Monday, March 21, 2011

Sex Education

Today was one of those days that make it all worthwhile. I feel inspired, that my work is meaningful and that there's a sense of purpose behind what I do.

For a bit of context, let me rewind a day. Yesterday I took one of those very touristy organized trips to the Mekong Delta where foreigners are basically bused and boated from one gift shop to another. It was a very pretty tour, but I just wish there were a more authentic way to see different parts of the world. I did, however, enjoy our tour guide's perspective on Vietnam. At one point she discussed the country's problem with population control, contributed in part by an unwillingness to discuss sex in Vietnamese culture. As a consequence, not only is unwanted pregnancy on the rise, so are STDs like HIV/AIDS.

My tour guide's comments perfectly set up today's factory visit. We recently partnered with a Vietnamese factory to invest in HERproject, a factory-based health education program for women in developing countries, and today I had the chance to observe a training session.

Since the training was conducted entirely in Vietnamese, I didn't understand the content, but I got a sense of the discussion from the condoms, leaflets and birth control pills that were being used as props and handed out. Later, I was debriefed on the content, which was pretty consistent with my junior high school health education class. It mostly concerned how to use condoms, how to avoid STDs and how to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

I was worried that the training session would be fruitless, given my understanding of the discomfort surrounding talking about sex. The women in the session, however, seemed very engaged throughout the doctor's presentation. And when it came time for questions, they were eager to learn more! The participants seemed hungry for this information and it was clear that these concepts were new to them. I was relieved to see this level of engagement and felt good that our investment was not in vain.

Today's visit also included a meeting with the factory's management team, who shared some of their experiences in implementing the program. Sure, they cited some frustrations, but most of them had to do with logistics and not the core content of the training. Everyone seemed to believe in the importance of delivering health training. There are opportunities to deliver the program more smoothly, but nothing that cannot be overcome.

But what I didn't expect was to hear the factory managers cite this investment as a potential competitive advantage. Even though the training program was launched only a few months ago, they already saw participants taking these learnings back to their families and communities. The factory was beginning to earn a reputation as a preferred employer and people in the community appreciated the added investment in worker education. In a time when all factories, across all industries, are facing tremendous challenges in recruiting Vietnamese workers, this is an obvious business benefit.

When I first considered entering the field of CSR over a decade ago, I never would have imagined that I'd spend a day at work sitting in a sex ed class in Vietnam, but today has turned out to be one of the most gratifying days of my career.

1 comment:

  1. AWESOME Marcus!!! Amen for following your path! -