Conference in Germany

Localisation of Social Work in Arab countries: Foundations

Summary and conclusions from the Interntional Conference held in the framework of the DAAD Transformation Partnership Programme “Localisation of Social Work in Arab Countries” (LOSWAC)

  • Location: University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt in Würzburg, Germany at
  • Date: 17/18 July 2019
Prof. Dr. Ralf Roßkopf introducing into the conference
Thematic introduction - Prof. Dr. Ralf Roßkopf

This international two-days Conference, established by the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg Schweinfurt (FHWS) within the frame of the DAAD Transformation Partnership Programme 2019-2020, was the first of three conferences on the topic of Localisation of Social Work in Arab Countries (LOSWAC) and its foundations. 55 participants from 28 Universities and 11 countries came together to analyse, discuss the matter, and develop it further.

After a warm welcoming from the President of FHWS, Prof. Dr. Robert Grebner, and from the Dean of the Faculty of Applied Social Sciences, Prof. Dr. Dagmar Unz, the conference started with an introduction into the topic given by Prof. Dr. Ralf Roßkopf, head of the project and member of the Conference Chair. He referred to the missing localisation of Social Work research and methods in the Arab context and to the lack of promotion of academic exchange that should be tackled by this series of conferences and the project itself.

The two-days conference was divided into six sessions, each with two or more speakers involved and a discussion with plenum.

Day 1

First session: Introduction into the concepts of indigenisation, authentication and localisation

The first session gave a deeper introduction into the concepts of indigenisation, authentication and localisation.

Prof. Dr. Tanja Kleibl, from the University of Applied Sciences Augsburg, Germany, started with stating the question whether Social Work was not context-bound and locally specific from its nature, or that it should be at least. This is one of the most commonly debatable questions when discussing localisation of Social Work. Prof. Kleibl gave specific examples from her career as a social worker coming from a Western to a non-Western region. Following her insights it became clear that localisation and indigenisation appear as a response to social work’s Western origin and its problematic entanglement with colonialism. Pointing out current debates about globalisation-localisation, westernisation-indigenisation, multicultural-universalisation, and universal-local standards, she gave deeper input about these concepts.

Dr. Wajdi Akef Fakhouri, from the University of San Francisco, USA, of Arab decent, himself, continued with deeper analysis of these concepts by defining and discussing them. Therefore, indigenisation describes the process in which components that are imported from Western regions that do not fit into the local context are adapted to provide finally a better fit. Authentication on the other hand is a process in which new models are developed by analysing local resources and data without referral to Western Social Work models. He underlined the relevance of localisation as well by the usage of personal experiences, being in a Western country and having clients from a non-Western region. The speaker also highlighted the importance of psychosocial support and counselling sessions that address individuals and reflect the relevance of their culture and language.

Second session: African localisation experience

The second session focused on the African Localisation Experience with two speakers each being an expert on the context of one African country, Nigeria and Ghana, from which’s experiences and findings Arab countries could also take advantage of.

Dr. Ngozi Chukwu, from the University of Nigeria Nsukka, Nigeria, Guest Professor at FHWS, started by introducing the social support system in Nigeria by stating that it is still basic  since it lacks governmental support. Therefore, efforts must be made to target more the needs of Nigerians. In fact, many challenges are facing the Social Work Profession in Nigeria in relation to localisation. Per se, there are no theories and practice paradigms that would adequately respond contextualised to the myriad of social problems. Additionally, there is no authoritative local textbook to demonstrate the efficacy of local theories or models and local research is not encouraged. It is to be mentioned, that the legal mandate and social workers’ job description are still unclear in the country. In Dr. Ngozi’s opinion, localisation of Social Work does not mean that ethics and values should not remain universal. However, Social Work education and practice should present a better understanding of the value system and cultural beliefs of clients. Yet, locally relevant cultural practices, coping strategies or informal helping systems, as well as religious beliefs must be incorporated into Social Work interventions.

Ms Franziska Neureither, a participant of the PhD Programme “Ethics, Culture and Education for the 21st Century”, elaborated an overview of the Social Work situation in Ghana and the struggle with the situation of post-colonialism on-site. Yet, before the colonial era, social problems were solved by the traditional system’s way, whereas after the colonisation, problems were to be addressed by the governmental systems. The traditional systems have merely received attention anymore. She also emphasized on the lack of Social Work literature localized to the context of Ghana. In addition, she listed the challenges facing freshly graduated social worker. In fact, many practitioners in Social Work do not hold a professional degree in the major and in contrast, BA holders do not find jobs in the field. Finally, she introduced her PhD project “The Interaction of Indigenous and Professional Helping Systems”, quoting local practitioners from Ghana that have stated their challenges with Social Work being taught in university according to Westernised curricula which do not apply to the reality and the needed practices in the field.

Third session: universal and interdisciplinary basis for localised concepts

The third session of the conference gave further input on the universal and interdisciplinary basis for localised concepts of Social Work.

Prof. Dr. Stefan Borrmann, from University of Applied Sciences Landshut, started this session by referring to the complex relationship between the global and the local and questioning if the global definition could possibly clarify it. In his eyes, even though Social Work has its own global definition, this definition should be analysed and not simply taken as given. He answers the prior question in the negative, because the definition is as ambivalent in positioning itself in this regard as the debate itself. This debate about the local and the global could only be solved if the fact is accepted that local and global culture is not static but always changing and if social workers are academically educated in being global minded. Further, the Social Work profession must always acknowledge the relation between individuals and their environment. 

