International Social Work Leader Review

International Social Work Leader Review

CSWE’s Commission on Global Social Work Education and the Katherine A. Kendall Institute collaborate to offer the International Social Work Leader Review. Each quarter the Review features an individual who has made significant contributions to international social work education with ties to the United States. In the spirit of Katherine A. Kendall’s life and work, these highlighted leaders are recognized as influencers in the global social work community whose efforts have made important advancements in social work education and practice.

Featured Leader

Vimla V. Nadkarni (1948 - 2021)

Although small in stature, Vimla Nadkarni (née Lala) was a giant in shaping both Indian and global social work. Professor Nadkarni is well-known internationally for her work as President of the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) from 2012–2016, although she was active in many areas of international social work and served on numerous international projects, editorial, and advisory boards. She headed the Department of Medical and Psychiatric Social Work and was the Founding Dean of the School of Social Work at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai, India, from which she retired in 2013 after 42 years of service. 

Professor Nadkarni was motivated throughout her life by feminism, a passion for human rights and human dignity, and a drive to elevate the quality of social work education and practice. She served as the Secretary General of the Family Planning Association of India (2001–2002), President of the Bombay Association of Trained Social Workers for two terms (1994–1998), and Vice President for two additional terms (2011–2015). Professor Nadkarni was instrumental in establishing the Indian Association of Social Work Education in 2013 and served as Vice-President of the Association of Schools of Social Work in India (ASSWI). She was elected as a Member-at-Large of the Board of Directors of IASSW in 2008, and as President from 2012 to 2016 ( Professor Nadkarni was a founding member of the Social Work and Health Inequalities Network (SWHIN; Prof Nadkarni served on the Advisory Board of the Global Institute of Social Work, Singapore (; as Honorary Director for the Niramaya Health Foundation, Mumbai (an NGO focused on child and adolescent health); and the Advisory Group for the Mumbai-based Khula Aasman Trust, which uses the arts to engage social change for marginalised communities ( She remained active throughout her entire life, serving on the Advisory Board for the 9th Social Work Congress of the National Association of Professional Social Workers in India, which was held in October 2021, just a month before her death.

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Reviewed By: Mark Henrickson, MDiv, MSW, PhD, RSW (NZ), Massey University

Recently Featured Leaders

Dr. Nazneen Sada Mayadas (1934 - 2015)

Dr. Nazneen Sada Mayadas (1934–2015) was an international leader in social work who drew the world’s attention to the plight of refugees and sparked interest in international social work practice, bringing it into social work curricula across the United States and Canada. She earned worldwide recognition for her advocacy for refugees, especially in her work with the United Nations (UN). A prolific researcher with extensively disseminated work, Dr. Mayadas was also well-known for her collaborations, publications, and speaking engagements held in countries across the globe. Learn more here.

Reviewed By: Ande Nesmith, LISW, PhD, University of St. Thomas

Winnie Mandela (1936–2018)

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was born in 1936 in South Africa. Her father was a local history teacher who later worked for the local government. Her mother taught science. Winnie was one of nine siblings. When she was 9 years old, she had an experience that would influence her trajectory in life. Learn more here.

Reviewed By: Rosemary Barbera, MS, PhD, LaSalle University

Irena Sendler picture

Irena Sendler (1910–2008)

Irena Sendler was not known as one of the international leaders of social, however, she was a fierce advocate and nurse during World War II. At the age of 29, during the war she served as a social worker and senior social administrator in the Warsaw Social Welfare Department. Through some rather unconventional methods, Irena was able to assist families, develop relationships, establish community trust, and provide relief to many during this time. Learn more here.

Reviewed By: Rebecca Thomas, MSW, PhD, University of Connecticut

For a list of previously featured leaders, click here.