Massey Professor applies poverty theory to business

Image ‘Tanzanian Lunch’  thanks to Michigan State University

When Massey University Professor Stuart Carr received a Fellowship to the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology (SIOP) this June, he wasn’t just lifting the profile on his business-solving-poverty approach to work. The Industrial – Organisational psychologist was also shining a light on one of the fastest growing areas of psychology.

In terms of job growth, psychology is predicted to grow at an increasing pace in the next few years. Business Insider (Australia) said in October last year that psychiatrists are in the top 3 jobs for salary and business growth; Psychology Career Centre described psychologists’ growth as about 12 percent through to 2018. They cited the ‘increase for mental health services at private companies, consulting firms, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres, mental health clinics, social service agencies, hospitals, and schools’ as the reason.

However In the United States, the Industrial Organisational (I-O) discipline is set to grow at more than double that rate.

According to SIOP, a division of the American Psychological Association, the U.S Department of Labour predicts I-O psychologists will enjoy a 26% growth through to 2018. They say that according to the Department’s Occupational Outlook Handbook 2010-2011, ‘industrial-organizational psychologists will be in demand to help boost worker productivity and retention rates in a wide range of businesses.’

Massey University’s Head of School of Psychology, Professor James Liu, says that this growth is definitely real in America. But he stresses that New Zealand is not yet utilising I-O psychology to this degree.

It’s no mystery that using psychologists to improve a business’s bottom line has been successful. But what is so human and appealing about Carr’s work is that he is using the improved bottom line to improve life for the impoverished in ‘Humanitarian Work Psychology.’

Massey University reports that over a 25 year period, the Professor’s work has led major international organisations to change their remuneration schemes for local and international workers – the intention to increase motivation and reduce dependence on aid.

“Collectively, for example, our teams have helped to highlight the injustice of ‘dual salary’ systems that are funded globally, and which pay expatriate versus in-country workers radically different wages, even though they are often equally qualified and experienced” says Carr.

“More recently, in conjunction with MPOWER at Massey University, we have been looking at the humanitarian work psychology of living wages, and whether there is an evidence based business case for shared prosperity.

“Many people are drawn to study psychology precisely because they want to work with people, and to make a useful contribution towards a better quality of life. This human focus has been a guiding motive throughout my own career.”

Currently in South Africa, Carr is working under a Memorandum of Understanding with Tshwane University of Technology in its Department of People Management and Development, on living wages in South Africa and New Zealand. He is also working with the Kliptown Youth Programme designed to educate youth from the Kliptown Squatter Camp. Kliptown is one of the oldest districts of Soweto where, in 1955, over 3000 people gathered to write the Freedom Charter. It later served as the basis for South Africa’s liberal constitution.

Professor Carr says there is a “huge, unmet demand” for transferring theory and research on poverty reduction and sustainable livelihood into policy and action by companies, supply chains, multinational and multilateral organizations, joint ventures, small to medium enterprises, education and health departments in government and the private sector.

In alignment with the launch later this year of what he describes as the United Nations’ “most ambitious and integrated plan for human development ever conceived,” the EPIC team is aiming to create a new international 180 credits Masters qualification.

This will complement Massey’s newer under-graduate and graduate courses with business and organisational directives. Named Psychologies of Sustainable Development, the degree will cover all 17 of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, ranging from enabling sustainable health and education to promoting decent work.