Understanding the North Korean Human Rights Abuses and Moving Forward

By: Jim Blazey

On February 17, the United Nations released the most recent report  on human rights abuses occurring in North Korea. The report covered the starvation, violence, mistrust and exhaustion that occur within North Korean labor camps. The prisoners in these facilities range from South Korean soldiers and their descendants to people who have spoken out against the ruling Kim family or the government as a whole.

In addition, severe droughts in the 1990s coupled with the absence of Soviet-subsidized goods caused the North Korean economy to collapse and malnutrition to expand throughout the country.

This led me to consider: how can NGOs or governments possibly provide relief to individuals within these camps when they don’t have any access? How can these organizations provide food to individuals within the country while also creating opportunities for North Koreans to become self-sustaining? If I, the public manager of a nonprofit or government agency, am trying to consider the proper strategy to deliver value to these individuals, how can I make an influence on a country where the government is very suspicious of the outside world?

The seminar in Public Administration (MPA 6800) taught by Marsha Lewis at the Voinovich School helped me develop a strategy when tackling complex issues such as providing humanitarian aid to countries like North Korea. We discussed public value chain, a model that identifies the partners and co-producers in a situation, as well as the necessary inputs to solving a problem.

The example used in class was the Gates Foundation and its attempt to decrease malaria in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia. The partners the Gates Foundation sought were humanitarian groups in these countries, the manufacturers of mosquito nets, and volunteers. The inputs were the mosquito nets and malaria vaccines. The combination of the partners and the inputs leads to measurable outputs, such as reduced cases of malaria. After the output is measured, the long-term outcomes would be a healthier and more productive society.

So how does this model apply to North Korea?

In the case of alleviating the malnourishment that plagues North Korea, the right partner is China. If organizations collaborate with China to put pressure on North Korea, more aid can be provided to vulnerable citizens in the country. An example of this pressure is China not vetoing any proceedings of the U.N. Security Council on North Korea in March.

Successful implementation of smaller goals like this can then be used to assess how NGOs or agencies should proceed with long-term goals, such as laying the foundation for sustainable food sources that the country and eliminating the labor camps. This leads me to the last part of the public value chain: evaluating external environmental influences.

The external political influences are plentiful in the case of North Korea. The United States and North Korea have a contentious relationship, which could affect the way a U.S. organization works within the country. American NGOs and agencies are not alone in their concern about the humanitarian crisis in North Korea; China, Japan, South Korea and Russia are all interested as well. Another political influence is the provocative nature of the North Korean government itself. All of these factors must be considered

Issues regarding North Korea are not easy to solve. Public managers have to develop strategies to help their organizations successfully deliver value. Future public managers must be innovative, ambitious and willing to change the world for the better. No matter how daunting the task, the long-term positive outcomes will be well worth the effort in the end.

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What Kind of Manager Will You Be?

By: L Volpe

I was asked the other day about the quote “Silence Is Exhausting” (Robyn Ochs) that closes all of my e-mail communications. As I launched into my explanation — that every person, no matter who they are, deserves to be heard, taken seriously and treated with respect — I found it to be a wonderful representation of what my education and master’s degree from the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs means to me.

Through all of my classes I have taken in the MPA program, my professors have stressed the responsibility we are taking on by becoming leaders in the public/nonprofit sector.  The roles that we will be stepping into have the potential to make a difference in a significant number of peoples’ lives.  We are giving a voice to individuals who may not have one.  Keeping in mind that “Silence is Exhausting,” we need to make intelligent and productive decisions that create public value.

I feel that this type of training is going to be an asset for us as we apply for jobs.  Anyone can step into a managerial role, but the MPA program is setting us up to be progressive managers who will push the public/nonprofit sector forward.  Remembering “Silence is Exhausting” is what makes me passionate about the mission of the organizations I am interviewing for and the difference I can make by performing my job to the best of my abilities.

I continue to be surprised by how much I have learned and grown through my experiences at the Voinovich School. The School has pushed me out of my comfort zone in my classes and given me the opportunity to gain practical experience as an intern with a number of organizations in the Athens area.  Taking a step back and seeing the difference that I have the potential to make in the public sector or a nonprofit organization empowers me to be the manager who gives people a voice and helps lessen the burden — the exhaustion — of silence in our communities.

