Emeritus Professor Vimla V. Nadkarni, PhD
Past President, International Association of Schools of Social Work
Former Dean and Retired Professor, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS)
Professor Vimla Nadkarni was President of the International Association of the Schools of Social Work (IASSW) from 2012-2016. She was the first Indian elected to this high-level position.
Vimla Nadkarni was born in 1948 and raised in a large middle-class family in the heart of urbanised South Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India. Her family of nine sisters and two brothers originally hailed from Sindh (now in Pakistan); her father Mohanlal Lala was a gold-medallist engineer who gave India its first branded ice-cream, “Joy”. The values of the education of the girl-child and respect for the indigent were given primary importance in the family.
Vimla is married to Vithal, a journalist and writer. They have a daughter Ambika, a scientist who lives and works in Berkeley, California (USA).
Vimla Nadkarni continues to reside in Mumbai during her retirement years, where she is involved in social upliftment projects and contributes passionately to social work policy and development.
Vimla graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology Honours from St. Xavier’s College, Bombay University in 1969. She thereafter pursued a degree in law after realising the inequalities facing many vulnerable people in the community. Subsequently, she received the Bachelor of Law (General) degree from Kishinchand Chellaram College, Bombay University in 1976. In 1996 she completed her PhD in Social Work (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai).
Vimla commenced social work practice in 1971. From 1971 to 1976 she worked at the King Edward Memorial Hospital as a medical social worker. Some of her responsibilities and initiatives included being a member of the multidisciplinary team working on epilepsy research sponsored by the USA PL 480 Funds. In 1974 she joined the Department of Social Work at the Orthopaedic Centre where she started a school for the children in the ward (with the support of the Rotary club). She was recognised for activating the group of palliative care patients with paraplegia who were kept in the remote corner of the ward and mostly neglected. She also worked in the Skin and Burns Unit of the KEM hospital, and mobilised community resources and created a regular system of provision of equipment like wheelchairs, callipers etc. She provided fieldwork supervision to social work students of TISS and College of Social Work, Mumbai.
Prof Nadkarni’s entry into academia was in 1976 when she became a Faculty Member of College of Social Work. From 1976-1984 she was a Lecturer at the College of Social Work at Nirmala Niketan (NN), Mumbai University. She spearheaded new courses like Community and Family Health and Human Growth and Behaviour for the BSW students. Vimla was also in charge of the Health group in the Problem Analysis course which focused on developing seminar papers and presentations. She also taught ‘Working with Individuals and Families’ in the first year of the MSW programme. She organised the first National Conference on Community Health in India.
From 1985 to 2013 Vimla taught at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. She joined TISS in 1985 as a Reader at the Department of Medical and Psychiatric Social Work. Between 1987 and 2006 she served as Head of the Department. A notable role was in 1986 when she was part of the committee of the national conference to discuss the restructuring of social work in the Golden Jubilee Year of the institute (1985-1986). In 2006 she was appointed as the first Dean of the newly restructured School of Social Work, and in 2013 she retired as a Senior Professor.
On a professional level, Prof Nadkarni’s approach to social work was influenced by feminist theories which gained awareness among social workers in the 70s. As a medical social worker she became conscious of the need to work on environmental issues that influenced the onset and spread of diseases like tuberculosis which was commonly seen in the patients at the KEM Hospital. Vimla’s perspective shifted from individual problem-solving at micro-level social work to a developmental and macro one and later to a human rights and social justice perspective. This meant analysing and working on structural issues that were the root causes of social problems and issues. Vimla strongly believes in the symbiotic relationship between teaching, practice and research, advocating that these three elements in social work education make the educator an effective one. Her approach to social work education was to promote a participatory approach in teaching rather than a didactic lecture-based method.
