The contribution of social workers to sustainable development

Posted on May 16, 2017


In celebration of World Social Work Day (WSWD), the Department of Social Work and Criminology at the University of Pretoria (UP) hosted a seminar at the University's Hatfield Campus.

In her opening remarks, Prof Antoinette Lombard, Head of the Department of Social Work and Criminology, explained that the idea behind the theme of WSWD for 2017, 'Promoting Environmental and Community Sustainability', was to celebrate and promote what social workers are doing across the globe, namely facilitating sustainable community outcomes by applying a developmental and capacity-building approach coupled with advocating for social justice and human rights. She explained that this year's theme also relates to the third pillar of the Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development and is aligned with the focus of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

According to Prof Lombard, protecting the natural environment is a key feature of promoting economic and social justice, particularly for poor people, as it necessitates an emphasis on sustainable development. She explained that nature will continue to provide humans with resources in the future only if we use them wisely in the present. 'Sustainability thus means that we have to meet the needs of current and future generations without exhausting either physical or human resources. If humans care for the earth, the earth will care for us. Sustainable development is about building healthy and inclusive societies based on principals of social, economic and environmental justice. It recognises the need to protect the environment and its resources for generations to come,' she said.

Prof Lombard emphasised the fact that social work and social development educators and practitioners are well positioned to contribute significantly to the promotion of environmental and community sustainability, while social workers play a role in mitigating the impact of disasters that seriously disrupt the functioning of individuals, families and communities. She explained this using the example of a natural disaster: where people's livelihoods are dependent on land, severe drought causes food insecurity, children often drop out of school and families disintegrate when a parent moves away in search of work opportunities. In the case of poverty, a human-made disaster, social workers play various developmental roles, including tackling structural and individual forms of oppression that impact upon people who are already vulnerable; promoting socio-economic development that includes environmental justice; influencing policy to ensure the protection of vulnerable people and their environments; and, most importantly, making sure that the voices of those who are most severely impacted by environmental injustices are heard and that their strengths and dignity are recognised in finding solutions to their socio-economic and environmental challenges.

'As social workers, we are here to bring about hope and change while making a difference in people's lives,' she concluded.



- Author Mikateko Mbambo

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