Crafting Asian Social Work as a transnational professional space Personal Narration of a transnational migrant Social Work educator

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Crafting Asian Social Work as a transnational professional space

Personal Narration of a transnational migrant Social Work educator


By : Bala Raju Nikku[i], MSW, PhD

My name is Bala Raju Nikku, an Indian by citizenship, aged 42, graduated in social work at an Indian University in 1993. Since then engaged in direct social work practice with the communities.  I graduated from the Wageningen University, the Netherlands with a PhD in social sciences in 2006. Married to Pranita Udas a Nepali citizen in 2002 went to Nepal and that resulted in to founding a School of social work in the year 2005. I served as the founding director of the school of social work for almost seven years till the end of 2011.  From January 2012 am working as a visiting lecturer at social work program, Universiti Sains Malaysia. This brief personal and professional description of mine suggests that I am not only a ‘legal migrant to Nepal in the past and to Malaysia now’ but also a transnational migrant social worker, qualifying me to Bartley et all’s explanation of overseas-qualified social worker(s) as member(s) of a global profession experiencing both great international demand for their skills and unparalleled flows of professional transnationalism[1]. In this brief article I would like to share my experiences of building social work profession as a transnational professional space in Asia drawing my work experiences in the south Asia more specifically from Nepal and India.


The formation of the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) and the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) took place in 1928 and 1929, respectively. But it took many decades to initiate a school of social work in conflict stricken land locked countries like Nepal. The first degree program in social work was available in Nepal only in 1996. Till 2005 it is the only program in the country struggling to train social workers. No wonder why social work education has not been initiated by the university authorities.  Nepal only entered its first democratic era in 1951 and as a result the development of higher education gained some momentum. In 1952, Nepal had only two colleges but three years later, the number had increased to 14; a total of 915 students and 86 teachers attended. The situation changed after 1990 democracy as several government and private colleges were established. Currently there are five universities serving the higher education needs of about 150,000 Nepalese students.

The Nepali Civil War (labeled as People’s War by the Maoists) was declared in 1996. The internal conflict between government forces and Maoist fighters in Nepal lasted until 2006, marking a decade long insurgency costing more than 15,000 lives and loss of national assets and unrest in the social fabric.

The current political and social context of Nepal drove the Nepali intellect outside the country. At the same it gave immense opportunities for people who want to bring changes in lives of people. As I mentioned I went to Nepal first time in 2001 and married in 2002. This status gave my insider and outsider position. It did not take much time to understand the status of social work in Nepal for me. Initially I looked for jobs but understood that there are no formal spaces offered for trained social workers.  I could not believe that there are no opportunities for young people who want to take up social work as their career and passion. Nobody knew what professional social work, ethical standards is and felt a need for a professional body. The situation continued till 2005.

Development of Social Work education in Kathmandu Valley: (1996- 2005 and 2012)

A group of young scholars from Nepal and India came together in 2004 and felt the need for trained professionals who can make a difference to the country that is going through severe conflict and costing human lives. The group are drawn from different disciplines including social work (Dr.Nikku is one of the member of this team) pooled some resources, came to some common vision and approached Purbanchal University to seek a permission to affiliate a college which will provide social work education to the students who are motivated, see social work not only as a career option but as a passion! The university extended its support and the team worked over a year to prepare the BSW and MSW syllabus for the University. Consequently Kadambari Memorial College secured affiliation in 2005 and the first batch of 22 students graduated with Bachelors in Social Work (BSW) degree in 2008. The St Xavier’s college secured affiliation and offered MSW for the first time in 2006 and Dr.Nikku became the founding head of the department. There was a lot of struggle for getting the right human resources, securing right field work placements and in meeting the aspirations and needs of the Nepalese society. In addition to these training opportunities the Tribhuvan University has approved a course on Social Work and the students of B.A can now choose social work as one of the two main courses in their Bachelor courses.  By 2011 about 20 affiliated colleges of Tribhuvan University have introduced course often without the required human resources. All of these colleges are located in Kathmandu and studying social work is becoming an option for many students by 2012.

Current Challenges

My conversations with many students over them time and my involvement in the admission/selection committees gave me an opportunity to learn about students motivations. To my surprise for majority of students the main motivation to study social work is go abroad or to work for the U.N system or join the International NGOs who pay a lot of money. Many Parents and guardians thought social work is good for their daughters and it is easy to pass and there are good opportunities to go abroad. However I found some very few students and parents for whom social work is an opportunity to serve their own conflict stricken communities and nation and citizenship building.

The team which founded the Kadambari College went also to Thribhuwan University and sought an affiliation to initiate their BA with social work major in 2007 and was successful.  The both initiatives joined together and resulted in to the birth of Nepal School of Social Work with a goal to strengthen social work education and seek recognition for social work as a profession in Nepal.

To voice out the issues of social work at the international forums the Nepal School of Social Work secured memberships of Asian and Pacific Association of Social Work Education  (APASWE)in 2007 and International Association of Schools of Social Work ( IASSW)  in 2009.

