What does Social Work Day Mean to Me?

by Natalie Lim

SASW recently celebrated its 11th Social Work Day on 21 March 2017. Chair of Public Relations Natalie reflects on the event:


As Chair of Public Relations (and having volunteered and supported Social Work Day (SWD) events for many years), I have always wondered what this day means to me. Is it a milestone event to mark a new year in my accumulating experience as a social worker in the field? Is it about experiencing euphoria at the end of t months of planning (and agonising)? Do I constantly fuss over the speakers we can bring in, and who can give the most impactful workshop or speech? How do I satisfy everyone - everyone meaning funders, participants, volunteers,etc? Is the venue too cold? Are the Sakura flowers at the Gardens by the bay (where we are holding the event) blooming? How can we create ideas that could kickstart collaborations? How in the world would I find 50 volunteers to support the event? These are just questions looming at the "tip of the iceberg" when I free associate about my experience in SWD.

I write this post two days after the event, after going through a process that parallels what we social workers do: give our all in supporting our clients, maintaining ourselves in top optimum condition to do case management, run programmes and community events. Just like us social workers, after engaging in "crisis intervention", we sort of become deflated, like the energizer bunny finally running out of battery.

I have organised Social Work Day four times now, investing my heart and soul, for the very belief of how this day brings like minded people together. This is a blessing I had been entrusted with - I hope to contribute to the sector within my own limited capacity, because I have received so much more from the sector, and my fellow social work comrades. I bear witness to how there is little need to organise too many deliberate ice breaker activities, as the energy for connection in the crowd of participants are ever at an all time high. Like attending a school reunion, these connections energise me.

The multicoloured interwoven fabric tying social workers together within a collaborative spirit is something so precious that I feel is unique to this profession I am family to.

I hope that with each passing year, SWD would continue to lay the path stones for the social work community. Last year, the theme of "Honouring Diversity" challenged the status quo and brought forth to the social worker the ethical imperative to acknowledge the mechanisms of power and privilege. It engaged social workers in difficult conversations and made us examine our own personal values, where we might have to endure controversy and do the right thing even when under pressure to conform. We cannot wait to honour diversity, not wait for society to be more "progressive".

Action starts with us.

Following last year's theme, this year's theme of "Fostering Innovation In Social Work Practice" discusses how diversity and innovation are entwined in an inseparable relationship. Dr Scott Page (a professor from the University of Michigan) had said, "If people think alike, then no matter how smart they are, they most likely will get stuck at the same locally optimal solutions. Finding new and better solutions, innovating, requires thinking differently. That's why diversity powers innovation".

Innovation excites us but at the same time, it comes from a place of vulnerability. Being vulnerable to allow courage to arise towards sharing a raw and unconventional idea. Being vulnerable to attempt outrageous ideas that might fail, then acknowledging failure to try again at the risk of looking the fool. To quote Mr Lee Poh Wah's sharing: "Be bold, be beautiful and be a butterfly to spread your wings".

When venturing out to innovate, always remember your first love. What was it that powered and motivated you to start this journey in the first place? Unchain yourself from the limitations you placed on yourself. If things are not working, can we take initiative instead of complaining and whining? If not me, then who? If not now, then when?

As we move forth, I also reflect on how SWD may need some innovating. As I reflect on practices of organising and taking care of every detail and need for our participants, I wonder whether they may instead be disabling the sector, hindering innovation and not fully harnessing the full potential of the sector's unity and strength. We want to return SWD back to the sector, and engage social worker to celebrate this special day - WHAT CAN WE BRING TO THE TABLE?

As we look to 2018, we hope that the next SWD would be planned from the ground up, so that we can hear our voices saying in unison: "Social Workers have the skills and passion to organise something together"!

Are social workers too busy with their work? Is passion limited to working with clients, but not in celebrating and reaching out to each other? Let's work together in finding answers to these questions and show that Social Work is a profession WORTH CELEBRATING!

Natalie Lim is the Chair for Public Relations in the Singapore Association of Social Workers. She is currently the Centre Head of Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre (AMKFSC Community Services)