“Without investing in social work and in the social work workforce, sustainable social development will keep being a dream” (Noel Muridzo, IFSW African Regional President)
“We have the objective of strengthening the profession and making visible the enormous and important contributions that Social Workers”.
(Silvana Martinez, IFSW President)
During the three-day IFSW African Regional conference, more than 350 delegates from 37 countries discussed strategic plans to strengthen the impact of social work in their countries and region. Conference discussions included the need to highlight indigenous knowledge and approaches in social work education, the importance of recognising that people need to feel loved in order to thrive and the role of social workers in supporting loving relationships, the role of youth in the shaping the profession and developing national laws that support the role of social workers in facilitating social development.
With regard to indigenous knowledge, many of the delegates commented that it is necessary for the African social work profession to continue advancing indigenous wisdom and experience into all practice settings in the decolonisation process and there was acknowledgment that a stronger indigenous focus was needed in social work education. IFSW regional Indigenous representative Janestic Twikirize said that “We need to indigenize social work in Africa with the knowledge of the communities”. George Mansaray, president of Sierra Leona National Association of Social Workers emphasized during a keynote address: “That social work wisdom in Africa comes from the roots of the community. It starts by communities inviting social workers to meet and learn with them and then co-developing community plans”.
Also, in attendance was Aby Mans, age 16 from Sierra Leone who participated in providing a joint keynote address with her social worker George Mansaray and emeritus IFSW President Ruth Stark. She told the audience that it is really important not to feel judged and to develop a healthy relationship based on trust with your social worker. She said to avoid teenage pregnancy and young girls going into prostitutes they need to feel loved”. Rory Truell, Secretary-General in his remarks at the opening of the conference also discussed the need for the profession to be open in talking about ‘love in the social development process’: “Love within families and the love of children is, as we know, a foundation of livelihood and even though it is a word not usually promoted in the profession’s literature, we need to talk about our roles in supporting loving connections and environments and that love is an essential part of effective social development. It is not always easy when social workers often work in loveless workplaces but this is something we need to change.”
The theme of love continued to be echoed throughout the conference. Social Work students empathized love and caring as a key value in the profession and also provided the IFSW President, Silvana Martinez with their conclusion from their Pre-Conference workshop. This included an important recommendation that students should be represented on the boards of the national associations to shape the reality of social work. The recommendation was welcomed by Michael Byamukama, the President of NASWU who responded saying to the students: “You are not just the leader of tomorrow you are leaders of today”.
During the Conference Noel Muridzo, President of IFSW Africa chaired several meetings and met with the Presidents and representatives of 15 national associations of social work. This is the first time in history that so many African associations have been able to gather together. Among other issues, the African Presidents identified processes that will lead to the establishment of legislation in each of the countries. They discussed that legislation should specify the role of social workers as well as the professionalization of social work. From the 15 countries represented only Zimbabwe has a law protecting the title of social work while the others are at different points in the journey. The presidents reflected on the need to learn from both inside and outside the region to ensure that they end with legislation that provided better outcomes for social work and its impact on social development.
IFSW African Representatives, Regional President Noel Muridzo and Regional Vicepresident Joachim Mumba commented: “That never before have some many African Associations been able to work directly together and this illustrates the growth and increasing strength of social work in Africa”.
Invited Keynote speaker Mr. Angelo McClaen, from the National Association of Social Workers in USA said in his inspiring address on ‘Transformative Leadership for Transformational Change in Africa’: “That everyone has a reservoir of transformation leadership within them and they need to embrace the transformative leadership within them and go out to cause the significant and lasting solutions we aspire to see”.
Silvana Martinez, IFSW president said that the closing ceremony: ‘I feel so proud of the profession. Everybody has worked really hard and strengthened the profession and strengthened the region’. Rory Truell IFSW Secretary-General closing remark was: ‘The African region has grown its identity, its size and its impact. IFSW congratulates you all. The participants, the speakers and the discussions that have taken place in this conference have dignified the global social work profession’.