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What a Small Group of Committed Citizens Can Achieve: Reflecting on 10-years of Impact by the Alliance

Alena Sherman's picture

by Kathryn Conley Wehrmann, PHD, LCSW, Global Social Service Workforce Alliance Steering Committee Chair

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has…" -Margaret Mead

Image of participants of the Social Welfare Workforce Strengthening ConferenceAs I began to write my blog post in observance of Social Service Workforce Week and the 10th Anniversary of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, a unique network of which I’m privileged to serve as chair, Margaret Mead’s famous quote kept coming to mind. Nearly thirteen years ago the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) organized a conference in Cape Town, South Africa to address key challenges facing the social service workforce at all levels. It was at this gathering that a committed group first came together and proposed the concept of a global alliance as the best way to join forces to develop and disseminate knowledge and support those engaged in strengthening the workforce in low- and middle-income countries.

It was in preparing for this Cape Town conference, that a Framework for Strengthening the Social Service Workforce was first developed. The Framework proposed an approach based on three pillars—planning, developing and supporting the workforce—that would also recognize and build on each country’s specific context, including social service, justice and child protection systems, culture, local legislation, labor market, and economy. The framework was revised and finalized during the Cape Town conference and has since been widely used throughout the world to guide workforce strengthening. 

Image of Alliance Member LocationsFollowing the conference, a Steering Committee was formed and charged with providing strategic direction to the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance (or Alliance). Its first job was to hire our first director, Amy Bess.  Thanks to funding from PEPFAR the Alliance was officially launched on June 6, 2013. Since that time the Alliance has united more than 3,500 diverse members engaged in workforce strengthening from across 150 countries for collaboration and knowledge exchange. We’ve also produced nearly 30 technical resources to support global efforts to plan, develop and support the workforce. This includes our annual State of the Social Service Workforce Report through which we have analyzed workforce-related trends and lessons learned in over 70 countries. In addition, through our workforce assessments and strategic advice we’ve assisted over 40 national governments to develop plans and initiatives to strengthen their social service workforce and improve the systems that ensure the well-being of at-risk populations. Starting in April of 2014, we began hosting Social Service Workforce Week to brings special attention to the need for a strong social service workforce, with at least 35 organizations joining in on the advocacy efforts every year. And, this is all just a snapshot of what the Alliance has done to support and champion the workforce over the last 10 years.

The small group of world citizens that proposed the formation of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, as well as those who have stepped up to serve on its Steering Committee and those who have partnered and collaborated with the Alliance, have been catalysts for positive change in the world and the result is a stronger workforce, empowered with knowledge, practice expertise, and opportunities to collaborate. It is clear that what started as a vision in Cape Town has truly become an effective force in responding to new challenges that countries have had to face over the last 10 years—including the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing effects of climate change and the humanitarian needs brought about by war. Looking to the future, I am hopeful and excited about what the next 10 years will bring as the Alliance broadens its efforts in responding to the new challenges that lie ahead for the thousands who work in service to their communities.

In closing, I invite all of you who are reading this  to learn more about the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance through our events and presentations during Social Service Workforce Week—I think you will be impressed by the work it has done and how it will respond to future workforce needs and challenges.