Diaspora Dialogues Conference – A Momentous Event

A group photo of attendees of the 2024 Diaspora Dialogues: Celebrating Social Worker on the Move Conference. The Conference was held on 18 March 2024 at Brunel University in London, organised by the BASW Diaspora Social Workers Special Interest Group, and sponsored by the SWU Campaign Fund

SWU Assistant General Secretary Calum Gallacher reports on the first Diaspora Social Worker Conference in the UK, which was sponsored by the SWU Campaign Fund

On the 18th of March 2024 SWU attended and witnessed a momentous event, the first ever Diaspora Social Work Conference held at Brunel University, Diaspora Dialogues: Celebrating Social Worker on the Move. It will not be the last, evidently there is a need to maintain momentum through campaigning for better support of social workers migrating to the UK and the BASW Diaspora SIG have made a remarkable start to increasing awareness and creating induction standards.  

Susanne, Priya, Duc, Heidi and Dorina did an excellent job of keeping us all focussed, flowing and connected.  Conference aims achieved: to recognise the enormous contributions and sacrifices diaspora workers make, to offer support to one another as people, as workers away from home, as professionals.

On arrival my heart leapt at seeing Tricia Pereira, remembering sharing the opening plenary at last year’s BASW conference.  I never forgot Tricia’s words as a truly compassionate leader, a highly accomplished Black woman leading in social work. 

We heard deeply personal testimonies regarding the systemic barriers faced by social workers on the move. These ranged from personal transitions culturally and in practice to at times a generally unwelcoming environment in the UK. Journeys often beginning with the insurmountable challenges of registering with regulators and having recognition as experienced social workers, to alienating working environments imbued with inequalities for people who are Black, Asian or of other Ethnically minoritised backgrounds – how people have felt alienated and targeted, “othered”, continue to be subject to “dehumanising behaviours” in this country and their workplaces.

Important to note the challenges, however, there were many solutions discussed and shared. There is a strong supportive and collective spirit among diaspora social workers. 

We focused on being pro-active, acknowledging the legacy of oppression, maintaining a firm stance rooted in anti-oppressive and anti-racist practice and forums, to be actively affirming allyship in models which decolonise such as 4D2P and, moving beyond allyship to seeking “accomplices” and providing equal opportunities for career development through anti-racist leadership initiatives

My mind enthralled as Echo beautifully explained her reframing of language and evaluation of contrasting cultures on coming to the UK – a pledge of no more! No more apologies or buts when speaking English, only ands! And thank you for listening and thank you for seeing me. 

Thank you Anstance for such personal insight into what it is like to arrive in the UK, having to think for the first time in your entire life “I am black”, what that means and how that feels walking down the street. 

Michael and Javita both so earnestly shared incredulously frustrating experiences of getting registered with a UK SW regulator, how illogical processes are at a time of workforce crisis with staff shortages at 20-30%. 

Karina, I am still thinking about your sharing of traversing Canadian C&F law and practice to English and your humility reflecting on the distinctions of powers previously used vs earlier interventions now.  

Susanne, I feel your anguish and experience of having to anglicise your accent albeit for differing reasons.

Yohai elegantly danced across the room as if composing an orchestra with words and anthropological wisdom of UK culture, bringing to life the natural barrier of sea and land tribalism, a whole new understanding for us all.  Maestro. 

We heard about pain, but also of determination and ambition – for anti-racist approaches to leadership which adequately address systemic racism and provide genuine equal opportunities for career development and growth. 

Meera spoke of care experience, professional practice and challenges, restorative philosophies for community and humanity, akin to social work and trade union values. Meera I cannot forget your advice to all, trust the gut.  When you feel something is wrong do not ignore it, “find your accomplice”, a more active form of allyship.

Prospera expanded discussing Ubuntu: respect, human dignity, compassion, solidarity and consensus, which demands conformity and loyalty to the group; and the Māori Whakaiti – humility, much needed for our growth and learning, our humanistic qualities and hopes for ascension. Prospera’s 4D2P model: Discuss, Discover, Decide, Disrupt, Power & Privilege, a practice guide to make systemic oppression visible and keep talking about it, a real framework to decolonise social work and leadership, to understand racism and enhance anti-racist practice. (Omar appears with Prospera on this panel). 

David emphasised the role of a professional body like BASW and I was able to reinforce employment rights and what a professional trade union like SWU can do.  

In summary, the key learning and messages were unequivocally potent – we hold great strength as social workers in support of one another, as humans we need hope and belief that extends beyond survival in a struggling profession inhibited by systemic barriers. Together as social workers our experiences and attributes go beyond borders, beyond race, we can bridge borders and cultures to enrich practice, we are committed and connected in spirit and energy for change. 

18th March 2024 - Diaspora Dialogues: Celebrating Social Workers On The Move | Sponsors: BASW Diaspora Social Workers SIG, SWU Campaign Fund, BASW, Brunel University London