Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Organizational Development in Thailand and Myanmar

As I mention in the video above, my name is Oliver Crocco but you can call me Ozzie. I’m a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Human and Organizational Learning (HOL) at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development and a recipient of the 2016 Sigur Center Asian Field Research Grant. This blog post is designed to introduce you to my research and share with you my passion for Asian studies and how I came to receive the Sigur Center Field Research Grant.

The Countryside of Mae Sot, Thailand
It was a beautiful fall day in Foggy Bottom when I found myself at the Paul Coffee shop on Pennsylvania Avenue up the street from the Elliot Schoolfor International Affairs. I sat across Dr. Christina Fink, Professor of Practice at the Elliot School and someone with whom I share many mutual friends from my time in Southeast Asia. In fact, one of the reasons I was keen to join GW two years ago to begin my doctoral work was hearing about Dr. Fink from Martha and John Butt, colleagues and friends from my four years spent at PayapUniversity (PYU) in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Sipping on coffee and discussing Myanmar politics, I told Dr. Fink about a project I was involved in at PYU where we developed a Certificate Program in Organizational Development along with the International RescueCommittee (IRC) and offered it to hundreds of Community-Based Organization (CBO) workers along the Thai-Myanmar border and at various locations in rural Myanmar. The certificate offered knowledge and skills regarding organizational development, accounting, finance, grant writing, and human resource management to name a few. It also included general education courses on politics, economics, and cross-cultural communication. I told her about my curiosity to discover if this program was actually leading to positive organizational change and how, if at all, the program was supporting those organizations in making an impact in their communities.

Over the weekend I went running at a national park
As many of my readers may know, after the violent crackdown of pro-democracy protests by the ruling military junta in Myanmar in 1988, most universities were either closed or handed over to be run by the military (Fink, 2009). This led to an exodus, with many people fleeing to places like Mae Sot along the Thai-Myanmar border. To respond to humanitarian and educational needs along the border and in ethnic minority states, many CBOs were created, including hospitals, schools, and agricultural organizations (Fink, 2015). While some is known about educational training programs at CBOs in Myanmar such as in health (Low, Tun, Mhote, Htoo, Maung, Kyaw, & Pocock, 2014) and agriculture (Matsuno, Horino, & Hatcho, 2013), little is known about how organizational development programs, like the PYU-IRC certificate course, contribute to organizational change within CBOs and are perceived by their beneficiaries. I was curious to know how the certificate course was (or wasn’t) affecting those organizations and communities.

It was that day at the coffee shop that Dr. Fink told me about the Sigur Center Asian Field Research grant and recommended that I apply. I was overjoyed to hear about the opportunity and worked with Dr. Fink along with my adviser in the HOL department, Dr. Maria Cseh, and another GW professor, Dr. Nisha Manikoth, to craft a research proposal. I decided on case study research methodology and am doing a multiple case study of four leaders of four different organizations – two in Mae Sot and two in Myanmar.

This organizational leader led me on his bike to his office
The overall purpose of this study is to see how organizational development in community-based organizations creates a lasting impact in communities in Myanmar. Thus, the research questions ask the following: How do leaders of four organizations use what was taught in the Organizational Development Certificate Program to serve the purposes of their CBOs and communities? How do the participants in the certificate program perceive the usefulness of the program for their work and lives? And lastly, how, if at all, has the certificate program contributed in any noticeable way to organizational change within these CBOs? 

After lots of preparation, I received IRB approval for the study and arrived in Thailand early July. Today, nearly 9 months later, I am in another coffee shop reflecting on the first part of my Asian field research. Here are a few highlights and challenges so far:

Challenge 1: Getting organized.
So far this research has been quite the learning experience in cross-cultural planning. Leading up to the project and now here in Thailand I've been organizing with the various individuals and organizations to create a schedule that works for everyone for me to interview and make observations. This has meant a lot of emails, meeting people, and discussing the best times and places to meet. Thankfully, everyone has been very helpful and I’m grateful for everyone’s time and patience.

Highlight 1: Friendly people.
I am amazed at how friendly, compassionate, and kind the people of the organizations I have met are. They have warmly welcomed me into their work and lives and have shared with me their experiences in ways that have humbled me. One woman was willing to meet with me even though she had just worked all day, went to a training for three hours, and had homework for her online degree due that evening. I am full of gratitude!

I made it on the calendar of this organization!
Challenge 2: The dogs.
While not directly related to my study, I love to run in my free time. However, I’ve found it terribly challenging to find places to run (at least run long distances) because of the dogs... Most of the streets and alleys have faithful watchdogs there to protect their territory from tall, strange-looking, and colorfully-dressed people like me. I’ve been carrying my selfie-stick around with me on my runs. It’s light and I can quickly expand it to ward away any dogs looking especially offensive.

Highlight 2: Deep sharing.
Conduct high quality case study research relies on a good research design, interview protocol, and participation criteria. It also relies on participants who are willing to reflect deeply on their experiences, feelings, and beliefs. I have been humbled and amazed to find this in my first few weeks here in Mae Sot. I am so thankful to the participants willing to share deeply and hope I can listen as passionately as they are sharing.

I’m off to Myanmar on Friday but will post again in about a month at the end of my research! If you have any questions, comments, thoughts, or would just like to get in touch, please email me at You can also check out my personal blog here. 

All the best,

Oliver (Ozzie) Crocco
Doctoral student in Human and Organizational Learning, GSEHD
Sigur Center 2016 Asian Field Research Fellow
Thailand and Myanmar 

Fink, C. (2015). Burmese sanctuary-seekers and migrants in Thailand: Policies, experiences, and prospects,” in A. Kathleen and N. Murakami, (eds.) in Trauma and Recovery on War’s Border: A Guide for Global Health Workers. Hanover: Dartmouth College Press.
Fink, C. (2009). Living silence in Burma: Surviving under military rule (2nd ed.). Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books. 
Low, S., Tun, K. T., Mhote, N. P. P., Htoo, S. N., Maung, C., Kyaw, S. W., & Pocock, N. S. (2014). Human resources for health: Task shifting to promote basic health service delivery among internally displaced people in ethnic health program service areas in eastern Burma/Myanmar. Global Health Action, 7, 24937-10. doi:10.3402/gha.v7.24937
Matsuno, Y., Horino, H., & Hatcho, N. (2013). On-farm irrigation development and management in lower Myanmar: Factors for sustainable rice production and collective action. Paddy and Water Environment, 11(1), 455-462. doi:10.1007/s10333-012-0336-0

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