Balancing on the Run

By: Emily Burns

I’ve never paid much attention to my astrological sign or the corresponding horoscopes. But, as I reflect on my first semester as a graduate student in the Voinovich School and look ahead to spring semester, I can’t help but feel thankful that I’m a Libra. The mystical scales that serve as the symbol of Libra are thought to evoke a sense of balance, harmony and peace.

I’ve often heard it said that school of any type is a balancing act, and I think that holds especially true for graduate studies. I find myself juggling quite a few responsibilities at the moment: working as a graduate assistant for the university, applying for summer internships, training. for the Athens Marathon, and last but certainly not least, attending actual classes

Sometimes I have trouble falling asleep at night with so many questions about my future near and far unanswered, but herein lies one of the main reasons I love to run:  It’s exhausting.

The main reasons I’ve put my adult life on hold for another two years is to learn, to go to class, to do homework and readings and write papers in the hope of understanding how to manage people, resources and expectations in the public sector. Still, there is nothing better than coming home after a long run, eating my body weight in peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches and succumbing to the kind of whole-body tired you can achieve only by running farther than you did the day before.  Waking up with sore legs is just an added bonus.

Finishing my first marathon is still one of the proudest moments of my life, and I imagine walking across the graduation stage with my classmates from the Voinovich School will be up there as well. Whenever the going gets rough and the scales seem imbalanced, there is immeasurable comfort in knowing that I can always go for a run and leave some of my problems with the pavement.

What Is Your Baggage?

By: L Volpe

I cannot believe it is already my last semester in graduate school. It feels like yesterday that I unpacked my life into my little rundown apartment over the sleazy local bar, and now I am getting ready to enter the real world again! I left a less-than-ideal work environment when I came to the Voinovich School, so I have some anxiety about what this new experience will entail.

During the first week in my Seminar Class with Dr. Marsha Lewis, she talked about how, upon entering our organization of choice after graduation, each of us will be carrying baggage from previous dealings with co-workers, events at their current organization, and past personal experiences.  This insight gave me a whole new perspective on workplace relationships.

Throughout my classes in the Voinovich School MPA program, we have talked a lot about being self-reflective and how important it is to learn from our successes and failures.  When Dr. Lewis brought up baggage, I realized that being self-reflective isn’t enough.  I not only need to understand my mistakes and how I would react to situations differently, but also ensure that my baggage or previous missteps do not dampen my future success.

When I came to the Voinovich School. I just had left a highly competitive and hostile working environment.  Because I was in this experience for more than three years, I brought that hyper-intensive attitude to my classes and came off as abrasive.  Through working with my mentor, Dr. Millesen, and experiencing many positive growths in the MPA program, I have been able to let go of that baggage and see the difference in environments, allowing me to gauge my reactions better.

I am also more aware of other people’s reactions to different situations.  In any event in the workplace, my previous exposures may lead to one reaction while my neighbor has a completely opposite one.  Being patient and having open communication with your co-workers is imperative to a successful work environment.  So keep in mind that everyone carries different baggage, and that we need to be respectful of everyone’s reactions to situations that arise, good and bad.

Knowing When To Say No

By: L Volpe

I have talked a lot about getting involved and taking advantage of every opportunity that you can in the two years you have at the Voinovich School. That being said, you may have to say no to some opportunities!

I am not the first graduate student to be stretched thin between my graduate assistantship, classes, and extracurricular activities. When it came down to the decision to run for an executive position in another organization, I had to think about what would happen to my work if I committed to another obligation.

In our qualitative methods class, we talked a lot about reflexivity and understanding how you personally react in certain situations.  The understanding of one’s own reaction to stressful situations is essential when dealing with the pressures of graduate school. I am the kind of person who has to try my absolute best in all my obligations, and upon reflection, I knew that adding one more executive board to my schedule would result in a lower quality of work in my existing positions. This lower quality would create even more stress in my life! Look out for yourself, and make sure that you are not setting yourself up for failure.

Additionally, utilize your advisors!  Dr. Millesen has looked over opportunities with me multiple times, and her second opinion helped me organize the advantages and disadvantages of each. No one will be disappointed if you have to say no. In the end, your organization will be more disappointed in you if you take on the project and do not fulfill it to the best of your abilities.

