What global policies and developments are shaping the social worker environment and how will these changes affect the way you help your clients?
Global Shifts and Trends in Social Work
There is a long tradition of social workers traveling overseas to apply their skills and acquire new ones in other countries and cultures. Global access has created economic and social change across everything from the flow of migrants to job markets and global financial markets to child welfare and poverty. It’s vital for social workers in a global role to have an awareness of both the risks and opportunities as a social worker, whether they’re working abroad or simply concerned about worldwide events.
Overseas Aid and Education
According to research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), ripple effects of the recent global financial crisis resulted in a significant drop in foreign aid budgets. In 2011, aid comprised an average 0.31 percent of donor nations’ Gross National Income (GNI), still well below the UN’s original goal of 0.54 percent of collective GNP by 2015.
As noted in the Global Social Policy Digest, one of the areas most hurt has been education programs in less wealthy countries. This has been offset by a number of projects, including a 2012 World Bank initiative to fund secondary education in India, and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which aims to halve childhood illiteracy in developing countries. These programs represent significant opportunities for social workers who want to work with organizations to alleviate poverty via better access to education.
Tackling Global Poverty and Inequality
As more people move from lower-income to higher-income countries to escape poverty, social workers in all countries must play a role in improving living standards and promoting equal opportunity.
Despite reports from the World Bank of an overall decline in world poverty rates, the U.N. International Labour Office (ILO) says 73 percent of the world’s population still had “no or very restricted” access to social protection in 2014, resulting in significant poverty and hardship.
To tackle this problem, the World Bank and ILO have announced a push for universal social protection that targets ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity across the world by 2030. Signatories include the European Union (EU), the OECD, the African Union and a range of charitable organizations.
According to the World Bank, universal or near-universal social protection programs have already been implemented in 23 low- to middle-income countries, with 100 others in the process of scaling up social protection programs. This is likely to require increased migration of social workers across different countries and regions, in order to share knowledge with local government agencies and help develop social protection programs where none may have existed.
One element of these shifts is the positive inclusion of new technologies, which are allowing social workers to communicate and operate more flexibly and efficiently. Find out how technology is helping to transform the world of social work here.
Building Cultural Competence and Political Awareness
Compared to the U.S, there exist very different social worker environments in countries such as Malawi, Papua New Guinea or Malaysia. Different religious and cultural beliefs can result in varying attitudes toward the rights and social standings of women, children and LGBTQ people.
Social workers can use this as an opportunity to see things from a different perspective and question their own assumptions, which are likely to be based on theories grounded in Western viewpoints about family and community. They may find they need to balance their personal beliefs about human rights and social justice with cultural sensitivity and respect for local laws.
Debate still rages over the benefits and downsides of globalization, but it’s certainly creating a web of collaboration and international efforts and helping to improve social services worldwide. For social workers in both the U.S. and elsewhere, there are many ways to help to improve social cohesion and promote sustainable economic development.
Social workers play a vital role in the advancement of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversity. Stake a claim in your own education and keep up to date with an advanced degree.