Tribute to the Late Professor Vimla Nadkarni
Dr Vimla Nadkarni was a member of the International Advisory Panel of the Global Institute of Social Work since its inception.
It is with a heavy heart that we received news of the sad passing away of our dear friend and Advisory Board member Professor Vimla Nadkarni on 20 November 2021. She was very peaceful and with family to the last moments of her life.
This is a great loss for the world's social work community. The GISW board pays tribute to our gentle leader. The social work fraternity will miss her. Sheindeed has left an indelible mark on the global social work profession.
Achievements and Biography of Professor Vimla Nadkarni
Former Dean And Retired Professor, School Of Social Work, Tata Institute Of Social Sciences (TISS)
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. Member of the International Advisory Board of the Global Institute of Social Work.
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 was married to Vithal, a journalist and writer. They have a daughter Ambika, a scientist who lives and works in Berkeley, California (USA). Vimla Nadkarni continued 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.