To the MPA Class of 2015 – My Brand New Cohorts

By: L Volpe

I am excited to be welcoming the newest class of MPA students to the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs!  I can tell you from personal experience that you are all in for a challenging and wonderful ride over the next two years.  Hindsight is 20/20, so I am going to share some of my biggest lessons and hope that you can benefit from my newfound perfect vision from my first year in the MPA program.

Take advantage of the opportunities presented to you.  The Voinovich School will be sending communications asking for interested parties to participate in projects. Take advantage of any project that may interest you.  I did not realize how important these opportunities were until I applied for an internship over winter break.  The environmental scan I performed with Ohio Campus Compact was a wonderful learning opportunity, and I grew so much professionally and personally during the process.  You will be pleasantly surprised how much taking on extracurricular projects will enhance your time inside and outside of classes.

Get involved on campus.  If you want to make the most of your experience at Ohio University, find something you are passionate about and become a contributing member of our Bobcat family!  Last year, most of my projects were based up here at the Voinovich School.  This was not a bad thing by any means, but I began to feel alienated from the rest of the campus. My second year is completely different.  I am the graduate assistant for the Women’s Center, and also was elected the vice president of Committees and Legislative Affairs for Graduate Student Senate, both of which are located in the Baker University Center. Being on campus has allowed me to meet and work with a wider selection of graduate students, undergraduate students, and faculty. Additionally, I am able to apply the lessons I have been learning here at The Ridges to my new leadership roles.  There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the theory you are learning in class come into practice in the field.

Finally, embrace your cohort.  The success of my first year had a lot to do with my classmates.  We are a dynamic group of people who are not afraid to voice our opinions and challenge one another’s point of view.  We did not always get along, but in order to grow you have to understand the thought processes and viewpoints of others.  The most important thing is to always remember to respect one another by embracing each person’s unique qualities.  Find a way to relate to one another. Your experience will be greatly enriched if you do.

I wish you the best of luck with your first semester in this program.  I know that you will all be successful and look forward to meeting everyone throughout the year!

So What…

One of the most important things I have learned this past year is the significance of the ‘so what.’ This may seem like an easy and simple concept, but with my experience working with the nonprofit sector, discerning the ‘so what’ or the purpose of your project, service, program or research is one of the hardest things to nail down. I have been involved in a lot of projects that were amiss from the very start and I could never understand why, but looking back over how they began we did not have a clear purpose…no one asked ‘so what.’

Understanding the ‘so what’ of a project/research/program begins with considering your intentions. Is this research, event, or even a new group you want to form fulfilling an existing gap, or do you have alternative motives? An example of this would be if you have something going on in your life that you want to fix and the way you’re working through the situation is by starting a club. Having a clear and precise purpose, defining your ‘so what,’ will allow you to look at your project/research/program from an objective point of view. If you cannot define the ‘so what’ then you are pursuing a project that will not move your organizations forward. My Qualitative Research Methods professor, Dr. Holly Raffle, would call this ‘me-search’ instead of research. You are looking for a way to justify your actions. I would never want to confuse an individual’s passion or dedication with this idea of me-search. This type of information can be defined by understanding your real intentions.

This idea of the ‘so what’ is especially important when you are working with consultants or professionals who work outside your organization. I worked on a project during the past year where the organization had no idea what they wanted to get out of the work they asked me to do. They handed me a packet of information and assumed that I could determine the purpose not having full understanding of the organization or what has led them to the decision to want this work to be done. The best way to benefit your organization/program/service would be to determine your ‘so what’ and work with your consultant or partner to refine and build a ‘so what’ that will benefit your organization. The lessons I’ve learned from my projects and internships is to over prepare and to think about perspectives other than your own.

I have noticed a huge difference with my work since I have started concentrating on the purpose and asking myself ‘so what.’ I have always understood that all projects need a purpose, but I have begun looking at my work in from a multi-dimensional level. It is not only my point-of-view that matters, and there is always research that needs to be done and taken into account. I am thankful to the Voinovich School and my many wonderful professionals for pulling me outside of my own world and introducing me to the complications of the public sector and teaching to navigate the projects/research/programs that benefit our communities.

Public Managers as Public Sales Persons

Through the Masters in Public Administration program at the Ohio University Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, we are constantly confronted with the question of ‘selling’ our program or agency’s worth to stakeholders that public mangers are accountable for. One theory we are indoctrinated with is Mark Moore’s strategic triangle. The triangle consists of public value, authorizing environment, and operational capacity. Each aspect of the triangle is important for the implementation of a public program. Public value asks what a program does to improve the quality of the lives of our stakeholders. Authorizing environment focuses on getting the support of public officials and constituents to do what we are trying to accomplish. Lastly, operational capacity focuses in on the internal structure of the agency to make sure we have the capabilities to implement the program.

