Thursday, 12 February 2009

How Frontier Intern-alises Cash

Take a look at the Frontier website and you'll find seven "interns" jobs advertised in the UK. For Overseas work nine more "Officer" jobs are advertised. Sixteen is a lot of jobs, but what's the point?

The point is that most of these Officer 'jobs' pay less than £1,000 for a year's work (that's not a typo); and most of these intern 'jobs' pay nothing.
  • Officers who work in the field get their flights paid + free accommodation (est'd cost <£2,000 per head)
  • Interns who work in the UK get a 10 week 'free' Frontier placement (est'd cost <£2,000)
When you check out a document found on the Edexcel site about Frontier's 'capability' it's difficult not to wonder just how much cheap labour they employ. An estimate of the number of low-paid and non-paid staff in this document is 50 (fifty)

Why does this matter? It matters because to all intents and purposes practically the entire Frontier operation overseas, and much of it in the UK is effectively being run by volunteer labour. Some volunteers (interns and officers) pay for their experience by working for free. The others pay for their experience with cash.

Reports from former Frontier staff say about 17% (1/6) of volunteers' fees are allowed for field costs, plus about the same again for Officers' costs. What happens to the other two thirds of volunteers fees?

For example, if 40 volunteers, each paying an average of around £2,000, go on a project, the income is £80 grand.  If the field costs are around £27,000, where does the other £53,000 go?

There are a dozen projects in Oceania alone - NZ, Oz, Fiji, Cooks. Many of these projects will be smaller than the one we analyzed, but you can be sure that collectively they are delivering a surplus of some hundreds of thousands of pounds.

In the end the point here is not about the money, it is about volunteer expectations. Volunteers and their families expect that the fees they are paying to Frontier will provide professional, well-qualified and  properly paid field staff, backed up by similarly qualified and paid people in the UK. The evidence we have collected is that much of Frontier's field staff is made up of people who are little different from the volunteers they are supposed to be leading and looking after; and the situation is not much better back in the UK.