Prof Nadkarni’s leadership was driven by her deep and sincere commitment to steering the IASSW to become an effective organisation in promoting academic excellence. Her mission was to advocate for enhancing the quality of academic training in social work education worldwide, focusing particularly on developing countries. She was invited to countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia to speak on varied issues like social work theory and diversity. In Cambodia, she presented on strategies to strengthen social work education in that country in the presence of ministry of education officials. UNICEF and the Institute of Education, Bhutan, invited her to orient the Faculty, NGO representatives and community volunteers on social work education and its potential development in Bhutan.
Prof Nadkarni’s involvement was key in the development of the Bombay Association of Trained Social Workers. She served as President of the BATSW for two terms from 1996 to 2000 (a term was for 2 years) and continued on the Executive Committee, and the Editorial Board of the BATSW thereafter elected Vice-President from 2011 to 2015. She also served as Vice-President of the Association of Schools of Social Work in India. As a national association, the ASSWI contributed to the development of social work education in India in the 60s to 80s.
Prof Nadkarni’s journey into the IASSW was recognised in 2008 when she was elected as Member at Large for four years in the organisation. This recognition at an international level enabled her to work closely with the then President, Professor Angelina Yuen-Tsang and other IASSW Board members to develop a business plan for the Education Committee with the objective of reaching out to countries that needed advocacy support. Through this Committee, she was instrumental in organising seminars after every Board meeting in collaboration with the hosting university. Her leadership strategy at that level was to also support and encourage the peer consultations with universities which wanted an international review of their programmes. These initiatives showcased social work education in the respective country as well as in the international scenario.
Professor Nadkarni was instrumental in encouraging and strengthening the role of IASSW in UN bodies. She was able to negotiate a three year MoU with UNAIDS for joint projects. This initiative resulted in the organisation of two conferences as well as the 2017 publication titled: Getting to Zero: Global Social Work Responds to HIV. Her leadership also facilitated the development of the Regional Resource Centres within countries that could become regional hubs for training and mentoring of countries that required development and strengthening of social work education.
One of her many achievements in her role as IASSW President was her success in rallying together a board of globally committed office bearers, vice-presidents and members who were passionate about translating the vision and mission of IASSW, giving of their invaluable time regardless of their own teaching commitments, research and fieldwork supervision duties. Another noted achievement was the initiation of a Strategic Review of IASSW to provide future direction to enhance the impact of the organisation.
Notes and Appendices:
Fellowships and Recognitions Received
1969 – Prize for standing First in the Junior Bachelor of Arts Examination in St. Xavier’s College, Bombay.
1976 – Prize for standing First in the 2nd and Final year of the Bachelor of General Law Examination in K.C. College
1989 – One-month Fellowship by the American Centre, Bombay, for studying health and environment organisations in the USA
1994 – Kellog Foundation Fellow to participate in the Salzburg Seminar on “Health in the Community.”
- – Fullbright Fellow, East-West Centre Population Seminar to attend the Training Workshop on Strengthening Multi-Sectoral Responses to HIV/AIDS
2007 – SIES Ram Joshi Annual Memorial Lecturer, the SIES Institute for Comprehensive Education, Mumbai
- – 2nd Annual International Hokenstad Lecturer, Council for Social Work Education, USA
- – Sister Thecla Endowment Lecturer, Stella Maris College, Chennai (2011-2012).
- – The Gauri Ranee Banerjee Birth Centenary Celebrations Oration, 34th Annual Conference of the Indian Society for Professional Social Work (ISPSW), Central University of Rajasthan, Kishangarh (February 2016).
2019 – NAPSWI Lifetime Achievement Award for protection and promotion of the rights and interests of the social work profession and its members at different levels conferred by National Association of Professional Social Workers in India, New Delhi.
Notable contributions to Social Work Practice
- 1976, whilst at KEM as a medical social worker, Vimla published articles on psycho-social aspects of epilepsy and social work interventions in the field of epilepsy and presented papers abroad.
