Transcription for BASW weekly vlog - Global Social Work

Published 12 June 2020

As part of this series of vlogs to mark BASW’s 50th birthday, today I am joined today by David Jones and Godfred Boahen to explore BASW’s longstanding relationship to global social work.

BASW has been the representative organisation for the UK within the international federation of social workers since our formation in 1970. Our Code of Ethics is based on the global ethical principles and we embrace the global definition of social work.

Being part of global social work reflects our commitment to internationalism, global human rights and international professional learning.  In the past few years we have taken this forward through establishing our international development fund to support global learning between social workers and I will be talking about that amongst other things with Godfred and David in a moment.

Something that acting at global level brings to the fore is our professional and ethical responsibility to have a clear critical understanding of the UK’s colonial past and its impact in the post-colonial present. Our social work values mean working at international level to address global power imbalances and injustices which have many of their roots in colonialism – and acting in the UK to promote anti oppressive practice and support and raise up the voices of social workers from different ethnic and diaspora communities.

The importance of this - and how far we have to go as a society and profession - has been brought into sharp focus by the global outrage at racism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in the US,  and by the health inequalities based on race and ethnicity laid bare during the Covid pandemic. It is with consciousness of all this and thinking about social work’s role in making a difference in our unequal world, that I am pleased to be joined today by Godfred and David. Hello and welcome!


Hello Ruth, my name is Godfred Boahen, I am employed by BASW as Policy, Research and Practice Improvement Projects Lead and I support the work of the BASW International committee and the Policy, Ethics and Human Rights committee.


Fantastic and David HI


hello Ruth and thank you for doing this. Im David Jones, I chair the International Committee at BASW and that means Im on Concil as well.  Ive done 40 years in social work in all sorts of different places, different ways, mainly national organisations, along the way Ive been president of the IFSW for four years and Im the current lead for the global adengda for social work and social development which is a way of pulling together lots of the things that Social Workers do around the world.

Ill come back to some of that, thank you.  Id like to explore how does BASW work with the IFSW – hwo htats developed over ht years


Ive been involved for while in the 1990’s.  I was general secretary of BASW.  The IFSW is a federation of national associations, like the united nations – one country one vote.  Since 1970 BASW has been the UK representative, and we also go back to some of the predecessor organisations that go back to 1926 and a big three week conference in Paris.

We are the UK voice and we play a significant role.  It is a bit like being in the UN in a way, the power structures and influence are very similar.  US is the biggest funder and the western bodies put in the most money.  IFSW is struggline to work through the politics of the world – we now have a spanish speaking president for the first time from Argentina and the Chinese association is playing a bigger role.  For us we have had a lot of influence on the constitution, the way things work – but we also have to be very aware of the history and the burden of the history that we carry.  BASW has always said we ar there to facilitate and enable.  we have had four presidents over the period, I hope we se people with diplomacy and are making things work and put resources into a lot of regions too.


IFSW now has how many associations?


Around 130 – so its grown a lot.  A lot of associations started in eastern central Europe in the 90s, more recently African and Latin American Associations

the pandemic and how we are using technology will change things.  The federation has been based on relationships are now more open.


the most recent association to join is Malawi and associations in Africa have taken up larger roles too – Godfred you have been involved in the associations in the African region, do you want to say a bit about that?


Thanks Ruth.  Yes, during this pandemic Covid has been moving around the globe having different impacts in different impacts, so there is a need for a channel through IFSW to learn from one another, learn about the roles social worker have performed, the recognition of social worker in different contexts, IFSW Africa during this time has really been a conduit for that, sharing that information and disseminating from one part of Africa to the other.  It has enabled social workers in Africa to have a collective voice., bearing in mind the cultural context of Africa the unique nature of social work in Africa enabled that learning to be shared.


overall IFSW has had a strong role in raising the voice of social work across the globe.  We lost the major global conference this year in Calgary , which brings 2 -3 thousand people together from across the globe, and this couldn’t happen this year.  An online conference is planned and IFSW reaching out to SW across the globe.  It a new kind of democracy as I know those big conferences were amazing but maybe not everyone could make it, with more people accessing them online without the expense and air travel involved.

Can I ask your thoughts on the IFSW’s response to Covid sidtuation more braodly?


it has been a challenge, but IFSW like BASW IFSW has looked at the ethical issues with a survey, responded to individuals too.  There has been activity in the regions too, the European region – despite Brexit – we are still a part of the community of social workers in Europe.  And there is the council of Europe as well so there are voices ther that are involved. the ocnfernce is a real opporutniyt to social workers to get in touch with the international dynamics, its free to register over 4-5 days, you can dip in and out when you want, there will be workshops and presentations.  Most of it is going to be there to accessed rather than live, but there will be live keynote speaches.  It would be lovely if every BASW member signed up – its free so why not!


