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International Practice Forum Special Series—I-O Psychology Helps Heal the World (Pt 4): Bringing Advantages to Disadvantaged Women

Lynda Zugec, The Workforce Consultants, and Walter Reichman, Org Vitality

In this issue, we continue on our exciting development for the International Practice Forum! With Walter Reichman (Org Vitality) and a number of I-O psychology practitioners and academics, we explore how “Industrial-Organizational Psychology Helps Heal the World.” Through a series of articles, we present real and actionable ways in which I-O academics and practitioners have an innovative and creative impact in helping to heal the world. Here, we connect with Peter Scontrino on the I-O work he and his colleagues have been doing in Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar!

Bringing Advantages to Disadvantaged Women


M. Peter Scontrino

About 7 years ago, I reconnected with a friend of mine, Bill Taylor, who was a retired management consultant. Bill and I had worked together over the years but had slowly drifted apart. When I last worked with Bill, I discovered that Bill and I did similar work, which included coaching, leadership development, and business planning even though we took different academic and business paths to get there. I am an industrial-organizational psychologist whereas Bill is a certified management consultant (CMC). Over lunch, Bill shared an experience with me about a recent trip to Bali, Indonesia where he had visited some social services organizations that were in desperate need of leaders with effective skills. I was fascinated by Bill’s story and volunteered to work with him in Bali.

Leadership Session

Bill and I spent the next couple of years working with these leaders and seeing dramatic improvements in the way their organizations were managed. Our work included coaching a university president and his senior staff, developing business plans, conducting team building sessions, performing organizational audits, and creating competencies and standards of performance. The leaders we coached were very supportive of our work. Unfortunately, the senior leaders to whom they reported were not very supportive.  We knew all too well that the good work we had done would quickly fade away. After the promised leadership and financial support failed to materialize, we decided to seek other organizations within Southeast Asia that may recognize and value the contributions our initiatives would have on their organizations.

Our focus was specifically on developing opportunities to serve disadvantaged women and girls. As we moved along in our efforts, we came to the realization that we needed a substantial amount of financial support to address many of the needs we were identifying. To that end, we took matters into our own hands and decided to create a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and entitled it the Southeast Asia Fund (www.seafund.org). Incredibly, the fund has been an undeniable success; we have continuously raised $250,000.00 to $300,000.00 per year to support our continued growth.  100% of the funds we raise directly finance the work we do. Bill and I cover all the related administrative costs.

We have been on a number of journeys. We left Bali for Thailand to work with Catholic nuns, the Good Shepherd Sisters, whose mission is to provide tools and resources for disadvantaged women and children. They have organized programs located throughout Thailand and Myanmar. Our initial work began in Bangkok, where the sisters operate a large Training Center/Home. We assisted them in the development of business plans and performance goals and also used our team building facilitations skills to help teams in the training center become more cohesive.

Bill and I decided discussed the frequency of our trips to Southeast Asia with Bill deciding to go four times a year. I decided I would join in the efforts twice a year. Although we continually work with Buddhist Monks, Catholic Nuns, and other religions, our work is agnostic.

New DormitoryOne of our other trips was to Pattaya, which is 89 miles south of Bangkok. Pattaya is a beautiful seaside town known for its extensive “red light district.” The sisters had established the Fountain of Life Women’s Centre and Children’s Centre to provide education and skills training for socially disadvantaged women and children with a particular focus on those exploited by the tourism industry, prostitution, and trafficking. After engaging in discussions with them, the sisters in Pattaya asked us to do three things:  (a) conduct a leadership development workshop, (b) help them create a strategic plan, and (c) help them develop an annual business plan. Bill and I designed a transformation leadership workshop with a special emphasis on effective communication skills, problem solving, and employee engagement. All of these topics fit nicely into the culture the sisters had created and wanted to further develop.

We swiftly realized that leadership within an order of nuns has some unique characteristics.  First, you live with your coworkers. Second, you live with your coworkers for life. Third, you are the leader for 5 years and then a follower for many, many years thereafter. Finally, you are leading a resource poor organization that is always seeking funds to support their projects.

Thirty nuns and one priest participated in our leadership development workshop. All of the sessions were highly practical, with table discussions focused on things that the organization would actually use and implement. At the end of the week, the sisters had developed a vision statement, a mission statement, and a values statement. These were used to shape the strategic plan and business plan over the coming months.

One year later, we were invited by the Good Shepherd Sisters in Yangon, Myanmar to offer an identical workshop for the sisters living within the region. This workshop had the intended consequences and same outcomes as the Pattaya workshop.

We knew we were onto something when, while in Myanmar, Buddhist monks who worked in Hpa-An (about 100 miles east of Yangon) heard about our leadership development work. They asked us to slightly modify the leadership workshop for 35 young adults who had leadership roles in social service organizations. This was a very intriguing request as Myanmar was in the early stages of offering increased freedoms to its citizens. One of the most frequently questions asked during the workshop was, “How do you do this in a democracy?”

This was the first time we taught a leadership development workshop in a Buddhist Temple.

Happy MonksIn 2017, I started was preparing a leadership development workshop for the Good Shepherd Sisters at Wildflower Home in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Bill was not available to alongside me so I decided to send a note to a few industrial-organizational psychologists. I was amazed. Almost overnight, I had a dozen volunteers. I continue to engage the I-O psychologists that have offered to help us with the work we are doing.

Last year, I-O psychologist Paul Green accompanied us to Chiang Mai in Thailand to help us create a competency model for social sector leaders. His insights, enthusiasm, and support for our work encouraged us to focus even more on leadership development.

In 2018, Bill and I will travel to Siem Reap in Cambodia to conduct a workshop on building self-sustaining organizations. We will be teaching the leaders from 20 organizations how to help their social-sector organizations become more self-sufficient.

In the meantime, Bill and I continue to be thankful for the breadth and depth of the work we have been able to in Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar. We have had the opportunity to:

  • Build a village school (many times)
  • Coach leaders to develop performance improvement plans
  • Build a girls’ dormitory
  • Facilitate an antitrafficking workshop
  • Build a profit-making restaurant for a girl’s school
  • Buy a diesel-powered rice harvester for a monk
  • Develop a chicken ranch
  • Build a fish farm

New FurnitureAll of the aforementioned projects provided funds and/or other resources to support the health and education of girls within these countries.

If you are interested in working with us in Southeast Asia, are able to provide funding or suggest ideas for funding, please let us know! Bill and I would very much welcome your support! For more information, visit www.seafund.org.

Do you know of someone who is using I-O psychology to heal the world?

WE NEED YOU AND YOUR INPUT! We are calling upon you, the global I-O community, to reach out and submit your experiences for future columns. Give us your insights from lessons learned as you help heal the world.

To provide any feedback or suggestions on the International Practice Forum, please send an email to the following address: lynda.zugec@theworkforceconsultants.com

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