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Jenny Baker
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Innovative Connections Between I-O Psychology and International Relations: The Work of Raymond Saner and Lichia Yiu

Aimee Lace and Stuart C. Carr

Geneva, Switzerland is a city teeming with diplomats and government officials, drawn by the presence of the United Nations and a desire to contribute to peace. In the midst of this diplomatic activity, two I-O psychologists work tirelessly to bring insights from I-O psychology to policy and international initiatives. These psychologists are Raymond Saner and Lichia Yiu.

The work of Raymond and Lichia is highly interdisciplinary, with a home base in social and organizational development/change. They are cofounders of a Geneva-based nongovernmental research and development organizations called the Centre for Socio-Eco-Nomic Development (CSEND, www.csend.org), which focuses on development work in developing and transition countries. They also founded Diplomacy Dialogue, which focuses on the interface among business, politics, society, and the environment. Their projects include institution development and change projects for international organizations and governments, such as the creation of a guidebook for the International Labor Organization on how to foster inclusion in employment and promote decent work (Saner & Yiu, 2005). More recently, they have been applying their expertise to the transition to a more sustainable global economy and societies in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which requires collaboration and solidarity of nations, businesses, and civil societies.

Their work stretches beyond the traditional scope of I-O psychology in that they innovatively apply insights from that field to political economy, international conflict resolution, and diplomacy work directly. Most international initiatives require effective multistakeholder cooperation and alignment. Raymond and Lichia’s backgrounds in I-O psychology equip them well to provide guidance to the United Nations and other organizations on these complex issues. As Raymond puts it, poverty-reduction strategies, for example:

[I]nclude national governments, foreign aid agencies and international organizations. Each of them has its own policy preferences. That of course means creating sufficient common ground between approaches like the World Bank’s and the International Monetary Fund’s, including sometimes contentious ‘financial conditions’ for international loans and aid relief. It also includes other international organizations, such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations’ Development Program (UNDP). These in turn tend to focus more on job-creation, employment policies and skill development, which are terrains somewhat more familiar perhaps to I-O psychologists.

Raymond and Lichia point out that while the field of I-O psychology is not readily seen as a complement to international relations in the same way that economics and political science are, there is a twin-pronged strategy by which I-O psychology could become more prominent in that sphere. The first prong is to expand I-O curriculum to include examples and case studies from outside of the private sector, from a broader range of regional backgrounds, and from macro-meso-micro perspectives. The second prong is to expand the research and theory base for understanding work in multinational organizations in lower income and transitioning countries.

What advice do they have for I-O psychologists interested in contributing to international relations? They suggest that I-O psychologists should indeed consider entering this fascinating field, which is “multistakeholder, multi-institutional, and highly international.” They recommend considering gaining exposure by taking continuing education courses in related fields or, if possible, taking a job or internship in international settings. They also emphasize the contribution that I-O scholarship can make to international development through research and theory development in emerging and lower income countries. Equally important is the contribution by I-O scholars to creating sustainable alternative economic futures such as cooperatives, social and solidarity organizations, and sustainable and non-exploitation-based, humane-platform work conditions. Partnering with I-O psychologists from developing countries could be of mutual benefit as well through dialogue and appreciation of different operating contexts.

Ultimately, as Raymond and Lichia demonstrate, the understanding of behavior and change that I-O psychologists bring to the table can make a unique contribution to international relations and development partnerships. Raymond summarizes it well: “Applied for instance to nation building and rebuilding in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Yemen, and Ethiopia, important development work should not be left to military commanders trained to conduct war but who are arguably inept in reconstructing societies and working with the psychology of human beings.” I-O psychologists are indeed well placed to contribute in innovative ways to building sustainable peace and reducing poverty globally. SIOP’s UN Committee seeks to deepen connections between the I-O psychology community and the United Nations, and the work of Raymond Saner and Lichia Yiu demonstrate the immense contributions that are possible.

 

The SIOP United Nations Committee is Julie Olson-Buchanan (Chair), Stuart Carr, Lori Foster, Aimee Lace, Dan Maday, Drew Mallory, Ines Meyer, Morrie Mullins, Mathian Osicki, Mark Poteet, Walter Reichman, Nabila Sheikh, and Maria Whipple.

 

Reference

Saner, R., & Yiu, L (2005). Swiss executives as business diplomats in the new Europe. Organizational Dynamics, 34, 298-312

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