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Not Wanted: Mercenaries, Missionaries, and Madmen

We’re hiring.  Again.  We need a Development Manager in New York, a research analyst for some work in Sierra Leone and the Solomon Islands, a project assistant in Ottawa, and a light dusting of interns.  In a few weeks we will be also be adding some communication staff in New York (after some “constructive” criticism from an anonymous colleague – it’s been decided I need a ghost blogger).  Shortly after that we will likely be looking for several new people to join our Afghan team.

So if you are smart, a lateral thinker, and would not be fazed by a last minute request to fly to Kabul, then please take a look at our listings.  We’d love to have you join the team.

Finding someone who meets that description, though, is surprisingly hard which is one reason why the aid industry is such a mess. This is because 90% of the people who apply for these jobs are almost guaranteed to be a disaster.  They fall into three categories:

Mercenaries:  These folks heard you could make twice as much money in Kandahar as you can in Kansas, so they quit their job as dispatcher at their uncle’s trucking company, added “Logistician” to their resume, and promptly landed a job “inside the wire” overseeing a $30m road construction project.  While our hero around the PDT offices may be a Mercenary, the problem with hiring them is that they only stick around long enough to find a slightly more lucrative contract and they really aren’t that interested in the country or the job, just the paycheck.  The Mercenary can be identified by the dozens of DXB security stickers on his bag (he is careful never to remove them), the Leatherman tool on his belt, and the frequent Facebook updates highlighting his semiannual trips to Phuket.

Missionaries: While the Mercenary was laboring his way through an undergraduate business diploma, the Missionary was valiantly skipping classes to protest in front of the Chinese Embassy.  She is the first to arrive in a mission, and the last to leave, sustained throughout by her fervent empathy for “the people”.  For some reason, they are typically the only ones to contact dengue or dysentery, the details of which they garrulously share, believing it demonstrates their solidarity with the Timorese.  The problem with hiring the Missionaries is that while God has blessed them with passion, he has not been as generous with competence (and a lot of classes were missed to play hacky-sack in the quad).  Their good intentions are not enough, and the resulting drag on the project team can be disastrous.  The Missionary can be usually be spotted wearing local garb with a macramé shoulder bag slung across their chest, talking passionately about “empowerment”.

Don't Touch the Red Stapler

Madmen: This is the most dangerous of the three species and should be  approached with caution.  The Madman just weathered a significant personal crisis.  A nasty divorce.  A serious illness. Unexpected job loss. Their response is to leave everything and either “test themselves” or “save the world”. Both instincts bring them to places like post-earthquake Haiti like moths to a flame.  The problem with employing a Madman is that inevitably, like clockwork, they will explode after six months in-country.  The resulting drama will derail even the most well-managed project team, leaving everyone rattled.   The Madman is almost impossible to spot, until he is shouting at a colleague in a purple-faced rage because she borrowed his red stapler.

Bring your field glasses to the Gandamack in Kabul, or the Mamba Point Hotel in Monrovia, or the Esplinada in Dili and you’ll see all three of these species, guaranteed.  The aid industry is full of them.  It operates in a very inefficient labor market.  It’s hard to compete with Wall Street and even Main Street, when the most you can offer is a slightly higher salary, longer hours, some good med-evac insurance, and all the frequent flyer miles you could need.  But don’t let that dissuade you.  You can have fun, and change the world, which is worth something, no?  So, take another look at our job listings.  We need you, because there is a line up out our door of Mercenaries, Missionaries, and Madmen.

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12 Comments

  1. Joanna Buckley says:

    It’s funny because it’s ever so true.

  2. On behalf of the Born-Again Bipolar Retired Serviceman’s Association I most strenuously object to your characterization of our membership as unsuitable for service in post-conflict development situations.
    As one who has suppressed the godless hordes in a dozen lands and remained to coordinate the protection of convoys of nutritious bibles for the spiritually starved, I can testify to the critical role our membership plays in these hostile environments and anticipate your timely retraction.
    God Bless
    Rev. Jock Rock (US Army ret.)

  3. Dominic says:

    So true, but isn’t it sad when the Missionaries become Mercenaries? It’s the loss of innocence that is so heart wrenching. Of course sometimes they become Madmen first, as a rite of passage. Here in Dili we do have our fair share of all 3 types. Though with the UN presence I think there may be a preponderance of Missionaries.

    Now let me tell you about my bout of Chikungunya and Leprosy…

  4. […] airplane pasta meals and the promise of just over two weeks in-country. I didn’t do it for the frequent flyer miles, nor did my boss give me two hours notice to jump on a plane – take Scott on his word though, […]

  5. […] According to Scott Gilmore, mercenaries, missionaries, and madmen should not work in aid. […]

  6. […] when I read this description of one type of aspiring NGO worker, who is “guaranteed to be a disaster,” why did my heart fall? Missionaries: While the […]

  7. for a few of my sites but looking to change one of them over to a platform similar to yours as a trial run. Anything in particular you would recommend about it?

  8. […] time is spent talking about the HR side of aid.  It’s not just a question of weeding out the mercenaries, missionaries, and mad men.  The one’s left over are rarely held up to much scrutiny and no one ever tries to apply hard […]

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  10. On behalf of the Born-Again Bipolar Retired Serviceman’s Association I most strenuously object to your characterization of our membership as unsuitable for service in post-conflict development situations.
    As one who has suppressed the godless hordes in a dozen lands and remained to coordinate the protection of convoys of nutritious bibles for the spiritually starved, I can testify to the critical role our membership plays in these hostile environments and anticipate your timely retraction.
    God Bless
    Rev. Jock Rock (US Army ret.)

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