International Development and Social Work

Dixie blog2013 picBy Dixie

This last spring I was selected along with three other classmates to serve as a delegate for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom to the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). I and 19 other women from around the U.S. spent a week completely submerged in the world of international relations, diplomacy and advocacy. The theme of this year’s CSW was “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls”. In a nutshell, the Millennium Development Goals are a set of 8 goals for international development to be achieved by 2015. Although there are criticisms, some that are extremely valid, of the MDGs and the UN’s approach to international development, I want to take this post in a different direction.

More information on the MDGs, history and next steps here:

The week we attending the conference was a jam-packed, roller coaster ride of events ranging in topics from ‘empowering girls through spirituality’ to ‘involving men in the movement’; briefings from U.S. Ambassadors; networking events and somewhere in there was one slice of cheesecake or seven. It was an exhausting, exhilarating, disappointing and motivating week. One of the biggest surprises for me was the low representation in the process of professionals identifying as social workers. I understand that the social work profession is not as, well, professionalized, in other countries as it is in the U.S. but nonetheless, I was disappointed.

As part of our delegate status we were continuously updating the discussion board with entries to include WILPF members in the conversation that were unable to be at the CSW. Here is an excerpt from a post I wrote toward the end of the week.

“As a social worker I come away from this experience slightly disappointed in the representation of my profession on the global level. However, I also strongly believe in tackling issues from a strengths-based perspective and see a great opportunity for freshly minted social workers such as myself to revitalize the voice of the profession in the international policy arena. The values that we hold most dear as a profession are also those found at the heart of sustainable development. I am motivated to work towards a ensuring that the global voice of social workers is strong, vibrant and innovative.”

Even now that I am back home comfortably surrounded by fellow social work students, as I read over this excerpt again, the same feelings rise up. There is such a need for social workers to speak up and speak out on an international level about issues we face every day. Not only are we making things happen in our own communities, we have the tools to make lasting change for communities around the world. Cultural Competency, meeting the client where they are, evaluation and evidenced-based practice are consistently pushed as the “wave of the future” in international development but as social workers, we are already there. I believe that we play vital roles in our communities, we help those that need it most right around the corner but that is not to say we cannot represent them or we cannot empower them to speak for themselves on a global scale. There is power in our values, ethics and practices as clinical and macro social workers that has validity in the international development conversation.

The GCSW has numerous opportunities for social work students to get involved at the international level. For more information about these opportunities, feel free to email Professor Patrick Leung at or visit the GCSW website.


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