First class missions, and everything else that’s wrong with the big development agency travel culture

Nathaniel Heller over at Global Integrity goes on a wonderful diatribe about aid workers “on mission”:

The reason I (and others, apparently) find the use of the term “going on mission” so self-important is that it sounds, well, self-important. Only in the Diplo-Development Universe™ does a trip to a boring industry conference in Toronto turn into a breathless, dramatic “mission.” Really, it’s Toronto.

I can’t help think the use of the term is somehow rooted in the less secular sort of missionaries, which is a delightful idea. Any reader have a particular morsel of history or etymology to offer?

Next, Nathaniel targets fat per diems. I almost never take these, mostly on principle. I charge actual costs where I can. But I can say from short experiences as a World Bank consultant that the per diems are fat indeed. And (surely not coincidentally) are non-taxable too.

I still cling to my least popular principle: that development workers ought not to fly business class. The post that infuriated the masses (and by masses, I mean UN and World Bankers) is here.

There have been many counterarguments, and I have retorts ready but little time to write them. One I have been meaning to compile and trot out: a list of major NGOs that do not fly their executives, let alone their consultants, business class. (readers: able to add to this list?)

I have dreams of a research project to see if I’m right. One might even say, I’m on a mission.

In the meantime, I welcome dissent in the comments.