The social work profession is expanding rapidly across the globe as more examples of human suffering and inequality are exposed. 1.25 billion people, or about 1/7th of the world’s total population are living in poverty. Social work is necessary now more than ever to deal with sobering issues such as homelessness, food insecurity, political injustices, etc. The field of social work was developed in the westernized world and ultimately has the goal of promoting human dignity and social and economic equality. Because the discipline is essentially about helping people, many would assume that social workers can do no harm. However, many are ignoring the fact that the whole world does not operate uniformly and that the field of social work needs to have practices in place that “prevent inherent bias and avoid oppressive practices” (Razack 2009; Sewpaul 2005). Different countries, especially ones that have not been westernized, have different political set ups, different values, different religions, etc. However, those types of measures are exactly what the field needs in order to truly become a global discipline.
With the United States’ growing involvement in other countries, key members from the NYU McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research, Gary Parker, Dr. Samira Ali, Kassia Ringell, and Dr. Mary McKay, the authors of “Bi-directional Exchange: the Cornerstone of Globally Focused Social Work,” (featured in Global Social Welfare: Research, Policy and Practice*) highlight the importance of collaborating with different cultures to grow and strengthen the Western thought-oriented field. Confronting the often hidden controversies of global social work, including globalization and colonization, this article emphasizes that practitioners need to be aware that local populations may view them as agents of social control instead of as people there to help end their suffering. The authors assert that global social workers can do this through enlightening, bi-directional exchanges with local communities. By approaching global social work as a bi-directional exchange, or two-way learning, Western and local social workers can learn the best practices and avoid past pitfalls.
According to the authors, this two-way learning with other cultures needs to include: (1) shared goals; (2) distribution of power; (3) recognition of local knowledge as well as social work theory; (4) open communication; and (5) trust. The authors also go one step further and describe exactly how to teach these methods to social work students so that they may become effective practitioners in the field who help to make the world a better place in a just and unbiased way. As important as social work is, it is equally as important to note that the world is large and diverse, and the western way of living is not always right for everyone.
*In March 2014, the McSilver Institute launched the academic journal, Global Social Welfare: Research, Policy and Practice through Springer Publications. For a limited time – all articles are open access!
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