President's Update 18/2/20

By NZISM Secretary


Kia ora koutou to all members and supporters of NZISM.

Some of you might know I recently travelled to Thailand and participated in a charity cycle ride with the HANDS Group. The 28 people that were involved raised $180,000 as part of the event that contributed to orphaned children in Thailand. It turns out this wasn’t about a bike ride in a foreign land with a beautiful backdrop. It was much more - it was personal development on wheels. We are all continually learning and growing and this trip was a timely reminder of the power of leadership, commitment, curiosity and compassion.

The group's experience of true leadership, came not only through the behaviours of the individuals on the ride as they helped each other achieve and overcome challenges, both mentally and physically, but also the unwavering leadership shown by two amazing and committed women whose life’s work has been focused on helping others.

Mae Thiew is in her early sixties, the matriarch of about 80 orphaned children who live at Baan Home Hug in Yasathon. In 2011 Mae Thiew was voted Readers Digest Asian of the Year for her work to save the lives of hundreds of orphans born with HIV. Before the involvement of the HANDS Across the Water Charity, this Monk had buried around 1000 children. In the last 10 years since HANDS has been involved and assisted with accessing medication and other support, that number has reduced to zero. Ignoring the pain of her terminal illness Mae Thiew works tirelessly to ensure the kids of Home Hug have the best upbringing possible.

The second leader is Kru Prateep, founder and head of the Duang Prateep Foundation that runs and manages Klong Toey, the biggest slum in Bangkok, with in excess of 100,000 residents. This 68-year-old has been through the system herself, from being born in the slums, having to work as a 12-year-old child cleaning rust off ships hulls, to being the first woman voted, by the people, into the Thailand Senate as the representative of Bangkok. She now oversees multiple projects aimed at providing education opportunities for poor children and development for destitute people.

So, what, if anything has this got to do with Workplace Health and Safety, well maybe nothing directly. But maybe it has got lots to do with how we treat people through compassion and curiosity.

An excerpt from the Klong Toey brochure, "The Power of Compassion" reads;

"When someone makes a mistake, the usual way in our society is that the person must be punished for their crime. We hope that the punishment would deter them from recommitting the crime and that it would set an example for others. We tend to blame the individual that it was all their fault, or that they must be an evil person. Yet a lot of the time, we may find that it was the circumstance that led to the person to act that way; it could have been a split-second decision. If we keep an open mind, consider the circumstance, and give the person the opportunity to remedy the mistake and go on with their life, a greater benefit may happen to them, their family our society and us"

Reading between the lines of the above we can certainly see similarities to stories we hear about in New Zealand workplaces around health and safety when there has been an accident or incident. We don’t take the time to consider the circumstances and we are constantly looking for someone to blame for the event, usually the person who has been hurt or caused some sort of damage. We get focused on the punishment and get stuck in 'find and fix' mode.

Some of you may have seen the TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie “The danger of the single story” described by Adiche as a situation where a people are shown to be one thing and one thing only, over and over again. The single story creates an over generalised belief about a person or group, ie. the bias that is stereotypes.

I am currently reading “A More Beautiful Question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas” authored by Warren Berger. In it, Berger states that the reasons questioning is somewhat missing from the business world and education is that it challenges authority and disrupts established structures, processes and systems and forces people to think about doing something differently. In our industry there has been much talk over recent years about doing safety differently, maybe it’s more than doing safety differently, maybe it’s more about how we treat people differently by being curious and interested and not creating single stories about them.

For 2020 I have challenged myself to continue with personal development and that’s not just through formal education, it’s more about immersing myself in experiences that may make me uncomfortable and to be more curious, moving beyond autopilot habits and being better at asking more questions than I give answers.

If we, as Healthy & Safety practitioners/professionals, want our organisations to be truly Learning Organisations we need to guide them to the realisation that learning only comes from understanding and without true understanding organisational decision making will be flawed. We tend to go straight to 'find and fix' mode and not spend the time understanding the problem... mmm I am sure there is a famous Einstein quote in there!

As stated by Warren Berger, a beautiful question is “an ambitious question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something." So get out there and ask lots of beautiful and generative questions using humble and appreciative enquiry.

Ngā mihi mahana

Greg Dearsly