The real value of work

One of the most striking themes at the BAWB Conference is just how easy it is to overlook important insights taken from the experience of developing economies. Virginia Schein, a professor of management at Gettsyburg College, presented an exploratory research study at the conference that focused on poor women in Nicaragua and the social and psychological impact of their participating in work-related groups. What did the group mean to them? And did participation result in any personal changes in attitude or behavior?

The study — “Incubators of Hope and Change: The Functions of Work-Related Group Participation for Poor Women in Developing Countries” — was based on semi-structured group interviews with 57 women across several different, small-scale work-related groups (including, among others, a group of women selling chickens and pigs, an agricultural cooperative, and a weaving cooperative). Results of the interviews were analyzed for themes related to the two research questions.

What did the group mean to them?

  • The women no longer felt marginalized
  • The group provided social and emotional support
  • The women learned group and organizing skills
  • They learned technical skills
  • They increased rights awareness

Did participation result in any personal changes in attitude or behavior?

  • They felt more positively about themselves, and more self-confident
  • Their interpersonal skills improved, affecting family and peer relationships
  • They see themselves as part of a community, and felt a desire to share successes (including material gains) with the community

Additionally, participation in the work-related groups changed organizational status (e.g., unions helped improve working conditions) and economic conditions for members and their families.

If there is a lesson in this slice of research, it is about the relationship between dignity, work and communities-of-workers. I know this can be a slippery slope — but shouldn’t it be the objective of any organization to develop an authentic understanding of the “dignity value” of the work they provide?