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Are Stipends Important?

I have been involved in conversations lately about stipends and I would love to hear about your experience and perspectives.  A number of leadership programs grapple with the issue of stipends.  This is important if we want to provide equitable access to leadership development opportunities.  Not everyone has the same resources available to cover childcare costs, gas, or missed time from work that might not be compensated.  Some community programs are providing stipends to participants to remove the financial limitations to participation.  Not only community based programs are thinking about this. One model I am familiar with provided compensation for an individual’s lost work time to their institution or to the individual if they were consultants.

Some of the questions we need to be addressing are whether basing compensation on a percentage of someone’s income is likely to provide more to people who have more and less to those who have less.  Shouldn’t we flip this?  After all, people who make more money are probably in a better position to absorb some of the costs associated with participation in a leadership program.  Another question that has come up is whether creating equity would mean distributing funds based on need rather than a formula that gives everyone the same stipend or stipends based on a percentage of income.  Of course this gets complicated administratively with who has the power to determine who needs resources and how could this be handled with an equity lens that brings dignity to the process.  Stipends are an important but complicated issue of equity.  How are you programs dealing with this issue or what recommendations do you have?