Ann McLaughlin, 20 years director of NGOabroad: International Careers and Volunteering, has placed social workers in non-governmental organizations worldwide. She uses this experience to write about three critical skills for international social work and development: (1) understanding poverty; (2) learning skills of needs and strengths assessment, capacity building, participatory development, community organizing, and advocacy; and (3) examining one’s attitude toward international development. Her writing is clear, well organized, and easy to understand.
The book is divided into three sections. In the first part of the book, McLaughlin discusses the importance of social work in international development and understanding poverty. She details the significance of social work skills for international development. Social workers have numerous skills that are ideal for international development, including training in working at various levels of the community, people skills, program design, program evaluation, community organization, case work, interviewing, and cultural competency and sensitivity. Knowing about poverty in developing countries is a key component of international development. Although there have been improvements in poverty levels, there are still serious issues of disease, child mortality, hunger, illiteracy, lack of education among women, and lack of clean water. It is important to understand the continuum of economic development.
In the second part of the book, the author discusses the skills necessary to be successful in international development. It is important for international social workers to “do their homework” and to understand the background and context of a country before going there. When arriving in another country, one must understand the environment and conduct a needs assessment to arrive at a program design. Through capacity building, a social worker strengthens the local community by working with the local people and giving them the knowledge to carry on with a project. To be successful in international development, it is important to involve the whole community in decision making for a project. Community organizing helps those who are not powerful to be heard, and advocacy influences public opinion and policy. Therefore, a combination of the skills of community organization, needs assessment, capacity building, participatory development, and advocacy leads to effective community development.
The third and last part of the book emphasizes the importance of not only learning skills but also self-reflecting on one’s attitude and privilege. Recognizing one’s privilege as a Western social worker leads to participating in development as an equal partner by learning the local language, improving listening skills, and being open to learning.
World Change-Maker is a clearly written book that will be helpful to social workers, social work students, social work educators, and social work clients. For social workers and social work students who have an interest in international development, it is a practical guidebook to effective social work practice in developing countries. Social work educators will find this book of utility in a class on international social work, because it has excellent firsthand examples of development experience and excellent resources/questions in the appendix. Social work clients will find this book to be useful because it offers a model of participatory development.
Reviewed by Steven Granich, DSW, LCSW, LMFT, Associate Professor of Social Work, Commonwealth University of Pennsylvania.