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How Geneva Sees Us

Stuart C. Carr
Massey University

Geneva is a “home” to many global nonprofit organizations and workforces. Included are major “multilaterals,” like the International Labor Organization (ILO), and leading civil society organizations, like the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. In the wake of a strong I-O presence at the recent Fifth Annual Psychology Day at the United Nations in New York, of inspiring presidential addresses and symposia during SIOP’s annual conference in San Diego, and a master class on the I-O Psychology of “Gross National Happiness” (“GNH”), hosted by the Department of Psychology in Trinity College, Dublin, I traveled to Geneva with Master Class Curator Professor Malcolm MacLachlan. We were there to meet with key representatives from major prosocial organizations. The meeting was generously hosted by Geneva-based CSEND (the Center for Socio-Eco-Nomic Development). CSEND’s codirectors had kindly organized a Dialogue Forum to launch a new book, Humanitarian Work Psychology (2012). This volume features many leading and central contributions from SIOP members. Here we talk with one of CSEND’s codirectors, about how Geneva sees their contributions, and about I-O psychology’s relevance to the work they do on a daily basis. As the poet Burns might have said, understanding “how others see us” is crucial for I-O psychology to keep developing impact.

Lichia Yiu is president of CSEND in Geneva, Switzerland. Her research and consulting focus on institutional performance and transformation in the fields of poverty reduction, aid effectiveness, human capital development, and the policy impact of multi-stakeholder engagement. She has taught at different universities and consulted to corporations on leadership development, cross-cultural communication, and organizational change in Asia, North America, Western Europe, and Africa. She works also with United Nations (UN) organizations and national governments on building internal capacities for transformation and performance improvement. Lichia has published articles and books covering these topics. She is a reviewer for the Journal of Managerial Psychology, which has a focus on social responsibility, and Vision: the Journal of Business Perspectives.

Dr. Yiu, Can you tell us a little bit more about the organizations and representatives who attended CSEND the meeting?
We were joined by many major organizations, both multilateral and civil society, working in the Geneva area. They included (for instance) the health officer, ex-president, and stress management advisor to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Hannelle Haggman, Cornelio Sommaruga and Rene Boeckli; and by Norah Niland, MA, from the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peace-Building, who has extensive experience working in conflict zones around the world. We also hosted Jovan Kurbalija, director of the Diplomacy Foundation, which trains diplomats from developing countries to utilize ITC (Information Technology Communications) in their diplomatic work and in mastering new diplomacies arising from global integration. Other representatives from the Geneva humanitarian work community came from organizations specializing in protecting civilians in conflict areas based on the Geneva Convention, emergency relief, and training and development for community workers; international interns from CSEND; and my codirector, Professor Raymond Saner, who presented on some of the New Diplomacies and interorganizational skills that I-O psychologists can bring to the development table (Saner, 2010; Saner & Yiu, 2012).

What is the core issue, in your view, for creating more impact in the nonprofit sector?
We have had extensive discussions with the multilateral and civil society sectors in Geneva. They are very interested in what I-O psychology has to offer. At the same time, they want to know what it is that I-O psychology does differently from other professions. What is our added value and distinctive identity? For instance, management consultants have been working in development for many years. We need to be able to say, in a few words, where we diverge and thereby stand to make a genuinely innovative contribution. At the present time, there are also pressures on all sectors to be interdisciplinary. So there is a delicate balance to be struck between (a) promoting a distinctive identity and (b) sharing a combined approach to development practice, or what policy calls “harmonization” between sectors, groups, and initiatives in research. Ultimately our profession can make incremental improvements, including perhaps improving our understanding about some of the problems that humanitarian organizations sometimes create for themselves. In many ways, interdisciplinary collaboration and interprofessionalism are the proverbial name of the game.

