Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16313 “Niches” of Empowerment: Study of Community-Based Organizations for North Korean Refugee Youth

Thursday, January 12, 2012: 3:30 PM
Independence C (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Sook Hyun Kim, PhD, Adjunct Professor, Northeastern University, Boston, MA
Background and Purpose: Due to North Korea's current economic and political difficulties, a substantial number of North Korean youth refugees are arriving in South Korea via China. They have shown difficulties integrating into their new environment; their struggles include educational issues, social stigmatization, and cultural differences. The purpose of this study was to examine community-based organizations that serve North Korean youth refugees to determine how they use principles and methods of empowerment. The research questions include: (1) How does external context of the organization impact its two levels of empowerment (individual youth and organizational empowerment)? (2) How do internal organizational characteristics influence organizational empowerment?

Methods: Utilizing empowerment, positive organizational scholarship, and multicultural approaches as the major theoretical frameworks, this study employed a multiple case study design. Three community-based organizations in South Korea were selected for the study. Several data collection activities were conducted at each site including: qualitative interviews with program personnel (executive directors, programs directors, and program workers); observations of activities and meetings; review of documents; and a brief youth survey. Data analysis was conducted in two stages: “within-case” and “cross-case” analyses. Within-case analysis involved holistic in-depth description of each organization. Cross-case analysis included comparisons based on key concepts of empowerment. Key concepts of empowerment included: external context (the past history of organizations, the political and community context), worker/youth participation in decision-making, shared power, culturally competent practice, and leaders' orientation. This study utilized thematic coding. Through the process of utilizing the constant iterative and comparative approach, this study verified some concepts in the initial frameworks as important factors for enhancing empowerment of workers and clients and discovered many new important concepts.

Results: The findings of this study identified leaders' orientation and external organizational context, particularly the external funding mechanism, as the most important variables for organizational empowerment. Leaders' orientation was a prerequisite for impacting the other internal variables. This study also identified emergent concepts. These concepts were not part of the initial theoretical framework, but they emerged as potentially important factors for empowerment of organizations and client groups. These concepts were: perceived stigma, lack of supervision, workers' perceptions, unique organizational structures, and duplicated external resources. This study began with a hypothesis that organizational empowerment is positively associated with youth empowerment. However, this study's findings showed that this is not always the case. There are some other factors that must be considered to satisfy this hypothesis: for example, in this study, leaders' orientation was vital to bringing about empowerment in organizations.

Conclusions and Implications: The findings provide implications for practice and research on the importance of (1) empowering leadership as the key factor for organizational empowerment and (2) the vital role of community-based organizations to represent diverse needs of North Korean refuge communities. Further research is needed regarding the impact of empowered leadership on the actual clients' empowerment. This study contributes to the theoretical frameworks by addressing the linkage between refugee client communities and their external entities.

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