All three points are important, but the most important is public value. Why does this program or agency have to exist? Is it worth public dollars and time? We as current and future public mangers must always be the sales people of our program or agency. We, as public mangers, must be the epitome of the why for our organization or program. This concept came up in a TED talk shown in the capstone class for MPA students. For any private or public organization to be successful, every member of that organization must be dedicated to the why. Then the question becomes who becomes the centerfold of that why? Well if you dive into change management theory, leaders must be the essence of the why. There are leaders and there are people who lead. Some wield power and some lead change for a better cause. Public mangers must be the leader who is trying to change our current quality of life for a better cause. That is when successful public mangers are also successful navigators of their political authorizing environment. Once public mangers reach this, they can accomplish real change.

The Pracademic…

In my Organizational Theory class, we had a very lively discussion about the term pracedemic. In a nutshell this term means that you are an academic who is actively using the theories of your education while working in the field. Since the downturn of the economy, there has been a shift and the public sector is making requests for candidates to have a degree beyond a bachelors, as well as having years of experience under their belt. In an environment where budgets are being cut and organizations are requiring one employee take on a variety of responsibilities that supersede their job descriptions I can understand why these organizations would want an employee who can apply current theories in the sector to the limited resources available.

I would like to add a disclaimer that by no means do I believe that education is the only element that makes a candidate qualified to be hired for a job. That being said I can personally see a significant difference in my skills and ability to problem solve since coming to the Voinovich School. This past year I have had the opportunity to be an active member in case study evaluations, interned and perform projects with local organizations as well as learn from the experiences of my classmates and professors through discussion. Being given the opportunity to work through theories in the classroom and actively pursue these theories due to the Voinovich School’s encouragement in practical experience will allow me to leave this program ready to make a difference in the public sector.

I am a firm believer that ones education is never ending. In my opinion, a true pracademic means that you are learning from your missteps and reflecting after each project to determine what worked and what changes you would make in the future. I also feel that when you work in the public sector or a nonprofit organization, you should be open to continuing your education through local colleges, lectures and professional development. Upon graduation from the MPA program, I will proudly consider myself a pracademmic and will continue to pursue my education so I can be more effective in the field and make a difference.

Shaping the Message

I am in the beginning stages of implementing a project with six members of my cohort in my qualitative methods class about the student perception of activities that are available on Ohio University’s Campus. When we were putting the pieces of this project together, I had no idea how relevant it would be to my studies about public perception we have been discussing the past year in the MPA program. The overarching concept of customer perception and public value is a subject matter that I will be working with as a future public administrator.

We live in a society of information overload. Instead of sitting down in front of the news every night to catch up on current events, we are receiving information about our community, government, country and world instantly through social media outlets on our electronic devices. In many cases we are not getting this information straight from the news outlets, but through the posts of people we follow on our social media sites. So with the amount of information swirling around in cyberspace, it has become vital that organizations release statements as a way to control the message being spread. There is an interesting State Farm commercial airing right now that has a young woman stating that everything posted on the internet has be to true, because they are not allowed to post fake things. While they exaggerate the concept with the young lady walking away with the “French Model” she met on the internet (an older bearded man wearing a track suite and a fanny pack), the underlying concept that people believe what they read online is true. But how are we shaping these messages?

In my organizational theory and politics class we have been talking a lot about public perception and how this affects our civil servants. Our reality in the public sector is budget cuts, job scarcity, and public scrutiny, so how we represent ourselves in the public eye is critical to shaping public opinion. An interesting example of this notion is a police department in Northeast Ohio who keeps a Facebook page about what is going on in their community. I was reading a post over spring break about a marijuana bust, the captain used phrases “like, bummer, dude” and “The sales of potato chips will be off for a day or two.” The overall message was meant to be a congratulatory message to the officer who made the drug bust, but the way the unprofessional tones in the message took away from the central theme.

Our civic leaders need to understand the message they want the public to know. Because very few people are reading the official reports, and public officials are making themselves more transparent through social media the message should be shaped as if they are releasing an official report.