 The NSSW took leadership in celebrating World Social Work day in Nepal to bring awareness about social workers and their contribution to the Nepalese Society. It is also a strategy to facilitate formation of a National Association of Professional Social Workers and to federate with International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW).   The NSSW is working with the University Grants Commission of Nepal ( UGC Nepal ) and hope that UGC Nepal soon  respond to form a council on social work education with a vision and legitimate powers so that this body can monitor and develop core standards to accredit social work programs. There is an immediate need to lobby with the government so as to recognize and pass the social work act so that social work becomes a recognized profession in Nepal in the near future. To achieve all these milestones and to step forward, Nepal needs I believe social work champions who can run an extra mile for the cause of building a profession in a transition country.

Serving as Transnational Social Worker:

A recent comment by a senior social work colleague that I was a ‘legal migrant to Malaysia’ triggered some personal reflections which I would like to share with colleagues of Malaysian Social Workers and beyond.  They further state that in line with the international social work literature, this cohort of migrant professionals offers a range of needed skill and expertise as well as unique challenges to local employers, client communities and the social work profession as a whole. Is this observation applies to me? I ask myself. Am I able to provide challenges and what are those skills that brought with me that enhance or further strengthen the Malaysian social work space?

I was given the opportunity to teach two courses at masters’ level: first, Social Work Education for MSW students of second semester and second, Comparative Social Policy in Asia for Asian Studies Students. I have successfully completed both the courses and students are getting ready for their final examinations. Now that I am at the end of this semester, recollect the range of individuals I met, discussed issues right from culture, tourism, food to politics. I realize that within the this short span of time, the University Academic setting provided me with ample space and opportunities to engage with a variety of stakeholders - right from my students, colleagues, university officials, foreign visitors, NGO and Government representatives, migrant laborers from India and Nepal, embassies to Malaysian Association of Social Workers. At the same time, I managed to maintain my role as a father, husband and son with my family in India and Nepal and with my social work colleagues in Nepal and all over the world. This experience of mine confirms what Porters et all argued : transnational migrants engage in such patterns of intense contact and exchange between both sending and receiving societies (and perhaps others as well), the engaged social fields merge, and create opportunities to pursue alternatives to the conventional path of settlement and ‘gradual but inevitable assimilation’.[2] In addition to adjusting to the demands of professional practice in my current new local context i.e. Malaysia  as a transnational social worker, I have tried to maintain and update working knowledge of social work developments in ASEAN and South Asia Regions ( where I come from and where I work now) in particular and the Asia- Pacific in general. It is this ‘simultaneous embeddedness’ a character of transnational migrant has helped me to create a new social space for myself to continue my work, teaching and learning. I have tried to understand the cultural practices and tailored my classes accordingly, created learning spaces that encouraged students to open up and argue with the printed text.

I was exploring teaching styles that suits to the Malaysian social work classroom. I was always motivated to explore how I can enhance learning of my students. As a result together we have created a blog and reflected on how to use ICTs for social work teaching and learning. I took time out of my class to understand the aspiration and life worlds of students balancing professional requirements.  I received feedback from my students that they have enjoyed many of my lectures because of the examples that I use are form different countries and cultures. While working with the students wanting them to become reflective social workers, I started to realize that reflective learning is a good approach which can equip young social work students in Malaysia to respond to the rapidly changing Malaysian Society and to prepare them as social work educators, researchers and practitioners to name a few. I also realize that this is an exciting time for the 55 years of Malaysian Social Work history that the federal State is going to pass the Social Workers Act (finally) may be by the end of this year. I hope the Act brings a legal recognition for the social workers and for the profession but Malaysian Social Workers has to go a long way to ensure that ACT is implemented according to its spirit. I am also sure that the Malaysia as an immigrant receiving country continues to attract transnational migrant social workers like me who will further like to join the local efforts to bring the recognition to social work as a profession which is a long overdue.


With my multiple identities, motives for migration, training standards and values, I continue to explore and aim to transit myself in to what it seems like an unfamiliar community of practice as effectively as possible. My day to day encounters and partnerships with social work colleagues from all over the world and welfare agencies may redefine the counters of Asian social work. As we work together we shall realize and reconceptualise that transnational practice offers opportunities, not just challenges. By reaching these millstones very soon we will be crafting Asia as a transnational professional place that serves the best interests of the clients and communities.


[1] Bartley, A., Beddoe, L., Duke, J., Fouché, C., Harington. P.R.J. & Shah, R. (2011). Crossing borders: Key features of migrant social workers in New Zealand. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work. 23 (3), 16-30.

[2] Portes, A., Guarnizo, L. and Landolt, P. (1999) ‘The study of transnationalism: pitfalls and promise of an emergent research field”, Ethnic and racial studies, 22(2): 217 – 236.

[i] Dr.Nikku is the founding director of Nepal School of Social Work  ( and currently sr. visiting lecturer at the social work program, School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia. Penang.  He is also serving on the board of the Asia and Pacific Association of Social Work Education (APASWE) and IASSW. Can be reached at :  or  0060-164758115




Position: Sr.lecturer, University Sains Malaysia & founding Director of Nepal school of Social Work

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