“Would a local Ugandan pay these women what we are paying them?”
At a previous employer I (James) asked this to my Ugandan manager at a social enterprise in Northern Uganda where we had 150 hard working women seeking to empower themselves. As Americans we want workers in disadvantaged communities to be paid as much as possible so they can enrich their own lives through their work. Simple right? Pay workers more. At Venture we offer living wages as a foundation but it isn’t that easy.
My Ugandan manager sat in awkward silence when I posed these probing questions to him. The uncomfortable squirm showed me the truth wasn’t what upper management wanted to hear. We were hiring destitute women who had no job opportunities and the providing them work with a very good wage within the community. To cut the silence with my manager I followed up with these questions:
“Do the women feel like they are valued for the work they do? Or do they feel lucky they got hired by Americans?”
The company I worked for existed to help people like you impact their lives but unintended consequences were rampant (despite everyone’s best intentions). The women who were earning significantly more than their peers consistently showed a lack of gratitude that befuddled the American founders.
We had given the women money, opportunity, and a better future BUT we robbed them of DIGNITY.
“Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in the consciousness that we deserve them.” -Aristotle
They were hired because they WERE POOR. They were paid HIGH WAGES because of their DESPERATION.
At Venture we seek for creative ways to offer the maximum benefit to our workers but to never compromise on the DIGNITY that we all seek. This starts with good wages but we work to develop many other benefits that heighten the well being of our workers and the opportunities that they are able to present to their families. This includes no interest cash advances when needed, providing lunch, improving worker conditions, medical allowance, and finally a profit sharing program that provides long lasting income to our workers for the success they help build. This package of compensation leaves our workers valued and fulfilled. For the present and well into the future.