The biennial General Meeting of the International Federation of Social Workers is always held in association with the World Social Work Conference, this time in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. This global social work event in fact involves almost 2 weeks of meetings which set the agenda and priorities for the following 2 years. The IFSW Executive Committee met August 11-12, preceded by working groups and followed by the General Meeting August 13 -15. After the elections, the new Executive Committee met August 16-17 woven around the opening of the World Conference.
New IFSW policies
The General Meeting had a packed agenda, with a variety of new policy papers. New or updated international policies on Health, Genocide, Cross-Border Reproductive Services, Ageing and Older Adults were approved and will soon be on the IFSW website. Draft policies on Poverty and Women were debated and will be subject to further consultation. A policy paper on Homelessness from Europe will be developed into a global paper. Policies are usually drafted by international working groups representing IFSW’s five world regions.
New member organizations
New applications to join IFSW from Fiji, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zambia were approved, while Libya was reinstated as member after a long break. This means that IFSW now has member organizations in a record 90 countries around the world. There were lively reports from IFSW’s United Nations teams in New York, Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna and from other representatives.
The meeting was well attended despite the logistical and cost difficulties for many smaller associations in getting to Brazil. Representatives of 31 of IFSWs member organizations were present and 7 had sent proxies. There was a real sense that the organization was looking outwards, focusing on the challenges of social work and social policy in the world rather than being preoccupied with its internal affairs.
World Social Work Day
For example, IFSW launched World Social Work Day (WSWD) in 2007, building on the success of the well-established European Social Work Action Day as well as national events in many countries. The IFSW website shows that this event has quickly become established around the world. Linked with the annual social work day at the United Nations in New York which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. A decision was made that WSWD would be celebrated every year on the 3rd Tuesday in March and there was agreement that the theme for the next 2 years should be linked with the 2010 World Conference in Hong Kong.
IFSW is determined to ensure that there are clear global statements about the important areas of social work policy and practice to support national debates, to make sure that these are well informed, well publicized and influential. This is a crucial element in the struggle to explain the social work perspective and social work contribution to resolving the huge and growing social problems facing the world.
There were also debates looking internally, however, with serious discussions about the governance of IFSW and the relationship between the member organizations, bigger and smaller, well resourced or not. These relationships are always difficult to handle in an international environment and it is all too easy for debates to parallel the diplomatic engagements of the political world! The meeting reaffirmed that how IFSW does business must be consistent with the values of social work and the ethical principles of IFSW – open, honest and transparent — and also timely. The meeting gave some big challenges to the Executive Committee for the future.
Looking towards 2010
So the meeting concluded recognizing that there is a big and exciting agenda for the next 2 years, which will come together in the next World Conference (June 10-15) and global meetings in Hong Kong 2010. The 2010 conference will be shared with the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) and the International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW).
Over the next 2 years IFSW, IASSW and ICSW will lead a global contribution on the priorities for social work and social development for the next decade, consulting leading global institutions and other partners including service users. As part of that process, IFSW and IASSW will bring recommendations from consultations on the current World Definition of Social Work and the World Ethical Principles for Social Work. There will also be new policy statements for consultation.
The IFSW General Meeting celebrated the Eileen McGowan Kelly scholarship receiver Elizabeth Horevitz, USA as well as the recipients of the Andrew Mouravieff-Apostol medal Carlos Eroles, Argentina and Terry Bamford, United Kingdom. The Kelly scholarship is set up to stimulate interest in international social work, while the Mouravieff-Apostol medal is honoring longstanding contributions to international social work.
A motion from Switzerland to explore closer cooperation with the social educator international AIEJI was approved.
The General Meeting also received reports on three regional conferences to take place in 2009: Dubrovnik, Croatia April 26-29, Tripoli, Libya May 3-5 and Auckland, New Zealand November 10-13.
Elections and appointments
Fiona Robertson, New Zealand was re-elected as Treasurer. Charles Mbugua, Kenya and Nicolai Paulsen, Denmark continue as Regional Presidents for Africa and Europe respectively, while Jim Kelly, USA is new Regional President for North America and John Ang, Singapore new Regional President for Asia and Pacific. Ivanete Salate Boschetti, Brazil is new Member-at-Large in the IFSW Executive Committee for Latin-America and Caribbean while Veronica Marsman, Canada serve in the same function for North America. The position as Member-at-Large for Asia and Pacific will be filled following a post General Meeting by-election. The other positions in the Executive Committee were not up for election at this General Meeting: David N Jones, United Kingdom as President, Laura Acotto, Argentina as Regional President for Latin-America and Caribbean, Daniel Opare Asiedu, Ghana as Member-at-Large for Africa and Barbara Molderings, Germany as Member-at-Large for Europe.
Ruth Stark, United Kingdom was appointed new Commissioner for Human Rights and Richard Hugman, Australia new Commissioner for Ethics. Gary Bailey, USA continues as Policy Commissioner. The General Meeting paid homage to the retiring Commissioners Elis Envall, Sweden for Human Rights and Arne Groenningsaeter, Norway for Ethics.
The Main Representatives to the United Nations continue in their posts: Ellen Mouravieff-Apostol in Geneva, Michael Cronin in New York, Charles Mbugua in Nairobi and Georg Dimitz in Vienna. Other appointments were Terry Bamford, United Kingdom to Amnesty International, Suzanne Dworak-Peck, USA as IFSW Ambassador and Nigel Hall, United Kingdom to the International Social Work Journal.
Bob Lonne from Australia was elected as Elections Officer with Buster Curson, New Zealand and Suzanne Dworak-Peck, USA as alternates.
The World Conference
The 19th World Conference of Social Work in Salvador was held for the first time in Brazil from August 16 to 19. The Conference theme – “The challenge of ensuring rights in a global and unequal society” – was timely considering the flagrant violation of human rights all over the world in recent years. Bahia has experience of human rights abuse from its own past – an estimated 1.3 million slaves were imported into Bahia before slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888, double the number imported into the entire United States of America. 2,633 social workers from 44 countries attended the Conference – the biggest IFSW World Conference since 1992. Presentations were made in 17 thematic sessions with a total of 1,278 presentations, ranging from topics such as “Social Service, Ethics and Human Rights”, “Environmental, Urban and Rural Social Movements” to “Geopolitical Changes and the Rights of Refugees, Migrants and Illegal Immigrants”.
International conferences always provide opportunities for networking and new cultural experiences as well as professional discussions and reflection. We certainly experienced some lively social events in Brazil, the home of samba! Of all the Brazilian cities, Salvador on the northern coast of Brazil, just south of the Amazon, has a particularly proud musical tradition; Salvador and Rio are the great musical and cultural rivals of this huge and rapidly developing country, with a large and radical workforce of social workers. Latin America’s recent history of political conflicts, military coups and human rights violations was also in evidence.