Three Questions for a Social Work Leader, With Talia Rivera

Rivera (fifth from left) with BC Social Work students.

Rivera (fifth from left) with BC Social Work students.

Talia Rivera began her career working with youth in 1998, and today, she is considered one of the leading voices on youth violence, gang interventions, and street work in the City of Boston.

Rivera is currently Network Manager at the Council on Foundations. In the past she has served as the Director of Connectivity and Learning at Boston Rising, and as Executive Director at Villages Without Walls, a non-profit organization she founded in 2001.

On November 7, Rivera 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.

Here, she speaks with BC Social Work about some of the topics addressed during their luncheon, including the importance of: cultivating cultural competency, staying true to your mission, and being open to listening to clients in order to truly understand where they’re coming from.

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

I believe that the social worker in 2014 has a better understanding of the different cultural competencies of its constituent groups. The social worker is more engaged now than ever, and I hope, more likely to find solutions to problems than to merely go into a situation with a checklist of ‘what’s not there.’

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

Always remember why you’re doing the work you’re doing. Think about how you’re connected to a community, and the people you serve who are marginalized, and how they may not have access to the services you do in your own life. Life happens, and we often get consumed in ourselves. We can’t let this affect our work, because it’s our job to advocate for others.

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

Stay connected to the people that matter: to that constituent base that you’re working with. Do your best to understand where they’re coming from. And don’t always believe what appears on the surface. There’s more to a person than what you might read about them in the media, so go into your work without preconceived judgments, be open to understanding what’s going on in their lives, and think about what all could have happened that might have led to them being in need of particular services. Seek understanding; not everything is so easily defined in black and white.

“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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