Prof. Dr. Somia Qudah, from Yarmouk University in Jordan, gave a speech about a method of localisation set in the field of translation in Jordan. She discussed the relation between the concepts of translation and localisation in the Arab context. At the same time, she highlighted the challenges in translation such as choosing the appropriate terminology to convey the intended message or maintaining the language readability to suit the target readers. In addition, she suggested the need to improve the translator training to cover Social Work topics through establishing a network where translators can work along with Arab social workers to localise the intervention.

Day 2

Fourth session: Social work in Arab countries and the impact of (post-)colonialism

The conference continued on the second day with the fourth session, which concentrated on the Social Work in Arab countries and the impact of colonialism and post-colonialism.

Prof. Dr. Christine Huth-Hildebrandt, from the German Jordanian University, gave a speech on the “Postcolonial Impact on Transnational Education and Research Projects in Social Work”. She started with an overview of the past colonial Empires the Arab World had witnessed and within that many changes were applied to the culture. Afterwards, she continued with providing a specific example for the necessary of localising the education system of Social Work: A genogram is a visual family mapping that allows clients and clinicians to explore more about family relationship dynamics. In this matter, it is important to consider the Arabic culture, where family ties are strong. A tool like this genogram cannot be used as if it is developed originally in the West, but must be adapted to meet the Arab context.

The fifth session concentrated on the several needs for localisation and potentials of authentication in Arab countries with three experts from Arab countries and one from Germany.

Prof. Dr. Ayat Nashwan, from Yarmouk University in Jordan, began her presentation by focusing on the history of Social Work in Jordan where she explained that the profession had been recognized as a form of effective assistance in Jordan since the beginning of the 20th century. Back then, charitable organizations emerged as a response to a growing need for social support in communities. In addition, she highlighted that Jordan currently has four Social Work programmes for the bachelor’s degree and two master's degrees. She continued with referring to the role of those social workers who work in the area of community development – especially in the field of Social Work with refugees – and to their desire to use localised methods and practices. Finally, she stated that the Social Work is still in an early stage of development and it is not professionalised until this moment as it is in the West. 

Prof. Dr. Rania Mansour, from the Lebanese University, did a comparative study on the Lebanese academia curricula of the Universities graduating social workers in Lebanon. The aim of the study was to identify if crises – in particular the Syrian crisis 2011 – affected the development of Social Work concepts, approaches and mechanisms of the academia community in Lebanon.  Yet, the study concluded that among the six universities teaching  Social Work in Lebanon, the term “crisis” appears in the curriculum of three universities, while there is not any mentioning of the “crisis” word in the curricula of the rest of the universities (ALJINAN, LAU and Haigazian Universities). Furthermore, crisis intervention is known as theory and considered as one of ten theories taught in courses on social interventions with individuals and families. Thus, regarding the components related to the crisis intervention, they are partially enclosed in different other courses. 

Prof. Dr. Ferdoos Al-Issa, from Bethlehem University, started her session by explaining that Social Work in Palestine has a long history based on colonial and imported models of practice. Education is based on westernized curricula. However, localized cultural sensitivities require localised attention such as in the cases of honour killing. The absence of a comprehensive view of Palestinian national rights and the trend towards fragmentation, such as in dealing with social issues, has deepened women's oppression and experiences of inequality. A localised Social Work that focus on the barriers on-site could tackle these issues. 

Prof. Dr. Christoph Merle, from the University of Vechta in Germany, held a speech about Human Rights from an Islamic perspective. Since 1990, there have been attempts to develop an Islamic version of human rights by scientists working on the Islamic foundation of Human Rights. Fundamental rights and freedoms according to Islam are to be considered as integral part of Islamic religion. In the European tradition of Human Rights, they are grounded on fundamental legal interests and related to fundamental needs. However, the Sharia is not to be seen as an institution against what Human Rights protect, but the institutions that provides them. Nevertheless, from this perspective, objective norms of the State need to be considered rather than subjective rights. Yet, traditional Human Rights are linked to human dignity that belongs to all human beings. Applying this to the Middle East, reformers in the Arab World also discuss the relation of human rights to the “Qur’an” and the “Sunnah”.

Sixth session: open discussion and review

Within the sixth working session an open discussion was moderated by Prof. Dr. Vathsala Aithal and involved several experts directly, namely Prof. Dr. Marja Katisko (Finland), Prof. Dr. Stefan Borrmann (Germany), Prof. Dr. Ferdoos Al-Issa (Palestine), and Dr. Wajdi Akef Fakhouri (USA). The experts reviewed the content of the prior conference sessions, examined questions from the plenum, and discussed further approaches to foster localisation.

In conclusion, it was obvious that all experts were at the same page when it came to acknowledging the relevance of localisation of Social Work and regarding measurements.  Identifying contextualized needs of beneficiaries in a participatory manner rather than determining them only based on external and theoretical knowledge was an often-repeated preferable approach throughout the conference. The experts furthermore recognized the lack of methods and models of how to localise the profession directly on-site.

The next conference, which took a place in Jordan in September 2019, analysed and discussed more deeply possible strategies for specific demands and approaches for localisation of Social Work in Arab countries.

Prof. Dr. Huth-Hildebrandt and Prof. Dr. Ayat conclude the conference and give an outlook
Outlook - Prof. Dr. Huth-Hildebrandt (GJU) and Prof. Dr. Ayat (YU)