NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Rebecca T. Davis
Rebecca T. Davis

Pioneering Contributions

Rebecca T. Davis, PhD, LCSW has made a notable global impact through her social work practice.  Davis began her international efforts in social work as a Fulbright Scholar (1992-1994) in Romania where she developed curricula and taught in the newly re-opened Schools of Social Work.  Davis’ efforts in Romania came at a pivotal time in post- Communist Romania where the entire country had been under the heavy-handed rule of the Dictator, Nicolai Ceausescu for two decades.  Social work had been eliminated as a profession and national economic policy focused on repaying Romanian national debt, resulting in extreme deprivation and poverty for its citizens. Romania’s harsh pronatalist policies and extensive use of orphanages to house children whose parents had few community resources or supports was seen by Romanian child advocates and donors as an opportunity for the development of the social work profession. 

Davis was assigned to the University of Bucharest where she did foundational work to develop and teach coursework on social work practice and child welfare.  She also collaborated on the development of policy and practice for field instruction in collaboration with the US Peace Corps, USAID, and European Union Donors.  During her time as a Fulbrighter, she also published a training curriculum on the foundations of social work practice and child welfare practice for paraprofessional, community social workers.  She also provided technical assistance to non-governmental and governmental organizations on social work education and program design to several other countries in the region including Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. During that time, Davis also served as a consultant and trainer for the United States Peace Corps in Romania. Prior to assuming the Fulbright, Davis worked as a clinical social worker, educator, and trainer in her native State of North Carolina. 

Career Highlights

Davis remained in Romania after completing her Fulbright assignment and worked on additional curricula and provided training in the management of nonprofits in various sectors including democracy, professional and business associations, environment, reproductive health, and child welfare with a particular focus on workforce development and advocacy.  Of particular significance to the rebirth of the social work profession was the technical assistance that she provided to the new Romanian Association for the Promotion of Social Work.  She helped the organization establish a board, recruit membership, and develop chapters. From these early collaborative efforts, Romanian social work leaders have a well establish College of Social Workers, a Code of Ethics, and 7 additional Romanian social work organizations.

Davis continued her work in Romania with World Vision International as a Project Director and Senior Technical Advisor on child welfare. In this role, Davis was the primary implementer responsible for program structure, operation, and impact for the USAID/Romania Mission’s program to improve child welfare. She was responsible for coordinating at the program and policy level with major donors including the World Bank, UNICEF and the European Union for implementation of the National Strategy for Child Welfare and Protection. Davis’ efforts as Project Director, collaborating closely with Romanian government and non-government stakeholders, were key to the creation and implementation of family/community care models rather than traditional residential care employed throughout the country.  Evaluation of the initiative demonstrated that 35% more children were being served in the community rather than in residential programs at the end of four years.  Other significant outcomes included the development of a continuum of community services including family support, family reunification and preservation, independent living services for adolescents, foster care, and domestic adoption. Of major importance was the piloting of a national system of continuing education for child welfare workers and the preparation of 20-30 trainers for each of the four major curricula in case management and supervision. Reducing dependence on residential care for children was critical for Romania’s entry into the European Union. 

Drawing from her experience and lessons learned from her work in Romania, Davis has continued to partner with social workers and child advocate in other countries to support their child welfare education and workforce strengthening efforts.  Over her career, Davis has provided technical assistance to Albania, Ghana, Swaziland, Nigeria, Malawi, Liberia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia. Her global advocacy efforts continue through her service as member and Chair of the Steering Committee for the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance and a representative of the International Association of Schools of Social Works (IASSW) to the United Nations. 

At present, Davis is Associate Professor for Professional Practice and Director of the Office of Global Social Work Programs at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. where she applied her international development experience to further advance social work as a global profession and changemaker. Facilitating the establishment of a global education program, she provides support to faculty on global programs development and coordinates the global social work field unit, including a field experience in Romania, among others. 

Biographic Information

Davis received her BA in Sociology, Concentration in Social Work, from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1969, her Master of Social Work, Clinical Practice from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1974, and PhD, Child Development and Family Studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1983.  

Significant Recognition and Awards

Davis received the Innovative and Creative Teaching Award, Rutgers University School of Social Work, May 2010; Lifetime Achievement Award, National Association of Social Workers (NASW), New Jersey Chapter, May 2009, and Most Supportive Professor Award, Rutgers University School of Social Work, May 2008. 

Significant Publications and Technical Reports

  • Postmus, J. L., Hoge, G. L., Davis, R., Johnson, L., Koechlein, E., Winter, S. (2016). Examining gender-based violence and abuse among school students in four counties in Liberia: An exploratory study. Child Abuse & Neglect, 44, 76-86. 
  • Davis, R. T., Roth, M., & Iovu, B. M. (2013). Sexual violence and abuse against children in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). In J. L. Postmus (ed.). Sexual violence and abuse: Encyclopedia of prevention, impacts, and recovery. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. 
  • Greenfield, E. A., Davis, R. T., & Fedor, J. P. (2012). The effect of international social work education: Study abroad versus on-campus courses. Journal of Social Work Education, 48 (4), 739- 761. 
  • Pellens, T., Davila, D., Attah, R, Davis, R., Sabaa, S., & Optson, K. (2018). Ghana: Summative evaluation of Ghana’s child protection system strengthening at district level.  A technical report for UNICEF/Ghana and Oxford Policy Management, Oxford, UK. Accra, Ghana: UNICEF.  
  • Davis, R. T. & Simmel, C.  (2014, July).  Case management toolkit: A user’s guide for strengthening case management services in child welfare. A toolkit developed for the Europe and Eurasia Bureau of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID/E&E/DGST) with Aguirre Division of JBS International, Inc. 
  • McCaffery, J., Davis, R. & Conticini, A. (2012).  Strengthening child protection systems in Sub Saharan Africa:  A working paper.  A publication commissioned by UNICEF in collaboration with the Inter Agency Child Protection Working Group. 


Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.