By Massah Esther Nyally Bockarie
I vividly recall a conversation with a work friend about our desire to travel the world — she wanted and still wants to visit the Maldives or will settle for Cape Verde. I, on the other hand, had a strong desire to visit all countries in West Africa, then East and South and so on. We sighed after that conversation, with one of us making a joke that if only our Sierra Leone currency equaled the US dollar. It didn’t.
Just a few months after our conversation, and still determined, I decided to go to Liberia as my first big trip. With my salary, a few savings and my annual leave allowance I estimated I needed to scrape together $500-$700.
While planning, I was invited to a meeting with the Co-Founders and Co-CEOs of the organisation I work for, Purposeful — a feminist Africa-rooted hub that resources girls’ resistance all over the world. The words I heard in that meeting left me speechless and dumbfounded.
“We are shifting our salary scales so that they are unified and the same wherever our team works in the world. Folks will be paid according to role and not to passport or location. Your salary will be the same as someone doing the same work in the UK.”
I honestly couldn’t remember the rest of that conversation. My salary had doubled or even tripled overnight. Six months after that incredible trip to Liberia. I found myself on a bus filled with Senegalese and Gambian passengers. I was on my way to Senegal for the very first time. This trip was not planned at all. I had been one of the fellows selected for the CHEV’s Yemoja Feminist Fellowship. I had always wanted to travel there but never thought I would ever have the financial resources to make it happen.
My April salary, which was just around the time of my trip, was enough (and plenty) to take me to Senegal and bring me home. It was there I suddenly realised the reality sinking in of my dream to travel, with two solo trips already fulfilled in less than a year.
In just five years, my organisation headquartered in our small country in West Africa, has not only decolonised its pay scales but is also proactive in ensuring its staff in the Global South apply for international travel visas as full citizens of the world. It very deliberately plans organisational strategy meetings for its staff to travel and work in the Global North so our Freetown team can travel to London if needed, rather than the international team travelling to Sierra Leone. It has been so powerful witnessing how decolonising pay scales can have these kinds of ripple effects on the lives of workers in the Global South.
Gratitude sets in when I consider my privilege of working at an organisation that has decolonised its pay scale, but I shouldn’t have this feeling. The decolonising and unifying of pay scales should not be a privilege, it should be a norm — a freedom and a policy and a belief that International Organisations should have for all of their employees. The shocking truths from the Guardian article in 2016 in my experience, still ring true of International Development dual salary systems for teams working in the very same building, sharing the same skills and qualifications. It makes no sense and it’s purely about colonial power relations.
I urge you to read more about the values and principles of how Purposeful is Building a Feminist Hub where a new world is being reimagined and in our sights to be made equitable and possible — and I couldn’t be more proud as it leads the way.
“Lives have been changed, and the organisation has too. No longer do we have to whisper about salary behind closed doors in hushed tones. And we move a little closer to living out loud with each other across oceans.’’
Massah Esther Nyally Bockarie is a Media, Advocacy and Comms Coordinator for Purposeful, the world’s first Africa-rooted, global hub to resource girls’ resistance. We centre girls and young feminists’ own visions, realities, power — and liberation. And in their activism, a new world is being born.