The Center for Social Development (CSD) and the Policy Forum at Washington University in St. Louis collaborated with partners at the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare at Hebrew University in Jerusalem to organize “Social Innovation and Engagement,” a conference held at the Brown School in April. Two keynote presentations helped anchor the event, one by Marilyn Flynn, dean of social work at the University of Southern California, and the other by Leila Patel, director of the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg.
Flynn spoke about policy changes and innovation, proposing three actions to move ahead in the field of social policy: “Redefine the role and uniqueness of social work,” find new intellectual and societal partners, and develop new policies that encourage individual responsibility and control.
Patel, who was instrumental in the development of South Africa’s welfare policy post-apartheid, took participants through the process of drafting the White Paper that was adopted by parliament in 1997. The roller coaster ride that took Patel – and her country – to that point was full of lessons on policy practice. “We learned we can develop the most visionary policies, but if insufficient attention is paid to policy implementation, the policy will remain a good idea.”
The conference also offered panel presentations from international social workers on effective policy practice and from students and social workers regarding their own professional training. The remainder of the conference was devoted to working sessions.
Michael Sherraden, CSD director and George Warren Brown Distinguished University Professor, calls this work “important and productive.” He says, “Social Work has a long history of informing and shaping major social policies in the United States and abroad. Policy practice is fundamental to the profession, yet cannot be taken for granted. We can always do better.”
John Gal, dean of the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare, says, “All social workers should be able to engage in the policy process, no matter where they work. We need to think of policy practice in a wider way, as part of the daily practice of social workers.”
In addition to Israel, South Africa and California, participants traveled from Spain, Canada, Australia, Maryland, Michigan, Texas and Virginia.
View photos from the conference here.