Encouraging student and young professional participation in academia plays a pivotal role in driving innovation and progress across various disciplines. The field of social work, in particular, is witnessing the emergence of new critical themes and actors. Recognizing the need for inclusion and active involvement in academic and professional spheres, the International Students Initiative (ISI) at Alice Salomon Hochschule Berlin (ASH Berlin) organised a student trip to the European Social Work Conference (ESWC) in Prague, Czech Republic. With financial support from both the ASH Berlin and the Deutsche Berufsverband für Soziale Arbeit (DBSH), this initiative facilitated the attendance of 16 students, offering them a unique opportunity for growth and learning.
The ESWC, organised by the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) Europe region, took place in May 2023 and featured a diverse program consisting of over 75 online and in-person presentations and events. Participants from 43 countries gathered to engage in critical discussions and explore the challenges prevalent in the field of social work. However, our observations shed light on certain areas that require attention and improvement.
Despite the conference's international scope, we noted a lack of diversity in terms of both regional representation and gender balance among keynote speakers. The underrepresentation of women keynote speakers was striking, considering that the majority of social workers worldwide are women. The overwhelming majority of speakers and attendees hailed from Western Europe, leaving eastern and southern European perspectives underrepresented. These disparities raised concerns about the conference's inclusivity in terms of geographical, gender, and political diversity. Furthermore, limited opportunities for networking and the hurried nature of many presentations left us disappointed.
Despite the aforementioned concerns, the ESWC provided valuable experiences and insights. The research presented showcased high quality, covering a wide range of interesting topics. We also benefited from a complimentary transportation pass from the city of Prague, enabling us to explore the city's rich history and culture during our stay. Moreover, this conference trip fostered interactions among students from various programs and cohorts, creating a sense of community beyond the campus at ASH Berlin.
The financial support from the DBSH and ASH Berlin played a crucial role in enabling our participation in the ESWC conference. Without their assistance, many of us would not have had the opportunity to attend such an event. As students, our academic commitments often limit our capacity to engage in such conferences. Therefore, we express our gratitude to ASH Berlin and the DBSH for recognizing the importance of student participation and hope for continued support to ensure more students can benefit from similar events in the future.
The student trip to the ESWC conference in Prague provided a platform for student engagement and critical thinking in the field of social work. While concerns regarding diversity and inclusion emerged, the experience enriched our knowledge and expanded our perspectives. We hope that this trip marks the beginning of a series of such initiatives, thanks to the support of ASH Berlin and DBSH, who value and prioritise student participation.