Yes, and everyone has to come to the BASW event on 22 and 23 June first and then sign up for the IFSW in July!

Godfred did you have any comments to the response to Covid by IFSW?


yes as you mentioned earlier, ive done some work with ifsw in this period.  As I mentioned, Covid has moved around the world and had different impacts, you need one body to be able to integrate the knowledge and filter the learning around social work globally and the IFSW has done that.

I read a paper by IFSW general secretary Rory, that distilled all the learning from across the globe which was very useful.  Bearing in mind the political sensitivites around the pandemic, around different regtions of the world, you need one body to collate this.  The second point is about disseminating information, and supporting member organisations around the world, some are better funded than others.  The IFSW has been able to act as a bridge, to support those who are less funded.

Third point is the use of technology , how the IFSW conference is now on line as actually a form of democracy, its actually bridging the knowledge of the global north and global south.  Colleagues across the globe will be able to access and participate in a meaningful way, than otherwise as they may not have attended in person.

The IFSW – taking the African region as an example – has been involved in building infrastructure, Covid has been kind of springboard around the use of that infrastructure so its benefited along the line for some member organisations. I know there have been webinars from colleagues in Palestine, the anglophone countries of Africa as well as the francophone parts of Africa.  We have needed a central body to be able to coordination soial work globally.


thank you – just moving away from IFSW.  BASW’s internationalism is expressed through IFSW which is important.  It is driven a belief as an organisation for fundamental global human rights, the importance of global convention, initiative, cooperation.  We are in a time of questioning global cooperation of various kinds and of the notion of international human rights, we are facing lots of massive global existential threats – climate change, obviously this pandemic.  Some parts of the world were comping out of poverty the pandemic may reverse some of that. Places like the UK going backwards on poverty, so not all the traditional patters of poverty, but certainly poverty across the globe, war, environmental damage, big business, multinationals, concentration of wealth in cities …all of that

How can social work bring hope to some of these international challenges?


when you are a social worker in practice meeting a family in their home or meeting people when you can do that, or talking about personal circumstances – making a link with global changes around you can be difficult.  But actually the UK is more internationally probably than any other country.  Im a trustee of International Social Services for children and families across borders, we have contact with more countries than any other national bureau because the UK is so international.

So a lot of our practice actually has a lot of international context through family connections and so on.

we can have two reactions – gosh it is terrifying, frightened by the pandemic, all these things, lets build walls and close in to feel safe.

In the end climate change will come anyway, we know the global forces are going to be there – so the other reaction is weve got to cooperate, work together, and that’s why I believe that the multi-lateral approach is right and we need to support the multilateral institutions. There can be challenges but like UN, like Council of Europe, even EU, the ones that we can influence, we need to work with.  Social work has a status with those organisations, we are accredited to the UN and Council of Europe through IFSW – we have people working in those institutions who are able to take the practical experiences of social workers into those international bodies and use to shape policies and thinking.  UNICEF have recognised this this week, issuing a statement supporting social workers explicitly, recognised by the secretary general of the UN, that social workers are key players because of our local connections and we make the contact between the local and global. we have to have the confidence to continue doing that.


yes – and using some of those ideas that have credibility and status internationally in the UK is really important as well.


Partnerships with people is something that social workers in the Uk Champion internationally, involving service users as full partners – writing that into documents bringing that advocacy campaigning alongside social movements. 


Ruth, the response to the pandemic government has sometimes been very technocratic what that does is mask that underneath this bureaucratic jargon is judgement about values.  If we think about The discussion at the start of the pandemic for eg around who should have ventilation, who is deserving of that – on what basis should we make decisions. these are value judgements.  This to me really highlights the centrality of social work around the responses to the pandemic.

The pandemic has highlighted globally what social workers have always said – the value of community at a macro and micro level such as in families or churches and the need for people to be connected together.  A former British PM said there is no such thing as a society .  SOicaty has responded to the pandemic where governments have withdrawn.


interesting Godfred, this debate is happening across the world – how do you practice social work in this environment.  how individualistic can we continue to be and how much should we be involved in building community, working alongside people – that’s a challenge in the UK and we can learn from others.


IFSW can really help with learning.  The arrogance that we think of our social work when actually it’s the social work, there is so much to learn even from countries with so fewer resources than UK who do amazing and effective work in communities.

