Sudha Nair, PhD, was recently named a finalist for Singaporean of the Year 2016 in recognition of her powerful impact as a social worker focused on family violence. Nair, among Brown School Distinguished Alumni (MSW ’91), was also awarded the title of Her World Woman of the Year in August 2016.
The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year award “seeks to recognize Singaporeans who have put the country on the world map, persevered through great adversity or made Singapore a better place through selfless acts last year.” Nair was one of 12 finalists honored at the award ceremony on February 6, 2017.
Nair, who received her doctorate in social work from National University of Singapore in 2006, has played a major role over 30 years in creating Singapore’s community-based social services. In 1999, she founded the Centre for Promoting Alternatives to Violence (PAVE), the first family violence specialist center in Singapore. PAVE now has multiple offices and a sizable staff of social workers committed to helping to victims of domestic violence and their families. Recently specialized service centers for violence against children have been added.
The Her World Woman of the Year award is given to women who make outstanding contributions to society and serve as inspiration for other Singaporean women. In her acceptance speech, she discussed the challenges in combating family violence.
“The people you love, people who are supposed to love you back, are instead your tormentors,” she said. “And you feel you cannot tell anyone.”
She emphasized the importance of bringing domestic abuse into the light and giving voice to its survivors as well as providing counseling to its perpetrators. Of course, this daunting task demands the labor of social workers who must confront great suffering with extraordinary dedication and skill.
“Social work requires heart, but neither a soft nor a calloused one,” she said. “Social workers like to celebrate the resilience of human beings who are able to survive the most awful experiences and, with help, pull their lives together again.”
Exemplifying the “case to cause” tradition in social work, in 2015 Nair became the first social worker elected to Singapore’s Public Service Commission.