Financial capability: A new focus of social work research, education and practice in mainland China
11/15/2018

The Center for Social Development is once again engaged in partnership for development of social work in mainland China.

The focus is on financial capability. Recognizing that daily life in all countries has become more financialized, and that marginalized people are too often financially exploited or excluded, CSD has become a U.S. leader in the development of “financial social work.” Interest in this work is expanding rapidly in the U.S. and growing in other countries, including China.

This interest and engagement was evident in a November 3 international symposium on “Financial Capability and Asset Building (FCAB): Promoting financial social work education, research and practice,” which was convened at the Central University of Finance and Economics (CUFE) in Beijing. Jin Huang, associate professor at Saint Louis University and a CSD faculty director, was the lead organizing partner from the U.S. 

CUFE hosted the symposium in response to Chinese national policy calls for inclusive finance and precision poverty alleviation, and to promote development of financial capability through financial social work education, research and practice. More than 120 social work researchers, educators and practitioners attended the meeting, including leaders of the China Council on Social Work Education, the China Academy of Social Work and the China Associations of Social Workers.

On behalf of Huang and Margaret Sherraden, CSD Director Michael Sherraden delivered the keynote address “Financial capability and asset building: A grand challenge of social work.” Li Zou presented on Washington University’s experience teaching the master’s level course on financial capability and asset building, which was co-instructed by Gena McClendon and Lissa Johnson.

Huang, Julie Birkenmaier and Jami Curley of Saint Louis University delivered papers on research and education in financial capabilities. Minchao Jin, a CSD-trained PhD and now assistant professor at New York University, shared his research on financial literacy.

“Build financial capability for all” is one of the 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work in the United States. Huang, Margaret Sherraden and Birkenmaier are national co-leaders of this Grand Challenge. Huang is a CSD faculty director for Inclusion in Asset Building, Sherraden is a research professor at Washington University, and Birkenmaier is a CSD faculty director for Financial Capability.

While many social workers help clients address their financial issues, the idea of promoting financial capability and financial inclusion is new for China’s social work profession. “Our Chinese colleagues are excited about this Grand Challenge and understand the critical role of financial capability to achieve financial wellbeing,” Huang said. Multiple social work education programs, including the one at CUFE, plan to initiate FCAB or a financial social work concentration. The programs will create their own curricular approaches based on CSD’s FCAB curriculum.

Chinese experts at the symposium shared that financial social work is a new route to implement China's precise poverty alleviation work, and it also is a way to achieve social equity.

The School of Sociology and Psychology at CUFE organized the symposium. Co-organizers include Peking University Social Work Research Centre, Center for Social Development, and the School of Social Work at Saint Louis University.

CUFE recently received the go-ahead for a new MSW degree program in mainland China. The entire focus of the new program will be financial social work.

“This presents an invaluable opportunity to develop research and education in financial social work very intensively,” Michael Sherraden said. “It could be that U.S. social work education will also be learning a lot from the Chinese in the not-so-distant future.”