At BASW we have the opportunity to engage in international social work through the international development fund, which is as small contribution of £2 each year by BASW members and its built up into a fund for collaborative projects, led by BASW members but absolutely always in partnership with people from around the globe in partnership with people with lived experience.  All sorts of project have been funded around the world which is open to members for small grants.

Weve made some changes in BASW to how we use this fund, can you say something about the changes we have made which has been about responding to the covid situation.  Godfred would you like to explain this which you and David have been leading on.


the IDF has been changed as part of the developing situation we have around covid, so its been open to our members and projects around the world to do work which is specific to covid, and also involve the needs of people who use services.  And one that would have direct practice impact and also have sustainability in it.

I have learnt through the applications we have seen the multiple roles of social workers around the world – eg some social workers involved in the production and distribution of PPE – it shows how social workers have risen to the challenge and defined new roles and requirement s for social work – for example around technology and social workers protecting human rights.

UK social workers are very interested in international social work – we can see the overlaps between international and local. sometimes in the UK in frontline services, it might not be apparent, but our members make that connection.  And have shown a real interest and appetite for supporting things around the globe during this period,


Thanks that brings me onto our last point, our international committee which covers some of the things we have talked about, it deals with the things that come from IFSW, issues around human rights around the globe.

David would you like to talk about the committee which you chair and has some new members.  We are a very international profession in the UK, we are a very diverase and global community of workers.

David what are your ambitions and hopes for the international committee and the priorities for the coming year?


We are holding together two things you have mentioned – one is our engagement with the formal structures with international social work, through the IFSW, through commonwealth organisations for social work which has close links to the commonwealth secretariac and gives us privelidged access to heads of government meetings.  There are formal bits and that includes the poster behind me – global agenda for social work and how we set up the global social work days, what the theme should be and how we co-ordinate that around the world and, the last 10-years, World social work day has really taken off.

All around the world people focus on the same theme and that comes through planning and infrastructure for IFSW. Whats more complex is the other side of the work which is learning and building on people's experience of international work. You talked about the diaspora groups, we're very keen to make links and we already making links with communities and social workers from different parts of the world - Australia, Zimbabwe, Canada, Romania.

A lot of social workers are from Romania in the UK and our interest is how can we support them. I'm sure we're going to continue to recruit from overseas, very controversial in itself, but should we have a reinstate the code of practice about overseas recruitment, which existed at all and out of use and we could perhaps be reinstating that.

Then there's people's interests with particular projects or particular areas of the world where we can support members. There are issues of disasters and things that come up or particular issues that affect particular countries and social workers feel strongly about it which is why we published a guidance on human rights which is now available on the website, we commissioned that, it's there as an evolving documents that we can refer back to.

It's a broad brush of huge scope, including the whole threat to international institutions that we were talking about a few minutes ago, but there are opportunities for us to have influence, but the main thing, is connecting daily practice. What people do day by day with the big international institutions. Believe you me, those institutions need to hear about that practice because that is the real experience, it counts for more than rhetoric, it counts for more than articles and research studies. It is what professional associations should do, and that's why we've got to link the local into the international organisations.


Yes, absolutely, thank you David.

Godfred, if I could just come to you for your final thoughts on what you think of the priorities for BASW and the International Committee, if you had to pick a top view.


We have said how international committee has been reinvigorated, so my hopes and ambition is  mainstreaming of international social work in the UK and I think we've got we've got really got the energy to do that.

The pandemic shown that we have more to learn from each other than we thought and if I think about community SW - amazing work done in Uganda, we know community social work rediscovered that, so mainstream international social work means genuine sharing of ideas and sharing of expertise and sharing of practice between social workers in the UK and our colleagues around the globe.  It also means that social workers in UK thinking actually social work department of my CPD -engaging with international Committee and engaging in and influencing international organisations. International organisation be part of your CPD


and then put it into the idf to get some money to help it.


and then finally mutual support between social work is actually sometimes when you're practicing at the coalface, the journey is to lift your head and then see other people and see what everyone else is doing around it is a point of reflection.  So I when I talk about mainstream international social work these are the first stands I would hope will be pursued by colleagues and international committee.


Thank you. Thank you so much. I'm going to close the discussion there- we could go on it's really fascinating. I really hope that this is also stimulated the interest of anybody watches this, members non-members get involved.

Thank you so much. David you been working in this field for such a long time so much to it and thank you for sharing your thoughts today.

Very pertinent to our history which we are exploring this month and thank you so much and thank you Godfred for all that you're doing as well and all of your great insights there.

Some real pointers there for the future and bringing international thinking and internationalism into our social work in practice and learning across Nations and reducing/addressing that power imbalance

Thank you very much close it there. Thank you bye-bye.