresh perspectives on Keeping the Promise (UN, 2010). We argue that organisations have become a forgotten entity in the development equation, falling between the twin stools of macro-economic policy and micro-psychological analysis. 

Our data from Project ADDUP clearly suggest that organisations can be points of intervention to enable a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. 


Project ADDUP was funded through the ESRC and DFID Joint Scheme for Research on International Development (Poverty reduction). 

One-minute Elevator Test

The project identifies a range of barriers to basic capability and capacity development, taking place in workplaces across a range of sectors, due to dual salary policies:  (1) remuneration leaves locally-salaried workers, chiefly local people, below the poverty line, defined as not meeting everyday needs; (2) technical cooperation is impeded by the sense of injustice and comparative disadvantage that permeate dual salary systems; (3) organisational climate is a moderator of the linkages in (2), implying that organisations can become points of intervention to render pay and benefits more fair, and thereby improve human services, productivity, and poverty reduction itself. The UN’s latest publication Keeping the Promise of the Millennium Development Goals calls for greater attention to organisations, and the human factors in them.


Other Research Projects

Current Research
Evidence Aid
mHealth for CHWs
Finalised Research
LEARN Project
Max HR
Motivation Project

Last updated 23 November 2016 School Web Administrator (Email).