Globalization has given the world opportunities to bring people together in ways previously undreamt of in both real and virtual worlds. However, it has privileged industrialized capitalist growth and initiated a series of environmental, financial, demographic and political crises. The poorest people on the planet have been most adversely affected, through loss of jobs, low-paid work that is insufficient to provide a decent standard of living, health hazards, rising food and energy prices, environmental degradation, armed conflict and resource depletion. In this context, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which had looked to a more prosperous future for the planet’s most disadvantaged people only a few years ago are unlikely to be met across the board. And the challenges of environmental degradation question the very relevance of the MDG targets in contemporary societies.
Moreover, the financial crisis that brought about the virtual collapse of the global banking system has highlighted the weaknesses in international institutions’ capacities to handle the ensuing problems, although these have affected everyone. That the heaviest price is exacted from poor people has become increasingly clear. These costs include public expenditure cuts in the personal social services and welfare provisions aimed at providing poor people with education, health and income support, as these are reduced in order to find funds to bail out banks and enable bankers to sustain their usual high standards of living. Social workers have been slow to theorize these challenges, although they deal with their effects on the ground, by responding to large numbers of unemployed clients, people migrating to escape environmental disasters and armed conflicts over scarce resources and people tackling the devastating effects of disease on their lives for lack of medicines.
As in the past, social work scholars will ask daring and sometimes unpopular questions. Being provocative without positive change has no merit, but critical inquiry is valuable in as much as it leads to practical innovations that have wide applications and positive impacts on social and health conditions. In social work, human differences are valued. A successful society finds ways not only to tolerate and accommodate differences, but also to take creative advantage of the range of human differences in backgrounds, outlooks, practices, and potential. From the outset, social work has embraced differences as a resource from which effective solutions to complex problems may arise. A core concept in social work is capabilities. Grand Challenges in Social Work is guided by a vision of a world where people develop their capabilities to be and do to the fullest extent across the life course.
Grand Challenges in Social Work addresses core areas of human well-being and social environment. These include: identity and recognition, love and nurturing, nutrition, shelter, family responsiveness, social protections, public health, medical care, education, opportunities for life experiences, information, employment, economic resources, financial services, systems for safety and justice, meaningful participation in society, and personal fulfillment.
How can social work “intervene” successfully in these major areas? For the most part, successful innovations require substantial institutional reforms that create positive change. Yet, following this logic, the Enlightenment and modern science including the applied social sciences may have been too optimistic. To be sure, science and technology have created the wonderments of modern “civilization,” but social stability and development remain fragile. We humans are very clever in creating technologies with massive impacts. However, our social and technological institutions are not always fully equipped to deal with large-scale and long-term conditions such as global warming, nuclear weapons proliferation, mass urbanization, aging societies, and rising inequality. We are just beginning, for example, to understand the emergence of older adulthood and the challenges it presents for families, health care, housing, and transportation, as well as defining new means for healthy older populations to contribute to society.
If we are to face these challenges successfully, science is among the best strategies we have. Turning now to social context, we start by understanding the basic nature of human beings, so that we can build on the best strengths we have.
The essays collected in this volume have wider significance, in view of the topics dealt with, taking into concern the realities prevailing in the society. I am very much indebted to the authors for their support and contribution of their knowledge through their articles, without which this book would not have been possible.
Dr. B. Venkata Subba Reddy & A. Jyotsna
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