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From Corporations to
Causes: The Demand
for Humanitarian
Work Psychology

Humanitarian Work Psychology

Shujaat Ahmed
Illinois Institute of Technology

Morrie Mullins
Xavier University

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Hello, and welcome back to the “Spotlight on Humanitarian Work Psychology” column!  You have probably noticed that there are a couple of new faces attached to the column this issue—well, one new face and one that’s been around TIP just a bit in the past.  To offer a quick introduction, Shujaat Ahmed is the vice chair of the Global Organisation for Humanitarian Work Psychology (GOHWP) and a doctoral candidate at Illinois Tech.  Morrie Mullins is a member of the GOHWP Executive Board and a former editor of TIP, and had the trajectory of his career altered by what he learned from reading about humanitarian work psychology (HWP) and SIOP’s UN team during his editorship.  We are both thrilled to be writing for TIP and excited to help get the word out about HWP!

Our focus over the next couple of columns is going to be on issues of visibility.  HWP is a relatively new area for many I-Os.  In fact, one of the things that sometimes surprises graduate students in I-O is the level of connectedness the field has to nonprofits. 

Now, that connectedness won’t surprise any regular readers of this column, because over the past few years the themes of HWP have been developed to great effect by Stuart Carr, Lori Foster, Alex Gloss, Ashley Hoffman, Laura Sywulak, and others—and those are some impressive shoes for us to fill!  But many students seem to come to I-O thinking that it mainly deals with big corporate clients, and learning about HWP and the fact that an I-O career can mean working with nonprofits and NGOs can be both surprising and thrilling. 

For this issue, then, our theme really is about getting to know HWP.  Last time, Ashley and Laura shared the growth and current trajectory of GOWHP as an organization, but we want to go broader: How do you become familiar with this fascinating and rapidly growing domain as a graduate student or as a faculty member?  We’ll offer our perspectives on how this can happen and how we’ve seen it happen from the views of both the graduate student (Shujaat) and the faculty member (Morrie).  We’ll talk about how we learned about HWP, things that have excited us as we’ve learned about this area, and recommendations we have for how to talk about HWP with other graduate students and faculty members, including resources we might share with someone new to HWP.  Finally, we’ll point interested readers to the wealth of information available on the GOHWP website (https://www.gohwp.org), much of which can be very helpful in getting to know HWP.

Shujaat says... Humanitarian work psychology (HWP) is a synthesis of various areas such as I-O and occupational psychology in an effort to improve human welfare for the greater good of all people. It’s been interesting to learn about HWP over the years. I first heard about HWP as a concept 2 years ago, through Mahima Saxena, an assistant professor at Illinois Tech who has done some work in this area. Shortly after, I googled HWP and came across the GOHWP site, where I ended up reading more about the field. Laura Sywulak, Ashley Hoffman, Drew Mallory, and Stuart Carr were also extremely gracious in telling me more about HWP and GOHWP at SIOP last year. Although my main research interests lie within OHP, I found it exciting that there was so much overlap between the two fields (see our most recent GOHWP newsletter for the distinctions between OHP and HWP). Reflecting further, I began to realize that throughout my childhood, I had been engaged in some aspect of HWP without even realizing it, through raising funds for the poor and elderly and volunteering at old aged homes in India. This passion to bring greater awareness and end poverty has stayed with me to this day, as I want to conduct research with impoverished, low income individuals in India and around the world.

Although some of these aforementioned areas (e.g., volunteering, humanitarian aid work) fall within the larger HWP domain, it made me wonder if perhaps other students may not be aware of what HWP is and if they’ve been involved in it. So, I asked several I-O graduate students (N = 11) across the USA and Canada some questions. I asked them if they knew about HWP, how they came to learn about HWP, and if they specifically applied to HWP-focused graduate programs. Of the 11 students interviewed, 4 or 36.4 percent didn’t know at all about HWP. From the 7 students that were familiar with HWP, only 2 or 28.5 percent actually heard about it during their undergraduate career, where it was discussed in their curriculum! Both of these students also researched and applied to schools that had an emphasis on HWP, such as North Carolina State University and Portland State University. Meanwhile, the remaining students learned about HWP through people who did work in the field, whether it was in advocacy, SIOP committees, through GOHWP, or collaborative research endeavors.

The above findings really highlight the need to make HWP more apparent in the undergraduate curriculum so that students have an opportunity to decide if they would like to pursue a career in HWP. Further, SIOP could team up with GOHWP to continue bringing more awareness to HWP as it relates to I-O. Unfortunately, not everyone may read TIP or the GOHWP newsletter. So, perhaps a booth at the next SIOP conference may be a good way for all conference attendees to learn more about HWP and how they can be involved. Graduate programs can also invite speakers who do practical and academic work in HWP at their next brown bag seminar!

