IFSW Strives to Bring World Together

From the PresidentKathryn Conley Wehrmann, Ph.D., LCSW

Since assuming my role as NASW president on July 1, I have been involved in some exciting opportunities and experiences. One of these was attending my first meeting of the International Federation of Social Work (IFSW) executive committee held in Basel, Switzerland.

For those who are not familiar with IFSW, it is a global organization formed in 1956 that strives for social justice, human rights and social development through the promotion of social work, best-practice models and the facilitation of international cooperation.

The organization consists of representatives from more than 126 countries in five regions, including Africa, Europe, North America, Asia/Pacific, and Latin America/ Caribbean. IFSW supports its country members by providing a global voice for the profession.

The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and the United Nations Children’s Fund have granted the IFSW special consultative status. In addition, IFSW is working with the World Health Organization, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The IFSW Executive Committee is composed of the presidents from each of the regions. The United States shares leadership in representing North America with Canada, and I am currently serving as president of the North American region. My Canadian Association of Social Workers counterpart, Jan Christianson-Wood, is serving as vice president.  We submitted a joint report on our activities in the region that may be accessed on the IFSW website. (PDF)

In addition to volunteer leadership roles played by Jan and myself, our involvement in IFSW is well-supported by Bob Arnold and Susan Rubin in the NASW Washington D.C. office and Fred Phelps in Canada.

The executive committee’s July 6-9 meeting included a team-building day that helped us become acquainted. Activities included opportunities to visit nearby sites in France and Germany, culminating in a somber visit to the concentration camp known as Natzweiler, where an estimated 22,000 thousand people lost their lives (United States Holocaust Museum).

One of our participants, Klaus Kuehne, IFSW’s representative to the United Nations, expressed the following:  “… the visit to Netzweiler was thought-provoking and set a strong remembrance that our fight goes far beyond specific social work issues but is a commitment to a humane, just and peaceful society.

Having the opportunity to share some meaningful experiences with my international colleagues laid a strong foundation for a productive two days of executive committee meetings. I extend my congratulations and admiration to IFSW President Ruth Stark and IFSW Secretary General Rory Truell for putting together and, most importantly, covering a very ambitious agenda.  During the course of our work together, the committee completed several significant tasks, including a review and discussion of ethical principles for use by ISFW member countries throughout the world as they develop and/or refine their codes of ethics. Of particular note is that the work on the ethical principles is an international effort led by the newly appointed IFSW ethics commissioner and NASW’s very own Dawn Hobdy.

Other items on the agenda included discussion of efforts to support a closer connection between social work education and social work practice throughout the world.

Committee members also presented regional reports, and I was pleased that the NASW portion of the North American Regional Report included the active role our professional organization has played in addressing critical issues associated with the changes brought about by the Trump administration.

I received many questions from my international colleagues about how we were managing the transition, and was able to direct attention to NASW’s transition document “Advancing the American Agenda: How the Social Work Profession Will Help.”(PDF)

As I returned from the meeting, I thought how good it was to be part of an undertaking filled with the hope of bringing the world together. And how striking it was that during the same time frame, the G20 meeting was being held where the U.S. stood apart from other countries in addressing critical issues that are confronting all who inhabit our planet.

I am placing my confidence in the dedicated social workers in the United States and throughout the world to do all they can to seek answers and solutions that will serve the greater good.

We should never underestimate the power we have to positively influence what happens in our communities, our country, and the world.

In the words of former President Barack Obama, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Contact Kathryn Wehrmann at