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Eileen McGowan Kelly (1946 - 1996)

eileen mcgowan kelly

Eileen McGowan Kelly was truly a social work pioneer, exploring new and expanding territories for the social work profession on the international frontier throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Building on the pioneering efforts of Jane Addams and others of the Settlement House era, Eileen forged new paths for social work involvement in contributing to peace on the planet and to developing a global sense of community among social workers.

Thanks in no small part to Eileen's persistent and effective efforts, the national NASW Office of Peace and International Affairs was officially established in 1989 and Eileen became its first Director, a position she held until she died in October 1996. With two and sometimes three staff members - whose salaries were mostly paid by grant money that she raised - Eileen created an international network among social workers and greatly enhanced the networking capability of the existing peace network.

In 1989, Eileen obtained a generously funded three year grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for a Family and Child Well-being Development Education Project. As part of that project, she put out a call to NASW chapters to form International Committees and to twin with social workers from less economically developed countries in order to learn from each other. She thus provided a forum for hundreds of social workers to come together in order to articulate concepts, ideas, worries, and concerns about the role of social work in a global context. It was through Eileen 's efforts - and her available ear and responsive and helpful suggestions - that many NASW chapter international committees got established Her sense of humor, progressive perspective, visionary ideas, and steady, public support got many social workers through discouraging times and opposition as they struggled to introduce an international perspective to their professional colleagues. As a result of the Family and Child Well-being Development Education project, a highly respected international curriculum guide for schools for social work was developed and published in 1992 - the first of its kind. In that same year, and again through the support, fundraising, and backing of Eileen, the first peace curriculum guide for schools of social work was also published

In 1993, Eileen obtained another large USAID grant for The Global Family Ties Project that continued the education process begun under the first grant by focusing on challenges to families worldwide and issues of global interdependence. At the same time, Eileen obtained grant funds for innovative projects in Russia and some Eastern European countries, including Romania. Through the Russian NGO Social Sector Support project, Eileen promoted effective cooperation between American and Russian social workers through strengthening the Professional Association of Social Pedagogues and Social Workers (ASPSW) and its affiliates in different regions of Russia and she guided a NASW Indigenous Peoples' Advocacy Project in Alaska and Siberia. With her projects' assistance, international exchange programs were developed between individuals and universities, international training seminars were conducted, and a communication and information system was established for Russian social workers.

In 1994, Eileen got USAID funding for a Violence and Development Project, a mass outreach and education effort that sought to return social work to its activist roots of focusing on and strengthening communities within a global context. Eileen's vision for the project involved new and innovative approaches and technologies, including setting up six chapter based project centers to carry out the project's agenda: organizing and delivering two nationwide, interaction videoconferences and a week-long teach-in on hundreds of college and university campuses; and making new linkages between the concepts of violence and international development. The results of that project were incredibly impressive, including 20,000 social work practitioners, students, and faculty across the U.S. viewing two inspiring videoconferences hosted by noted broadcast journalist. Charles Kuralt and educational materials and another curriculum guide developed and published by NASW Press.

It was not only Eileen McGowan Kelly's ability to envision new frontiers for social workers and the obtaining of millions of dollars in grant monies to realize those visions that makes her a social pioneer. It was her ability to overcome mistrust and suspicion between professionals of diverse opinions and agendas, her ability to gain respect within the profession for internationalism and activism, and her ability to build bridges that makes her a true social work pioneer.