Fair enough, so in what ways are we different yet complementary to other professions, do you think?
The speakers offered a number of ways in which I-O might be conceptualized to resonate with the humanitarian work community. First is measurement and assessment. We are well-known and respected for our measurement skills and achievements in psychometrics, from personality, motivation, and ability testing to measuring social behavioral and organizational attributes. We know how to measure team dynamics and team climate, which we learned are vital for humanitarian work to succeed. Our competencies also increasingly include corporate social responsibility. Second is advocacy. As a relatively new discipline on the block, we may be in a unique position to speak truth to power, using evidence and evidence-based approaches. We may however need to learn to speak more of the languages in other disciplines. Fortunately however, we share many of the underlying concepts. Third is Research, with a capital “R.” There are many management consultants with expertise in evaluation and a whole field devoted to evaluation studies. We can do some of this, and in that way boost prosocial research capacity. But we can also add more exploratory research to the mix. Exploring how development policy actually plays out, and could play out, at the level of workplaces is a key need that has been highlighted by some leading macro-economists. During the Dialogue Forum, we heard a number of examples of I-O psychology developing innovative measures, evidence-based advocacy, and research on how macro-development policy is mal-implemented and could be better implemented on the ground in community settings. This would include using our negotiation and diplomacy skills. These can help enable nongovernment organizations (NGOs) gain access to isolated, vulnerable communities in conflict zones, such as in Colombia. Last, I-O could help to prepare the new entrants to the humanitarian field to deal with work-related stresses due to team dynamics or to other organizational issues and value dilemmas inherent in the complexities of humanitarian work environments.

How  do you think the representatives attending the meeting react to this kind of message?
In general I think they reacted positively. Initially people were skeptical. During the meeting they began to warm to the fact that I-O psychology has much to offer. For example, we heard about a high need for cross-cultural and stress-management training, including team cooperation, for international and host national development workers alike. Pre-arrival training (for host national workers) is just as important as predeparture training (for the expatriates). In a spirit of equal opportunity, the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) has recently put in place a homogenous salary system for all its workers, guest international and host national alike. We also heard how humanitarian values can be placed in the foreground in the work that we do for nonprofit organizations, without losing sight of the bottom line in the work that we do with for-profit organizations. Many of the latter, today, work in partnership with NGOs on development projects. From NGOs involved in humanitarian crises, we learned how workers often find everyday work hassles more difficult to deal with than human trauma itself, and how teamwork, including team climate, is vital for development project success. From the diplomatic community, multiple points converged on the idea that negotiation and conflict resolution skills, frequently at the level of person to person, can end up saving thousands of lives. In the end, people said, much of what humanitarian organizations do depends crucially on human attributes and their humanitarian values.
So what  do you think we still have to do?

Fundamentally I think the meeting reception was warm but guarded. People still have to be more convinced about our relevance and importance in the field. One of the key points that surfaced during the forum is that much of what goes on today in development is inherently not organizational but inter-organizational. This is where the new diplomacies are in high demand. We have the theory and quantum to help develop capacity in the field of diplomacy, with a small “d,” meaning on an everyday work level, between representatives working in humanitarian settings. Sometimes a simple phone call, or a crisis meeting, can literally save many lives. Such contextual behavior, in the sphere of interpersonal and intergroup identity and negotiation, has the potential to make a difference. Our discussants and attendees had read advance copies of the new book Humanitarian Work Psychology (Carr, MacLachlan, & Furnham, 2012). In general their reactions were positive and open. We have made the first inroads to connectivity and will continue to work on behalf of the profession here in Geneva and elsewhere to enable our contributions to be realized. Both SIOP and the IAAP, which Raymond and I represent to the UN, have NGO status, and we will be working hard to represent our KSAOs to them and theirs to our own constituencies. We have many competencies, both individual and group, that are linked to promoting humanitarian values. This includes the provision and design of what the International Labor Organization (ILO) terms decent work—meaning work that meets people’s aspirations for a decent and dignified working and wider life, whatever one’s job or sector.

Lichia, thank you so much for your insights, advice and kind hospitality. We are all very grateful for your time, and for the opportunity to meet with our colleagues and counterparts in Geneva. Thanks also to Raymond and Mac, and the kind interns at CSEND, Caitlin, Phan and Mario, for your valuable time.


Carr, S. C., MacLachlan M., & Furnham A. (2012). Humanitarian work psychology. New York, NY: Palgrave-Macmillan.
Saner, R. (2010). Pro-Social I-O–Quo Vadis? The new diplomacies. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 47, 121–125.
Saner, R., & Yiu, L. (2012). The new diplomacies and humanitarian work psychology. In S. C. Carr, M. MacLachlan, & A. Furnham (Eds.), Humanitarian work psychology (pp. 129–165). New York, NY: Palgrave-Macmillan.