Experts Debate Volunteerism and Professionalism in Aid Work

Volunteers or amateurs have no place in aid and development work and should leave it to professionals. Aid professionals are “an utter failure” and can be replaced with volunteers and other people with “good intentions.”  

These are the two extreme and most exaggerated arguments that usually rise in debates about professionalism, amateurism, good practice and innovation in development and aid work, according to Linda Raftree.

These arguments are interesting but a “little mixed up and too generalized sometimes,” Raftree says in a blog post on her “Wait, What?” blog.

She compares the arguments to old media-new media arguments where old media professionals claim that new media is less professional and sometimes unethical, while new media professionals accuse old media of being slow, unresponsive and sometimes conservative.

In the development context, Raftree raises the following questions:

“What general standards and knowledge need to be out in the public to help amateurs or people from non-aid and non-development backgrounds who want to engage avoid pitfalls and known errors, and avoid breaking laws or forging forward unethically or foolishly, and doing damage? Can old and new come to terms and work together? What examples are there of this already happening in a way that both old and new agree is working?”

Michael Keizer shares his views on the argument on a recent entry to the “A Humourless Lot.” Keizer argues that one the big issues in this debate is on the confusion of amateur and volunteer and of professional and salaried aid worker.

“In my view, being a volunteer does not automatically imply that you are an amateur, and some of the salaried aid workers out there are not professionals at all,” Keizer says.

According to Keizer, who was formerly connected to a large international consulting firm, true professionals:

-      Are competent.

-      Know their limitations, and are willing to push these back continuously.

-      Are discreet and respect confidentiality.

-      Stick to promises and agreements.

-      Are loyal and honest towards clients and colleagues.

-      Practice what they preach.

About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.