Morrie says… My personal journey to HWP is something I’ve talked about in abbreviated form elsewhere (Mullins, 2016), so I won’t go into it in detail here.  My process of “getting to know HWP” was this wonderful organic thing, wherein I realized that I’d found something special and meaningful, and wanted to share it with as many people as possible!

When I think about getting to know HWP, then, I think about how I introduce it to others. There are excellent books out there on HWP, which I’m always happy to recommend, but to get to know the field the short articles that have appeared in Stuart Carr’s Quo Vadis, the iterations of this “Spotlight” column under Lori, Alex, and Ashley, and the reports from the UN team really provide a great introduction.

Not too long ago, I actually had to answer the question, “If I had to pick just two brief pieces to introduce readers to HWP, what would I choose?”  I was integrating HWP, CSR, and prosocial behavior into one of my graduate seminars and in the process of building my syllabus had to pick two articles out of the many that have affected me.

The first was a gloriously polyauthored piece from the SIOP UN team, GOHWP, and representatives of the International Association of Applied Psychology (Gloss et al., 2015).  The paper presented the (then newly adopted) UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and asked the question, “How should I-O psychology respond?”  Their conclusion contained text about I-O and its potential to contribute to the SDGs that is too good not to quote: 

I-O psychology is closely linked to global development goals because (a) through the scientist–practitioner–humanist model, it can greatly assist the world’s greatest engine for economic growth and prosperity—the productivity and well-being of workers in the private sector; (b) it overtly considers the health and well-being of the world’s workforce; and (c) it has helped to assist the diversity of private-, public-, and civil-society organizations that explicitly support international developmental goals. (p. 136)

In other words, by doing what we do, but doing it in a different context, we can make a real contribution to goals designed to fundamentally improve life for all people.  This is a powerful message and a great way to get people thinking about HWP!

The second piece I included in my syllabus was the Thompson and Gloss (2014) paper in which they reviewed recent scholarly developments on the intersection of I-O and global development.  Poverty reduction is not something I think first-semester I-O graduate students expect to read about, but the reaction is incredibly positive.  I’m going to paraphrase one of my students, who said something to the effect of, “I knew I was getting into a field that was exciting, but I didn’t know I was getting into a field that also shared my values!”

The student’s reaction made me think of a recent paper by Jones, Willness, and Madey (2014) in which they talked about organizational attractiveness as being affected by three signal-based mechanics.  The authors said that job seekers are attracted to organizations that they anticipate being proud to be part of, that they expect will treat employees well, and that they see as reflecting good value fit.  People come to I-O for all kinds of reasons, and one of the things that getting to know about HWP does for students and professionals in the discipline is that it can affirm that value fit (and potentially provide a source of pride in their profession beyond what they already felt).  To me, that’s a pretty good reason for all of us to get to know HWP.

GOHWP.org

As Ashley Hoffman and Laura Sywulak indicated in the October 2016 “Spotlight on HWP” column, two of the main priorities for GOHWP are information sharing and networking.  We want you to be able to find out what’s going on in the world of HWP, and we want you to be able to connect with like-minded professionals as well as organizations that could use your help!  Because of that, as we’ve continued to expand our web presence, one of our goals has been to provide as many resources as we can. We are in the process of adding more information to our site, so please visit our resources page over the next few months to find out more. You can also email us if you have any resources you would like us to share on our site. Many thanks for reading! 

If you have thoughts or questions related to HWP, we’d love to hear from you; feel free to reach out to us directly (sahmed22@iit.edu or mullins@xavier.edu) or through the GOHWP web page.

References
 

Gloss, A., Scott, J. C., Rupp, D., Foster, L. L., Osicki, M., Saari, L., . . . Reichman, W. (2015, October).  The world sets new goals: How should I-O psychology respond?  The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 53(2), 130-138.

Hoffman, A., & Sywulak, L. (2016, October).  GOHWP: Who we are, where we’ve been, where we’re headed. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 54(2). http://www.siop.org/tip/oct16/hwp.aspx

Jones, D. A., Willness, C. R., & Madey, S. (2014). Why are job seekers attracted by corporate social performance? Experimental and field tests of three signal-based mechanisms. Academy of Management Journal, 57, 383-404.

Mullins, M. (2016, April). SIOP will not mow your lawn.  The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 53(4), 9-15. http://www.siop.org/tip/april16/pdfs/eo.pdf

Thompson, L. F., & Gloss, A. (2014, October). Developments in HWP: The private-sector’s role in poverty reduction, a “Global Special Issue,” and new directions in research and practice.  The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 52(2), 47-54.