- Developed a video on New Horizons in Community Health at TISS
- Initiated the AHEAD (Action for Health Education and Development) health project in a small slum behind the KEM hospital, to mobilise the people on issues affecting their health
- Initiated the Integrated Rural Health and Development Project (IRHDP) in the remote tribal areas in Shahapur Taluka, Thane district. The project became a teaching-learning centre for social work students
- Mobilised medical social workers to detail the roles of the MSW in hospitals. This listing of functions and tasks became an advocacy tool for local medical social workers
- Editorial Committee on a special issue of the Indian Journal of Social Work on Drug Abuse, as well as compiled a directory of services
- Due to her increased links with the Maharashtra Government’s Department of Health on the problem of drug abuse, she was invited in 1989 when the World Health Organisation (WHO) requested the Indian government to initiate training for the prevention of AIDS
- In 1992 was invited by WHO and national government to participate in training on counselling and sexuality. Contributed to the development of a national programme on HIV Counselling training through the identification of regional centres for training
- 2001-2002- Appointed as Secretary-General of Family Planning Association of India (FPAI). FPAI was the largest non-government organisation (NGO) in the country spanning 41 branches in majority of the states of India
- Member on Expert Committee for Training of Mother NGOs in Family Welfare, Department of Family Welfare, GOI (2001-2002).
- Member of Ethics Committee on Leprosy Research, Foundation of Medical Research, Mumbai and Ethics Committee, Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai.
- Member, National Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) to finalise the Bill on ART, Indian Council of Medical Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, GOI (2007).
- Member of Steering Committee of The ‘City Initiative for Neonatal Health’, SNEHA, Mumbai (2007)
- Member of Project Execution Group for Mainstreaming, National AIDS Control Organisation, Delhi (2007)
- Member of Project Steering Committee and Project Advisory Committee, Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Round-7: Sub-Component of Capacity Building of Institutions of Higher Learning in HIV/AIDS Counselling (TISS) (2008-2012).
- Member of the 36th Scientific Advisory Committee of Tuberculosis Research Centre (2008-2010).
- Member, State Mental Health Authority, Government of Maharashtra.
- Member, Scientific Research Committee, Department of Biotechnology, GOI.
- Member, Scientific Research Committee, Indian Council of Medical Research, GOI.
- In 2013, launched the Indian Association of Social Work Education (IASWE).
- In 2017 was invited as Keynote speaker at ASASWEI Conference on “Rethinking social work in Africa: Decoloniality and indigenous knowledge in education and practice, held in Johannesburg in October 2017
Research, Publications and Contributions to Social Work Literature
- Lead researcher and principal investigator of approximately 20 research projects, supported the importance of using research for evidence building for initiating and enhancing social work theory and practice.
- Authored and co-authored more than 40 articles on topics such as medical social work, social aspects of epilepsy, social work interventions in drug abuse, human rights and health, ecology, disaster interventions, social work education and social development, HIV/AIDS
- Authored Drug Abuse Demand Reduction in 1992 by TISS and Intervention in Issues of Pollution Utilising Integrated Social Work Practice in 1997, as TISS Monograph Series.
- Guest edited the Focus Issue on ‘Patients’ Rights’ of The Indian Journal of Social Work (1993).
- Co-compiled HIV/AIDS in India: An annotated bibliography & selected studies (1990-2000);
- Vimla Nadkarni et al. (2003). Navjeet Community Health Centre, A Rapid Appraisal 1978-2003. Mumbai: Navjeet Community Health Centre.
- Co-edited NGOs, Health and the Urban Poor, published in 2009, by Rawat Publications.
- Edited the Special Issue of Social Work Education: the International Journal on ‘Social Work Education in Asia: New Horizons’, (29) 8 in 2010.
- Co-authored HIV Sensitive Social Protection A Four States Utilisation Study in 2011 for the United Nations Development Programme.
- Co-edited Getting to Zero: Global Social Work Responds to HIV. A Joint Publication of International Association of Schools of Social Work and UNAIDS. (2017)
- Member of the Editorial Board of the Indian Journal of Medical Research from 2015 till date.
