The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Contextual Influences On Ethnic Organizations: A Case Study of a Korean Serving Agency

Friday, January 17, 2014: 11:00 AM
Marriott Riverwalk, River Terrace, Upper Parking Level, Elevator Level P2 (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Catherine M. Vu, PhD, Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow, New York University, New York, NY
Duy Nguyen, Assistant Professor, New York University, New York, NY
Daniel B. Tanh, Graduate Research Assistant, New York University, New York, NY
Background and Purpose:

Ethnic nonprofit community-based organizations (CBOs) play a significant role in providing human services, social support, and community-building to low-income minority populations and neighborhoods.  Despite the importance of ethnic CBOs, limited knowledge exists about how contextual environments can influence internal operations of organizations.  This study seeks to fill this gap of knowledge by using an organizational cultural competence framework as a guide for empirical inquiry.  The organizational cultural competence framework suggests that organizations must consider both contextual domains and organizational factors to effectively serve ethnic minority populations.  Based on this model, this study aims to conduct an in-depth analysis to explore how community characteristics can influence internal operations of ethnic CBOs. 


A case study approach grounded in community-based participatory research was developed in collaboration with a respected Korean multiservice organization located in a neighborhood with rapidly increasing concentrations of low-income Koreans.  The study was conducted in two phases with all participants from Korean descent (N=30).  Phase 1 involved semi-structured interviews with organizational stakeholders at multiple levels of administration.  Organizational-level interviews were conducted in English, recorded, and transcribed for analysis.  Phase 2 involved focus groups of service users that were conducted in Korean, recorded, transcribed, and translated into English.  Questions in both sets of interviews asked about community socio-demographic changes, needs of service users, and how these dynamics influence the organization’s internal operations in terms of service delivery.  All responses were coded and analyzed using Atlas.ti to examine common themes from both the organizational and service user perspectives. 


Analysis of data revealed three main themes. 

First, community changes and needs of service users are significant determinants of the programs and services provided.  Whereas the early services offered by the organization focused on helping new Korean immigrants obtain affordable housing and food assistance, current programs focus on the growing mental health service needs of immigrants who have since settled and are now experiencing issues related to aging and isolation in a new country.

Second, generational shifts in the community have influenced the leadership structure of the organization as the organization has proactively recruited younger board members and executive leadership so that the planning and programming can better reflect the changing needs and resources of the community. 

Third, the culture within the organization is heavily influenced by Korean values.  Respondents referred to the importance of familial obligations, which organizational stakeholders extend to the organization and larger Korean community.  Strong cultural norms (i.e. respect for elders, collectivist approaches, etc.) are reflected in staff interactions and administrative decision-making processes.  Emphasis is placed on helping the Korean community not only out of social responsibility, but as a family obligation. 


Findings indicate that the contextual environment can significantly influence internal operations, specifically service programing, organizational leadership, and organizational culture.  However, little is known from this study about whether the internal operations impacts service delivery outcomes (i.e. improved mental health, increased emotional well-being).  Future research should explore the mediating effects of internal operations on the relationship between contextual environments and service outcomes.