Formerly IGSW News | VOLUME 20 | JULY-AUGUST 2013

From the Director

Lessons for U.S. service and care

Uganda Conference on Complex Social
Problems Shows Global Connections

By Scott Miyake Geron

ScottSummer is the time for reading, and travel. In July I had the opportunity to attend the 18th Biennial International Consortium for Social Development (ICSD) Symposium in Kampala, Uganda. Traveling so far to discover so many connections among researchers in different areas emphasized once again how the twenty-first-century global arena propels us to think in more connected ways about complex social problems.

Uganda is the first African nation to host the conference. A beautiful country whose recent history captures all of the tragedy and promise of Africa, it is now celebrating its 50th year of post-colonial independence. I was among the researchers from more than 40 countries who gathered there to make presentations on topics related to poverty alleviation, health and social care, education, gender equality, HIV/Aids, children's rights, and environmental stability. In addition to the more the 200 presentations, we heard from an impressive lineup of keynote speakers from Uganda policy, research, and governmental agencies. We were also able to make site visits to local agencies at the front lines of social development in Uganda.

Aging and disability. I gave one of the few talks pertaining to aging and disability. Since almost 70 percent of the population in sub-Saharan African countries is under age 18, it is not surprising that the health and welfare of children dominates the policy agenda. However, government and policy experts there are fully aware of the challenges they face from a growing aging population and the ongoing issues with younger adults with disabilities. The ICSD symposia are relevant for those of us serving these populations in the United States for several reasons.

First, the interdisciplinary nature of the work presented at the conference was impressive and provides a model that we in the United States should emulate as we strive for greater interdisciplinary collaboration in our own efforts. Several countries emphasized frequent collaboration of policy makers, service providers, and educational organizations as a cornerstone of their programs, showing a level of cooperation rarely achieved in the States.

Second, the role of education and training was emphasized in many presentations, including the growing use of Web-based training.

Third, social justice and human rights were used as the framework and justification for addressing the service and program needs of service users, providing a theoretical and moral underpinning for social supports and services that is both inspirational and practical. As we strive to address the support and service needs of older adults and people with disabilities in our country, have we forgotten this fundamental argument?

Scott Miyake Geron, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Aging & Disability Education & Research and an associate professor at Boston University.

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