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January/February 2011 Issue

Thinking Globally, Acting Locally
By Christina Reardon, MSW
Social Work Today
Vol. 11 No. 1 P. 6

Globalization is reshaping many professions, and social work is no exception. International events are affecting clients’ economic well-being, migration trends are bringing more immigrants and refugees into the social service system, and new technology is making exchange of ideas across borders easier than ever.

Increasingly, social workers are recognizing the importance of incorporating an international perspective into their practice, research, or educational activities. Promoting such global understanding is the goal of the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Katherine A. Kendall Institute for International Social Work Education.

Through its programs and website, the center provides a plethora of resources designed to help social workers carry on the work of Katherine Kendall, who passed away December, 1, 2010, at the age of 100, a guiding force in international social work and international social work education.

“She’s been a voice for advocacy for the importance of a global perspective in everything we do,” says Lynne Healy, PhD, MSW, a professor and director of the Center for International Social Work Studies at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work. “She represents the value of working together.”

A Mentor to Social Workers Past, Present, and Future
Talk to people who knew Kendall and the picture that emerges is that of a woman who was amazing both because of her passion for international social work and because she was able to keep that passion strong for decades while igniting it within others.

Born in Scotland, Kendall came to the United States at the age of 10. She received her master’s degree from Louisiana State University’s social work program in 1939 and received her doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1950. That same year, the United Nations (UN) published a study Kendall conducted about social work training around the world. The study caught the attention of the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW), and Kendall held leadership positions within the organization for much of the next three decades. She also held leadership positions at CSWE, including executive director, until she left in 1971 to become secretary general of the IASSW. She officially retired from that organization in 1978 but remained active in consulting, advocacy, and publishing.

“The only thing she had been unsuccessful with is retirement,” says M. C. “Terry” Hokenstad, Jr., PhD, the Ralph S. and Dorothy P. Schmitt Professor at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “She had great influence both in her formal career and an informal mentor to people like me. It is truly remarkable the number of people in key roles internationally that she helped bring along.”

Kendall’s service as a mentor to social workers will continue in the work of the Kendall Institute, which the CSWE established in 2004. Its mission is twofold: to foster the development of international content in social work education and to foster collaboration and networking within the global social work community. The organization has an advisory board comprised of Healy, Hokenstad, and other international social work experts, including representatives from Canada, Ethiopia, and China. The advisory board works with CSWE staff to determine the institute’s projects and areas of focus.

The institute fulfills its mission in a variety of ways. It hosts seminars and workshops on international issues such as disaster management, migration, human rights, and poverty. Many of these efforts are made through partnerships with other organizations such as the UN, the IASSW, and the International Red Cross. The institute also has a fellowship program that brings social work faculty from around the world to the United States to work on institute priorities, attend conferences, and conduct lectures as visiting scholars.

The institute reaches out virtually, too. Its website (http://www.cswe.org/CentersInitiatives/KAKI.aspx) contains an extensive library of information on topics such as disaster management, careers in international social work, study abroad programs, the UN, and nongovernmental organizations. For educators interested in incorporating international content into their curricula, there are syllabi of previously and currently taught international social work courses.

The Kendall Institute’s work complements CSWE’s other efforts to promote international social work education, says Andrea Bediako, MPA, international program coordinator and research associate with the CSWE. There is an international component to CSWE’s accreditation standards, and the council’s governance includes the Commission on Global Social Work Education, which works to promote international programs and develop international social work curricula.

“We have a lot of different groups working together on international social work,” Bediako says. “It’s increasingly becoming a hot topic.”

Work in Progress
The Kendall Institute marked its namesake’s 100th birthday with special events and resources. In September 2010, the institute gathered more than 60 people at Kendall’s retirement community in Maryland. Her last book, Essays on a Long Life: Jottings and Random Thoughts, was unveiled at the gathering.

One person in attendance at the gathering was Sanela Sadic, the Kendall Institute’s fellow for 2010. Sadic is an assistant professor in the social work department at the University of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. During her time in the United States, Sadic had the opportunity to learn about the CSWE’s accreditation standards, attend conferences, and deliver lectures at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work. Sadic says these experiences not only allowed her to gain valuable insight from her American colleagues but also gave her the chance to share her knowledge with them.

“When getting knowledge about other cultures and practices, we get more of a chance for critical thinking and developing better practices,” Sadic says. “For example, work in multicultural context, theory, and practice has been developed the most in America, and this experience might be [inspiring] for other [countries] where this concept was not developed.”

Yet obstacles remain to this exchange of information, including language barriers and lack of funds for study abroad programs. There also is also the continuing challenge of some American social workers’ apathy about global events, says Muhammad Samad, PhD, a professor and director of the Institute of Social Welfare and Research at the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh. Samad experienced this as he interacted with students during his Kendall fellowship in 2009.

“What was amazing for me, the American students mostly were unaware and indifferent about current international affairs (e.g., poverty situations, political crisis, wars) as well as globalization, its impacts on the peoples’ lives and culture of the other societies,” he says.

Healy and Hokenstad acknowledge that despite decades of advocacy by Kendall and the continuing efforts of the Kendall Institute, there is still much work to be done to increase acceptance of international social work among social workers in the United States.
Although professional exchange and study abroad opportunities have expanded, there is still a lack of awareness of how international issues affect social workers’ everyday work. But social workers are beginning to recognize the importance of international issues especially as more of them encounter clients from immigrant and refugee backgrounds, Hokenstad says.

Educational institutions must be more proactive in integrating international content into curriculum and programming, according to Healy. To ignore this is to ignore an untapped market of students who truly want to learn more about international social work, she says.

“I definitely think there is a demand out there for international social work education,” Healy says. “And not all of the students want to move out of the country and work somewhere else. The students realize that the international issues are right here. They see it even if their professors don’t.”

Christina Reardon, MSW, is a freelance writer based in Harrisburg, PA, and a contributing editor at Social Work Today.