An interdisciplinary research team from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is investigating the personal transformation effects of Heifer International’s efforts to end poverty and build sustainable communities across the globe.
Heifer International has a vision to explore the nature of personal transformation around the glove and measure its impact at the individual level. UA Little Rock is investigating how Heifer’s techniques have transformed communities by helping people living in desolate areas move away from poverty.
The UA Little Rock research team includes Dr. Julien Mirivel, professor of applied communication, Dr. Avinash Thombre, professor of applied communication, Dr. Tusty ten Bensel, director of the School of Criminal Justice and Criminology, and Dr. Kirk Leach, assistant professor of public affairs.
Mirivel and Thombre traveled to Nepal in 2019 to meet with members of 10 communities that Heifer International has helped through 30 years of community development work.
“This was a very transformative experience for Avinash and me,” Mirivel said. “One of the community members said she wanted to create change in her own life. She said, ‘If you want to make a change in your life, you can’t just focus on your family. You have to focus on community.”
The first goal of the research project is to understand the personal transformation that takes place in individuals who are ending poverty and building sustainable communities. Additionally, the researchers are developing research tools to assess personal transformation on a global scale.
“Understanding the dynamics of the process of how an individual undergoes specific behavior change and transforms themselves to a higher level of being is very challenging, to say the least,” Thombre said. “Collaborating with Heifer International on this research project has been personally very fulfilling as we slowly uncover the layers of self-transformation. I am excited to eventually involve graduate and undergraduate students in this effort and the engagement with community development with a local non-profit.”
The researchers created a theoretical and methodological tool that measures self-transformation by focusing on seven core areas of personal change. The core areas include identity and self-perception, perception of others, communication competency, empowerment, leadership state, intercultural sensitivity, and civic and community engagement.
“We have worked together to develop a model of personal transformation,” Mirivel said. “This is a mythological approach to begin the journey to develop a transformation index. We developed a survey with 100 questions and then conducted personal in-depth interviews. Originally, the plan was that we would travel around the world to collect data, but the pandemic changed those plans.”
In 2020, a third-party team collected 100 in-depth interviews and 800 surveys from women participating in Heifer International programs in Bihar, India, the third most populated state in India. Since the late 1970s, Bihar has lagged behind other Indian states in terms of social and economic development and accounts for the largest population below the poverty line. Heifer International intervened in targeted districts in this area and implemented its 12-cornerstone training. The research term is following up with the participants every six months for two years.
As one participant stated, “I will earn money and leave all of my assets for my children and grandchildren so they can have a comfortable life after my death. If I will plant a tree, then others will sit under the shadow of the tree.”
The research, which is expected to be completed in 2024, is being supported by a $100,000 grant from Heifer International. In the future, the researchers will also conduct studies in Uganda and South America, providing data from three continents.
“They are part of an impressive interdisciplinary team studying the nature of personal transformation in multiple international locations where Heifer International has taken their work,” said Dr. April Chatham-Carpenter, chair of the Department of Applied Communication. “The purpose of the research is to create a personal transformation index to measure the impact of Heifer’s work around the globe. Their team has already developed a theoretically informed model of personal transformation. As their team travels to international locations to interview people about their transformation journeys, this work shows great potential for impacting work across the globe on personal transformation.”
Once complete, Heifer will use the Personal Transformation Index to measure personal transformation in its programs around the globe.
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