- Member, Editorial Board, Journal of Human Rights and Social Work, Springer.
- Member, Editorial Baord, Journal of Nordic Social Work Reearch.
Contribution to the Professional Development and Mentorship of Social Work Educators
- UGC Nominee for the UGC ASIHSS Programme, Faculty of Social Work, the M.S. University of Baroda (2006-2011).
- Member, Expert Committee, IGNOU and UNDP on NGO Management in HIV/AIDS (2007)
- Member, Special Board for the introduction of Master of Social Work Degree Course in Pondicherry University (2007)
- Member, Peer Review Team, NAAC (Dec. 9-13, 2009), to conduct review of NISWASS, Bhubaneshwar
- Member, Board of Studies, School of Social Work, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi (2008-2010)
- Member, Special Board of Studies for Social Work, SNDT Women’s University (2007-2010)
- Member, Ad Hoc Board of Studies, Department of Social Work, SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai (2010-2012).
- organised at TISS National Consultation on the National Network of Schools of Social Work
Profile for IASSW website compiled by:
Varoshini Nadesan, PhD
Lecturer: Department of Social Work at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa;
President of the Association of South African Social Work Education Institutions (ASASWEI)
10 November 2019
A few salutations:
From Herman Meulemans, Emeritus Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Antwerp, Belgium:
After meeting Prof Nadkarni in person, I was deeply impressed by her social work research at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and invited her to teach the master students in social work at the University of Antwerp, Belgium. Her lectures, her experience with all the facets of social work and, above all, her love for the profession of social work were a revelation for many audiences in Belgium. As (past) president of the IASSW, Prof Nadkarni has demonstrated an extremely strong global leadership. The IASSW became an important international player when social problems are at stake, as well in cosmopolitan and rural areas of the world, as well as ongoing problems as in moments of crisis and catastrophe. Vimla Nadkarni’s greatest achievement during her presidency is that an open culture of debate is fully realized; the pillar of further professionalization of social work in the 21st century.
From Gidraph G. Wairire, PhD, Associate Professor: University of Nairobi, Kenya; President: Association of Schools of Social Work in Africa (ASSWA):
During her term Vimla Nadkarni served as the President, IASSW, we have noted practical restructuring of the various committees under which the IASSW executed its functions. These have been realized through a democratic process that is inclusive of all IASSW regions. The presence of IASSW has continued to be felt in all IASSW regions as well as in the United Nations thus ensuring that the voice of social work is heard at the regional and global levels. These, amongst many other notable achievements, have been done through teamwork under the leadership of Vimla Nadkarni.
From Varoshini Nadesan, PhD, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Social Work, University of Johannesburg, South Africa; Past Treasurer and current President of the Association of South African Social Work Education Institutions (ASASWEI):
I first met Emeritus Professor Vimla Nadkarni and her husband Vithal during their visit to South Africa in 2017, where she was an invited keynote speaker at the ASASWEI International Conference titled “Rethinking social work in Africa: Decoloniality and indigenous knowledge in education and practice”, held in Johannesburg, SA.
However, prior to her visit, I had the privilege of engaging with her and paying tribute in the written media to Prof Nadkarni’s leadership in social work education. The tribute, titled ‘Be fearless and forthright, and rule the world’ was published in the Post Newspaper in SA on 23 August 2017, during Women’s Month, as part of my media opinion pieces and acknowledgements to women who have made notable contributions to society.
Prof Nadkarni has demonstrated a passion for realising the development and upliftment of the social work profession. Her presentation at the ASASWEI 2017 Conference on the decolonisation of social work education contributed immensely to discussions and advancements on detaching from the hegemony of colonial and western knowledge systems in the Global South, which was particularly prevalent in South African education at the time. These discussions continued during our meetings in Mumbai, India in September 2019.