What local hiring means for development recruiters

If the skills are available locally, World Vision won’t bring in international staff, said Samuel Gichuki, international staffing specialist for World Vision International.

But when the organization does need to bring in an expat, the difference in compensation and benefits packages between locals and expats can create tension — especially when staff members are sharing salary information.

This is just one challenge recruiters face as they accelerate local hiring, with donors like the U.S. Agency for International Development, AusAID and U.K. Department for International Development expecting their implementing partners to hire host-country nationals and build local capacity. This emphasis affects the recruitment process everywhere, from communication between headquarters and field offices to project design.

Kate Warren, Devex’s director of global recruitment services, spoke with two recruiters about these trends and others in the recent Devex Hangout entitled “Challenges and Opportunities in Hiring Locally.”

Many donors want foreign aid projects to be staffed with mostly local experts, or they require implementing partners to have a clear plan for transitioning projects from expat to local management, said Sarah Issermoyer, recruiting manager for RTI’s International Development Group.

Both Issermoyer and Gichuki said it is as crucial as ever for recruiters to develop global pipelines of talent and be proactive in building local capacity.

This means coordinating the work being done at headquarters and in country offices, Issermoyer said, explaining that RTI’s project recruiting is fully decentralized while international recruitment remains centralized at headquarters.

“In HR, we try to focus on having consistent practices across the board,” Issermoyer said.

Yet even streamlined recruiting practices may fail if local capacity is lacking. In these cases, Issermoyer and Gichuki agreed that donors realize they are recruiting for talent in difficult contexts and will recognize the importance of bringing in international candidates.

Read:Local hiring means passing the torch, not extinction of expat jobs

This is when a transition strategy — of designating a local professional to eventually take over the project from an expat lead — can come in handy.

Although she cited mixed success with the approach, Issermoyer said it’s a great way for RTI to groom a promising local hire “especially if we’ve identified candidates who are interested in senior management roles but don’t quite have the skill needed, especially for larger projects.”

She suggested recruiters be transparent during the hiring process about what needs to happen to facilitate that person to take over the management.

Gichuki said it is more common for World Vision to identify key individuals at the country level who have shown they have potential to develop as a leader “not necessarily because the donor required it, but because you are proactive enough to realize that this is going to be coming, so you might as well work on it,” Gichuki said.

Read: Why ‘going local’ can be a winning procurement strategy

But donor requirements play a big role in who gets hired, and Gichuki said it’s important to find staff with donor experience.

“You don’t want to bring in people who are going to be holding positions of responsibility and don’t understand what donors want,” he said, but added that those with technical skills like grant management can work their way up by interacting in an environment with those that do have donor knowledge.

Almost all aid projects these days have a capacity building component, Issermoyer said.

“Oftentimes it’s more than a component, its an underlying current for the whole program,” she said. “It’s a trend that’s going to continue.”

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Read more about the trend of aid “going local” as well as the Devex Partnerships Forum & Career Fair in Nairobi.

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About the author

  • Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is an Associate Editor for Devex. Based on the U.S. West Coast, she works with Devex's team of correspondents and editors around the world, with a particular focus on gender. She previously worked as Devex’s Southeast Asia correspondent based in Bangkok, covering disaster and crisis response, resilience, women’s rights, and climate change throughout the region. Prior to that, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.