A strategy to neutralize the per-diem pathogen
01 / 1999
In Mali, representatives of NGOs and CBOs (community-based organizations)involved in the fight against AIDS had better be prepared to reach deep into their pockets if they would like to ensure thorough press coverage of a given event. Journalists in that country, not distinguishing at all between events designed to foster the well-being of their fellow citizens and those aiming to further the self-promotion of the organization in question, frequently state matter-of-factly that they won’t even lift a pencil unless the organization slips them a rather large sum of money under the table.
As a general rule here in neighboring Senegal, the stop-AIDS community can thankfully still count on journalists to cover a story without being forced to complement the journalist’s regular salary. However, NGOs and CBOs in Senegal find themselves in a situation that is similar in nature to that of their Malian collegues, namely the insidious spread of the per-diem pathogen. Just a few years ago, NGOs and CBOs here could count on public health specialists to share their expertise generously with a view to contributing to the well being of the population at large. The spirit was similar to that of a Red Cross group in rural France, or an Amnesty International community in North Dakota. That has now changed. Even those individuals who regularly receive attractive salaries and enjoy a high standard of living increasingly refuse to share their knowledge unless they are provided with a sizable per diem. This means that those sources of invaluable expertise are becoming inaccessible to financially poorer organizations. It also means that the realm of public health is coming to resemble that of cut-throat commerce, with larger, cash-heavy structures able to squeeze out smaller players by severing their access to needed human resources.
All of this is starting to have an impact on young people interested in working in the area of public health in this country. Against the backdrop of economic crisis, the prospect of receiving a substantial per diem just for showing up at a meeting or training session is most attractive.
Consequently, we are witnessing a shift in the motivation of those aspiring to join the fight against AIDS. Rather than seeing faces that express a fervent desire to stop the epidemic, one increasingly encounters the sharp-edged glance of expert Monopoly players. The issue of motivation is important for several reasons. One of them has to do with the credibility of HIV-related activities in the eyes of the population. In a region where many doubts continue to exist with regard to the very existence of HIV, the visible commercialization of the stop-AIDS community would only serve to heighten skepticism among those who view the epidemic as a fabrication of white capitalists. Secondly, NGOs and CBOs cannot necessarily bank on a steady stream of funding. There are prosperous times and lean times. Cash-motivated staff cannot be counted on to stick around for richer or poorer. Rather, when the going gets rough they will quickly ask for a divorce and then go apply for a position as a Marlboro marketing advisor, where the pay is better.
Organizations that are genuinely committed to stopping HIV and alleviating the epidemic’s consequences can complain until they are blue in the face about the spreading per-diem pathogen among young talent, but they will fail to contain it unless their strategy addresses young people’s long-term financial needs in a viable, visible manner. After all, these young people aspire to at least some measure of financial security, perhaps with a view to starting their own families. What can we do? What is the antidote to the per-diem pathogen?
Gabriel Diouf has an answer. Mr. Diouf serves as the head of an ultra-dynamic CBO in an impoverished neighborhood of suburban Dakar, as a caseworker in the Poles of Excellence program of the American NGO Africa Consultants International, and as IEC (information, education, communication)specialist for the German development structure GTZ (Gesellschaft für technische Zusammenarbeit). In the course of his activities, he frequently organizes coordination meetings / training sessions for members of local CBOs. He says that it is not uncommon to hear that some individuals refuse to attend the sessions, exclaiming, "They’re Germans (or Americans)for God’s sake; they surely can come up with a per diem!" Mr. Diouf counters that attitude most effectively. First of all, he is a walking example of an individual who got where he is through commitment and hard work. Secondly, he emphasizes the value of training in preparing one’s longer-term future. Third, he and the structures for which he works do an excellent job of sharing information on potential funding sources with their committed NGO and CBO partners. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he can point to numerous concrete examples of individuals who have secured well-paid positions as consultants or as permanent staff after having demonstrated diligence and dedication to the public-health objectives at hand in the course of previous meetings and training courses he has organized. In short, young people see clearly that such an attitude pays, allowing one not only to strike out against HIV, but also to secure one’s own financial needs. He demonstrates that those two objectives are anything but mutually exclusive.
As the stop-AIDS community goes about formulating its strategy to curb the spread of the virus and improve the lives of those affected by HIV and AIDS, we generally focus our attention on dangers and stumbling blocks presented by the virus itself or by a number of socio-cultural phenomena (the vulnerability of women, for example). It is essential that we also devote attention, in a conscious, explicit manner, to certain self-destructive characteristics of the stop-AIDS community itself, such as organizational territorialism and the per-diem pathogen.
Mr. Gabriel Diouf can be reached through ACI, B.P. 5270 Dakar, Senegal. Tel (0221)824 83 38. Fax (0221)824 07 41. E-mail: email@example.com
Interview with DIOUF, Gabriel
Resource person ; Interview
This file sheet is also based on insights gained during a discussion with colleagues from <PEACE CORPS>/ Senegal (<DIOP, Arlette>and <RENIERS, Kathy>) and from <ACI>(<DIA, Fatim Louise>), as well as on observations collected in Mali and Senegal since early 1996.
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