NASW Hosts Social Workers Across Nations Event

NASW and the NASW Foundation hosted a gathering of social workers interested in the international arena in September to further the association's global initiative called Social Workers Across Nations (SWAN).

The effort aims to pool together the skills of the profession so they can be utilized not only in times of crisis but also in general relief and humanitarian work, said NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark. The initiative is an important collaboration considering there are many dedicated social workers involved in international projects, she said.

"To be successful, we need to think broadly and consider the multiple options, challenges, and opportunities," said Clark, who is also president of the NASW Foundation. "A mutual exchange of ideas and perceptions will ultimately enhance this program."

Joining Clark in hosting the meeting in Washington, D.C., was NASW President James J. Kelly. He said the event drew a positive exchange of understanding among several organizations that vary in the way they assist people.

"The group was very motivated and it was a wonderful educational experience," Kelly said. "It was an opportunity to learn what other people are doing in the international arena. It widened my perspective of what they were doing and many representatives pointed out how important social work is to their organization."

For example, Kelly said, officials pointed out how social workers can play key roles in the U.S. Department of State's workforce. "Social workers can be ideal for community development projects and nation building efforts," he said. "There are many opportunities where the profession presents itself as a beneficial asset for certain positions."

SWAN was developed to facilitate the profession's skills to counsel, organize, and engage in capacity building internationally for individuals and communities that are facing adversity. A recent report by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee's (IASC) Task Force on Mental Health and Psychosocial Issues in Emergency Settings discussed the need for organizations not only to fulfill the immediate needs of the survivors of disasters and trauma, but also to provide a holistic approach to groups in crisis through providing culturally competent psychosocial support, capacity building and sustainable impact.

Luisa Lopez, acting director of NASW's Division for Social Work Practice, Human Rights and International Affairs, told attendees about the many national and international relief efforts NASW and the NASW Foundation have participated in, including helping the victims of the tsunami disaster in Asia in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Lopez pointed out that NASW has strengthened its international work and outreach efforts and was recently part of delegations at the United Nations General Assembly High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS, the World Bank annual meetings and the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) Biennial Congress in Brazil [see related story this issue].

Additionally, earlier this year NASW received a grant that allows the association an opportunity to strengthen the professional social work workforce and to address the psychosocial needs of people with cancer in Eastern Europe.

The Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation awarded a grant to NASW and CancerCare Inc. to implement a program in Hungary to address social services for people with cancer.

The project is scheduled to run for two years. The first year has included a psychosocial oncology best practice exchange summit in Hungary. The summit brought together oncology experts and leaders in Hungary to determine best practices in psychosocial care. A document will be developed and disseminated throughout the country, and will be posted in English and Hungarian on a variety of Web sites.

The second year of the program will provide a modified version of NASW's "Understanding Cancer" Web-based course. The course will be revised to make it culturally competent and relevant for Hungarian professionals and consumers. Additionally, six one-year seed grants will be awarded for the implementation of a psychosocial oncology best practice.

Other NASW collaborations include:

  • InterAction, the largest coalition of U.S.-based international nongovernment organizations (NGOs) focused on the world's poor and most vulnerable people
  • The ONE campaign, which unites Americans in the efforts to address global AIDS and extreme poverty
  • The Building Bridges Coalition, a project of the Brookings Institute Initiative on International Volunteering and Service
  • People to People Ambassador Programs, through which NASW has participated in social work exchanges in China, Cambodia and the Republic of South Africa

Clark said the SWAN meeting was an important step to conceptualize and build upon social work capacities already in place. "Capacity building is our hope," she said. "We want to help social workers in other countries in order for them to develop their mobilization of other groups."

SWAN attendees included: Cmdr. Elsie Young, U.S. Department of Health Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration; Josephine K. Olsen, deputy director of the Peace Corps; H. Carl Gettinger, advisor for Franklin Fellows at the U.S. Department of State; and Julia Watkins, executive director of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).