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Social work associations across the world took part in the first ever online general meeting of the International Federation of Social Workers.

BASW Chair Gerry Nosowska gives a round-up of the IFSW Global Meeting 11-13 July 2020

BASW is the representative for the United Kingdom to the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW), the international practice-based organisation for social work. 

Every two years, delegates from IFSW member associations take part in a global meeting. This year’s meeting should have been in Calgary, Canada. However, due to Covid-19 the meeting happened entirely online.

Delegates were able to see agenda and documents, and then take part in a 22-hour discussion forum (to cover all time zones), followed by voting on motions. BASW’s delegation (Ruth Allen our Chief Executive, David Jones our International Committee Chair and Gerry Nosowska our UK Chair, along with Jane Shears who is the IFSW Europe representative to the Ethics Commission) Zoomed four times during the discussion session to agree contributions. Our final conversation took place at 5am on Sunday morning. Over the 22 hours we saw the conversation move around the world from Europe and Africa through Asia and the Pacific to the Americas.

We were glad to be joined by a member of the International Committee as an observer. IFSW makes a huge difference and we are keen for more members to get involved and its work to be more visible. BASW members also played a part in moderating the discussion boards and supporting the meeting.

It was exciting to talk to social work organisations across the globe, to hear diverse voices, to see a range of languages and to feel the inclusivity of a shared forum. Previously, associations in the global South have struggled to host or attend meetings. This felt like a huge step in the direction of equality. Comments included:

Great to see a historic moment unfolding where all the members of IFSW are present, though Virtually, as one body. (India)

Italy wants publicly to give thanks to IFSW for the support during covid-19. Thanks to all the countries and all the peoples from all the world who sent support messages. It was very important for Italians and for my country. (Italy)

Excellent organization and platform. From the Dominican Republic we are reviewing and feeding the different documents and discussion of this global exchange. Caribbean hugs! (Dominican Republic)

Regional reports

Presidents of the five regions of IFSW - Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and Caribbean, and North America – reported on work across the regions.  The common themes were upholding social work standards, fighting for social workers’ working conditions and campaigning for social rights. It was inspiring to see our common purpose and ethics in action.

New elements

IFSW has commissions for Human Rights, Ethics and the United Nations. The meeting voted to make the interim Education Commission permanent and also to create an Indigenous Commission from the existing committee. Commissions report directly to the IFSW executive (the leadership board with two representatives from each region). They plan and develop essential areas of social work. The Indigenous Commission will enable IFSW to recognise, uphold and embed knowledge and rights that have too often been ignored in social work.

The IFSW welcomed three new associations – Republic of the Congo, Jordan and Mexico.

Policies

We agreed two new policies to support global social work practice:

Alongside the International Association of Schools of Social Work, we agreed new global standards for social work education. They will help with the development, quality and independence of social work education. Standards include involvement of people with lived experience, centrality of ethics and teaching on anti-oppressive practice.

We agreed a policy to support the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The goals address global challenges that directly impact on social work and the people we support. They include No poverty, Gender equality and Climate action. IFSW will support associations across the world to direct their work towards these goals.

Global agenda

This year we came to the end of the decade of the current global agenda. Its themes have been celebrated each World Social Work Day. For the next two years, we will be working particularly to build unity and collaboration to fight Covid-19 and other challenges.

BASW proposed a motion for IFSW to explore setting up a fund to support social workers in their response to the pandemic. This would build on support that BASW members have already given through our International Development Fund and enable redistribution to address inequality from Covid-19 across the globe.

Recognition of social work

The meeting is a chance to see and appreciate the impact of social work throughout the world. As part of this, the IFSW presented an award for exceptional contribution to social work to Margaret Humphreys.  A UK social worker with international reach, Margaret exemplifies the impact social work ethics can have.

Through IFSW we can recall and celebrate the difference social workers make, and encourage and enable each other to keep going.

The IFSW global social work conference is online from 15 July. You can register for Free here and dip into the sessions over five days. More than 10,000 have already registered.