At the end of 2007, when Paul Power ’79 (PhD) entered what he terms “semiretirement” from a Melbourne, Australia, management consultancy, he anticipated some much-deserved downtime. He had spent 40 years working as an organizational psychologist, teacher educator, and teacher. The last thing he expected was to embark on a new career.
A tour of Latin America, however, changed everything. While in Ecuador, he and his wife, Kim, a psychologist and theologian, went to the rural town of Guamote, a regional hub for the nation’s indigenous population. There, they visited a center that attempts to keep girls in school rather than having them be withdrawn to work in the fields or care for younger siblings while their mothers work in the fields. The center particularly resonated with Kim, whose mother left school to help support her family during the Great Depression.
The experience inspired Power and his wife to start the Sunflower Foundation, an international effort to educate girls in struggling nations. To date, Sunflower has partnered with local aid groups in India, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Australia, and other nations to administer programs that educate girls.
In a phrase, Sunflower “seeds hope,” says Paul Power (now 75—and the foundation’s secretary) via Skype from his home just outside his native Melbourne. “Our mission is to provide a future for girls in disadvantaged communities through education because recent research shows that if you want to improve the economy of developing countries, you educate the girls; if you want to improve health in some of the same countries, you educate the girls; if you want to improve the lot of families, you educate the girls; everything comes back to educating the girls.”
Sunflower jibes neatly with Power’s working-world career. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at the University of Melbourne, he spent four years teaching high school, then 10 in teacher education at the university level, before earning his PhD in vocational psychology from the Social Relations Department (now Sociology) at Johns Hopkins. In 1984, Power switched gears, working as an organizational psychologist with a series of management consultancies, allowing him to put into practice what he had studied at Hopkins with Professor John Holland. “He taught me things that have served me well in everything I’ve done since,” Power notes. (Together, Power and Holland wrote My Vocational Situation, an assessment device used worldwide.)
Then came Sunflower. In India, the group funded a program that educates dalit girls. (More than 160 million people in India are considered dalit or “untouchable” based on their birth into a caste system.) In Uganda, Sunflower provided the resources to train young women as primary school teachers in rural areas. In Sri Lanka, it helped refurbish a classroom; provided desks, reading and writing materials; and paid the salary of a teacher of English.
“The money goes a lot further in developing countries,” Power points out.
All the Sunflower activity has put a crimp in his plan to take it easier in semiretirement: “We’re almost back in full-time jobs,” he jokes. (Kim serves as the organization’s president.)
For Power, it’s worth every minute. “It’s knowing that you are making a difference,” he says. “It’s seeing in India the dropout rate in the schools in these villages has gone from between 25 to 30 percent to zero in two or three years. It’s seeing in Uganda these young girls who were just thrown into the deep end to teach in primary schools are now able to say: ‘I have a certificate; I’m a qualified person.’ It’s seeing the faces of these young girls, hearing them talk about the hopes and aspirations that they have for a future that their parents never would have considered.”