A look while still in progress

Posted on: March 13, 2014 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Aid Worker Voices book

As we pass 600 hits, what does our “sample” population look like so far?

And why is “sample” in quotation marks?  As we mention in the FAQ, our target population -those who are now or have in the past worked in the aid/development industry- is not a homogeneous, database available-at-the-ready population.  Just the opposite:  you are all spread across the world in an astonishing array of locations and work circumstances, from New York City-urban to South Sudan-rural.  We have here is a snapshot of a necessarily self-selected group of souls who have invested some precious time on our survey.

Some bits from the data:

Though those who identified as female make up 68% of our respondents, there is a markedly higher percentage of ‘long in the tooth’ males responding:  “I have been doing humanitarian aid work for ten or more years.”  Male:  33%, Female 17%, with males having a higher percentage of respondents in all age groups from 36-40 on up.

The population is overwhelmingly “white” at 84%.  The responses to the open-ended question related to self-identification have been fascinating, edifying and entertaining.  Most of you we very mindful -thank you!-about what you wrote.  Here are a couple intense responses:

  • I am Filipino-American. Colleagues in the Philippines treat me as a local/national with a foreign passport. I have similar experience inracial identity other countries within South East Asia. In West and East Africa, I am often perceived as Chinese. In the Middle East, my ethnicity is often associated with hired domestic help. I am extremely proud of my ethnic background and cultural heritage but there have been times in the field when I wanted to look like the typical expat aid worker – 6 feet tall, blond and very white. The color of one’s skin shouldn’t matter especially in this line of work, but who are we kidding?
  • I was adopted from Colombia as a baby, have grown up “white” but feel that to deny my “latina-ness” isn’t doing race discussions any favors either, so I am conflicted as to what to identify myself as, but in terms of privilege, opportunity, and perspective, I am white.

Vast majority of the sample -83%- self-identifying as working for or volunteering in a humanitarian aid organization, with the remaining 17% divided among UN System (3%), donor agency or charitable foundation (5%), consultant or contractor (9%).

A very well educated lot, these humanitarian aid workers:  74% report having Masters level or more formal education.  The open-ended question “How would you describe your non-institutional educational background?” has yielded some nuggets:

  • Good question. Extensive experience in the university of life perhaps? I’ve learned more from fieldwork and discussions with experienced colleges and ‘uneducated beneficiaries’ than all my degrees put together, but they help pad out my CV.
  • Took some courses here and there – e.g. evaluation, DRR, humanitarian practice, human trafficking.
  • Much hands on experience and self study in terms of humanitarian aid standards. Taken several workshops on a variety of topics as well as led workshops on a variety of topics. Community courses, through community centers of continuing education forums.
  • Being thrown in at the deep end in Somalia and going from there. You learn fast in the field when you get practical hands on experience, rather than all the theoretical drivel they teach us in university.

As a university professor who has taught classes on “global citizenship for the last few years this final one was my favorite.

The respondents thus far have reported “home” as predominantly the US, UK, Canada and Australia with a sizable number calling home various nations around the globe.  To this point there have been 720 visits to this blog from all over the world, though the biggest lot is from the US.  Here’s the blog cluster map indicating from where the blog was accessed.Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 1.03.11 PM

Of those that responded (572), most are in a relationship -58%- though interestingly 26% reported being “Single and not dating.”   The qualitative data indicates that this is very likely a life-style reality fore those in the aid world.  The gender breakdown on this question is significant.  While 71% of the males report being in a relationship that number drops to 51% for females.  When we break down “single and not dating” the numbers look like this:  31% females and nearly half that number -16%- for males.

Though 35% of the respondents report being married, the gender disparity -50% male, 28% female- merits a closer look.  Most (76%) have no children but a remarkable 4% reported having three or more.
Travel and work environment
This is a well traveled group, 53% report having traveled 11 or more times outside of their home nation for their work and over 65% reporting having been deployed for over a year (46% 2 years or more).
Most -80%- work in non-faith based organizations, 54%  are in development (community development, long-term development, etc.), 28% doing relief work (disaster response, emergency response, etc.).
So, above is just the very tip of the data iceberg that we are only just beginning to explore.  Please keep us on our toes with your Tweeted, Facebooked, emailed or otherwise transmitted comments and feedback.


Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying the humanitarian aid and development ecosystem for nearly two decades and in 2016 published 'Aid Worker Voices'. He recently published his second and third books related to the humanitarians sector with 'Confronting Toxic Othering' published in 2021 and 'Dispatches from the Margins of the Humanitarian Sector' in 2022. A revised second edition of 'Confronting Toxic Othering' is now available from Kendall Hunt Publishers

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