Social Work: A Global Profession

Elizabeth J. Clark, Ph.D., ACSW, MPHFrom the Director

Recently, three events occurred that seemed to be linked across a 25-year time span. These were the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in South Africa, the remake of the musical recording “We Are the World,” and the beginning of the 21st Winter Olympics in Canada.

In 1985, five years before Mandela’s release, the first version of the charity anthem was sung by 40 recording artists with the proceeds going to help Africa deal with famine.

The current version included more than 80 artists. Many of them, like Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand and Gladys Knight, have careers that have spanned decades. Others, like the Jonas Brothers, Kanye West and Miley Cyrus, are relatively new artists.

The 25th anniversary recording had the subtitle of “25 for Haiti,” and all of the proceeds go to help the survivors of the massive and deadly Haiti earthquake, which took more than 200,000 lives.

It seemed particularly fitting that “We Are the World: 25 for Haiti” was performed prior to the opening ceremony of the Olympics. For a short time, the Olympics not only unite countries in sport and spirit, but they provide a lens for world events.

Great tragedies like the Haiti earthquake draw worldwide attention and unite our nations in their aftermath. Once the initial crisis has passed, we continue to use the events almost as reference points, and they enter our lexicon with shorthand phrases like “9-11,“ “the tsunami” and “Katrina,” recognized and understood by people everywhere.

Yet we forget on a daily basis that we are now a global society. What happens in one part of the world affects all others. While we each have our individual story, the stories of almost 7 billion people are woven together by weather and war, by politics and religion, by the economy, and even by music.

The profession of social work is also global. In good times and in times of crisis, we shore up and support our counterparts around the world. We share values and ethics, innovative models and best practices, educational theories and research findings. This summer we will come together in Hong Kong to celebrate the first Joint World Conference on Social Work and Social Development. Convened by the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW), the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW), and the International Conference of Social Welfare (ICSW), it will take place June 10-14.

NASW is the member organization for the United States and a major supporter of IFSW, a federation of 93 member countries. Their mission is to advance the profession of social work around the world for the betterment of society and for social justice. At the opening ceremony of IFSW in Hong Kong, there will be a roll call of nations, and social workers of all cultures and countries will enter the assembly hall. It is at that moment when we recognize that we are, indeed, a global profession — we are the world. I hope to see many of you at the World Congress.