Latin America less alluring as dollar dives

International organisations are rolling out an ambitious programme to increase positions in Latin America, both through relocation from headquarters and local recruitment, as they put staff nearer the projects they manage.

The trend comes at an awkward time, as the dollar touches lows against the region’s currencies, making a move for US-based staff less enticing.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and International Finance Corporation (IFC), both based in Washington DC, are midway through big drives to redeploy staff. Before it started the realignment, the IDB had 1,200 in headquarters compared with 800 in-country. Now it splits its resources evenly and is moving in Latin America’s favour, says Juan Manuel Fariña, acting human resources manager.

The approach is echoed at the IFC. “We are currently reinforcing decentralisation,” says Malte von Putbus, global recruitment manager. “Five years ago, we had some two-thirds of our staff at headquarters. We now have more than half our 3,250 staff in the field and I believe the ideal situation would be two-thirds in the field.”

Multilaterals are not the only organisations looking to recruit more local staff in Latin America. International non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are beefing up in the region, says Patrick Shields, executive director at Global Recruitment Specialists in Norwalk, Connecticut. This creates pressure for key positions.

An increase in the number of NGOs adds to the pressure. The US claims to have more than 1m such organisations, says Mr Shields. This explosive growth is mirrored in Latin America, where the creation of large numbers of indigenous NGOs is under way.

They are increasingly accessing funding not just locally but from North American giants such as the Gates Foundation, by submitting proposals via the internet. That is giving them more purchasing power, including for staff.

Within this strong demand picture, there are some particular hotspots. Demand for staff is particularly acute for positions such as finance directors and fund-raisers. Positions across the Caribbean are also hard to fill and the IDB is reaching out to New York City’s big community to help its recruitment there, says Mr Fariña.

Another complicating factor is diversity programmes, a critical aim of multilaterals such as the IDB, which needs to reflect the 47 member countries it serves.

Salaries have not moved substantially at a time when the dollar has fallen against key currencies in the region. The bands are $70,000-$90,000 base salary for directors and $90,000-$150,000 for executive directors, says Mr Shields.

Meanwhile, the dollar has lost almost half its value against the Brazilian real, for example, in the past five years. That’s worrying HR heads. “It’s true that the weak dollar is a problem,” admits Mr von Putbus. “At the moment, we don’t really have a solution.”

Mr Fariña is keeping a close eye on the greenback too. So far, he has not seen the dollar’s fall deterring staff from moving, but fears it may do.

While more severe than usual, lower remuneration than the private sector is hardly a new problem for the public sector and broader benefits packages are being rolled out to compensate for the salary gap. They include danger benefits, and allowances for housing, vehicles and education.

Given the extra competition and the difficulty in locating staff, it is hardly surprising that headhunters play a bigger part.

“This year I am receiving 10 enquiries a week. It used to be two a couple of years back,” says Mr Shields

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