Three Questions for a Social Work Leader, With Liz Nahar

Nahar (third from left in front row) with BC Social Work students and Professor Tiziana Dearing

Nahar (third from left in front row) with BC Social Work students and Professor Tiziana Dearing.

Liz Nahar (MSW & MBA ’97) is the Director of Sustainability for ChildObesity180, a childhood obesity prevention organization at Tufts University, where she focuses on fundraising, strategic planning, and partnership development.

On October 3, Nahar was invited to the Boston College School of Social Work to share her expertise with students as the latest featured guest in the school’s Leadership Speakers Luncheon Series. Much of the conversation focused around Nahar’s own experience transitioning from clinical work to more macro social issues. “It was reassuring seeing how though Liz did focus on the clinical path while at BC, her career has taken her in and out of the macro scene as well,” said one student who aims to do both following graduation from BC.

Here, BC Social Work speaks to Nahar about changing contexts in the field, the slow but progressive nature of change, and the critical traits of curiosity and flexibility.

What does it mean to be a social worker in 2014?

I think the essence of “what it means to be a social worker in 2014” is pretty much the same as it has been for a long time. To work towards improving the quality of life and well-being of individuals, community, and society. As with each generation, the context changes, and right now the environment is increasingly global, diverse, and fast-paced. It’s also a time when a lot of people are in need economically, and when legislative changes are particularly slow and challenging to move forward. I believe the values of the profession remain the same, however, and still guide the day-to-day work.

Tell us about the most important lesson you’ve learned as a leader in the field.

Most of the time, change comes slowly. Whether you’re working with an individual, a community, or a legislative body – you usually can’t rush the process. First comes trust and relationship building, then open communication, then commitment, and then movement towards the goal. And sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back. For someone like me who has always had to work on being patient, this is a lesson I have had to re-learn several times. But over the years I have come to see that patience does not equal apathy or lack of effort. Progress is possible and necessary, it just isn’t often as fast as we would like it to be.

What recommendations do you have for those who aspire to be social work leaders in the future?

1-Work hard. But make sure you’re taking care of yourself at the same time. Get clear on what rejuvenates you and strike a balance between giving and receiving energy. No one will be helped by you burning out, in the short term or in the long term.

2-Develop a professional support network. I believe that this network should include both social work colleagues and others. There are many professions working on social issues, from different angles, and those folks can also be helpful in your work, particularly as you develop your leadership capacity.

3- Be curious and flexibleAsk questions, learn from others, and be open to thinking about things differently than you did before. Maybe you think- “I don’t like budgets,” or “I can’t do public speaking” but be open to changing your mind as the years go on, because we all grow in ways we might not have expected initially.

“Three Questions for a Social Work Leader” is a recurring column at Innovate@BCSW, designed to share some of the knowledge imparted to the Boston College community with social work professionals beyond our campus walls.  

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