Inspirational Leaders

 To feature inspirational role models during Social Work Week.

Description: Two awards will be presented during Social Work Week to individuals, teams or groups whose current contribution to the profession inspires others and whose professional conduct serves as a role model for those working in the field of social work.  Candidates for this award may include individuals who share a similar focus in their work. 

Nomination Process: 
Members who are nominating a candidate for the OASW Inspirational Leader Award are required to provide a one-paragraph (minimum) biographical sketch (500 words maximum) that highlights the nominee’s achievements which makes him/her deserving of the significant leadership award. This paragraph should include details that illustrate:

  1. How the nominee inspires others through their leadership, optimism and innovation in addressing situations/problems. Please give specific examples.

  2. How their practice or contribution (clinician, educator, researcher, community activist, administrator, etc.) exemplifies the theme of Social Work Week 2020 – “Social Workers: Leading Positive Change across Systems and Settings.” Please give specific examples.

  3. How other attributes/contributions - such as work that addresses diversity, leadership at a pivotal time for the profession or public, etc. – highlight the leading attributes of the nominee which makes him/her stand out as a leader among his/her peers. Please give specific examples.

Selection Criteria:

  • All candidates must be members of OASW
  • All candidates must be registered with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers

All candidates must satisfy criteria 1 through 3.

  • Inspires others through their leadership, optimism and innovation in addressing situations/problems.
  • Practice or contribution exemplifies the theme of Social Work Week.
  • Other attributes/contributions such as work that addresses diversity, leadership at a pivotal time for the profession or public. 
    • Should candidates tie, a fourth criterion can be applied:
      • Represents a unique or under-represented practice sector.

Selection Process:
Any OASW member can nominate a candidate for this award. Each nomination is to be accompanied by a one-paragraph biographical sketch, highlighting the nominee’s achievements which make him/her deserving of the award. To obtain a template for submission, please contact

Nomination Deadline: Closed

2020 Recipient: 

Dr. Howard Irving: “I have always felt the desire to advocate for big picture changes for people who systemically are having difficulty with the systems and laws in place.” [more]

Past Recipients: 

2019  l

Lauren Clark: "I have always been drawn to working with vulnerable populations, those who often do not have anyone to advocate on their behalf and those who have challenges accessing services to meet their needs." [more]

Michael Bennett: "Humans are complicated and dynamic, and social workers are prepared to respond to each person's complexity. As social workers, we are in the business of supporting people as they navigate extremely difficult and trying times. I view social work as a political process and not just a regular 9-5, and I credit my mentors in the field for teaching me the importance of being critical and challenging oppression."[more]

2018  l

In thinking about her career as a public policy leader and advocate for social justice, Uppala Chandrasekera states:  “Being a social worker is a big part of my identity and has shaped who I am as a person.”  [more]

Reflecting on her social work career, Dr. Anne Toth explains:  “I could never have known that, by agreeing to play with a kindergarten classmate who did not talk, I would have found my life’s work.”  [more]

2017  l

Dr. Peter Donahue believes that his social work training and education have provided him with the tools to successfully navigate future pathways that await him in his career: “The application and embracing of basic foundational social work skills have opened so many doors for me and created opportunities that I never would have dreamed existed when I started on my social work journey.” [more]

Joyce Hamelin loves life: “I love learning, I love to be busy, which is a good thing, because every Social Worker knows, there is never, ever enough time. I love to be able to smile, to have fun and to laugh from the bottom of my toes.”  [more]

2016  l 

If Holly Earl-McCubbin had a wish, it would be to see social work education become trauma-informed and offer more trauma-specific training to those who want to become clinicians. [more]

It is apparent to Kathy Stiell that a focus and expertise in human relationships has been one of social work's strongest assets and may be even more so in the future: "This is a very exciting and proud time in history to be a social worker." [more]

2015  l 

Dr. Shelley Craig affirms: "I am in social work because I like to creatively work with others to solve social problems." [more]

When speaking about the social work profession, Dr. Barbara Muskat says: "It is my hope that as a profession, we will mobilize our strengths and advocate for the excellent skills we have in both direct and indirect work." [more

2014  l
Establishing a level playing field where individuals have the opportunity to flourish has guided Shelley Gilbert's work for over 20 years. [more]

Dr. Colleen McMillan welcomes the opportunity to tell social workers of their potential to become leaders within health care: "Never before has the field been so receptive for our abilities in creating innovative health care models due to our 'person in the environment' training and our vision for seeing health as all-encompassing." [more]
2013  l  

Although now retired from formal employment, Nasim Banu-Ahmed continues to work tirelessly as a social worker to inspire hope in both her birth-country of Bangladesh and in her adopted country of Canada. [more]

It is clear from the very first moment in her presence that Karen Nelson is a dynamic and vibrant social work leader: "I am energized by the extraordinary work of my staff and I am driven to create the best possible place for them to practice and flourish as social workers." [more]

On Marco Posadas' long-term wish list, two stand out: "More funding for proper long-term mental health interventions for LGBTT populations and a more comprehensive and realistic immigration and refugee system in Canada that doesn't discriminate by country of origin, but evaluates the person holistically." [more

2012  l 

For Mary K. Armstrong, making the world a better place has always been a driving force. [more]

Diane Manii is constantly inspired by the motto: "Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and lead a trail." [more]

2011  l

If Lorie Shekter-Wolfson has a motto in life, it likely is:  "Don't be afraid of change - embrace it!" [more]

Early in her social work career, Brooke Young has already been singled out as one to watch. [more]

2010  l  

Rhonda Teitel-Payne strongly believes that there are solutions to poverty. "The biggest challenge we face is that our society accepts that poverty has always been and always will be. We need to get past that acceptance and change it. I think we can." [more]

Dr. Julie Woit states: "In my social work practice, I am very mindful of the lens of the social determinants of health.  It helps me contextualize the stories that I'm hearing." [more]

2009  l

SWAG (Social Work in Aging and Gerontology) is an informal network of social workers in the Ottawa region who have a strong interest in aging issues and work with seniors and their families. [more]

Linda Jackson draws constant inspiration from seniors and their families: "They truly have taught me about life." [more]

2008  l

Dr. Cindy Blackstock believes that ethics are the foundation of social work - they give life and shape to our relationships and skills. [more]

Patricia O'Connor, Helen Wong, June Ying Yee of the Internationally Educated Social Work Professionals Bridging Program. [more]

The resilience of children and families is what keeps Micheal Hardy inspired. [more]

2007  l

Sonia Pouyat believes that social work leaders must have passion and remain open-minded to manage the challenges and the issues they face on a daily basis. [more]

Laurel Rothman believes that a vibrant community role is crucial for the health of our society. [more]

2006  l

Angela Townend believes that clients are relying more and more on social workers' expertise and their professional networking to help meet both their immediate and long-term needs. [more]

Rose Piacentino believes that social workers at all levels can make a difference, regardless of their degree or setting or location: "It's what you put into it". [more]

2005  l

Dr. Akua Benjamin has been in social work her whole life in varying formal and informal capacities. [more]

Dr. Cheryle Partridge is a social work educator in the Native Human Services Programme at Laurentian University and an Anishinaabe-Kwe (Ojibway woman) from Wasauksing First Nation, near Parry Sound. [more]

2004  l

In the summer of 2003, Judy Finlay, Chief Advocate of the Office of Child and Family Service Advocacy in Ontario, made the headlines in major newspapers and newscasts across the country. [more]

Peter Dudding sees a very important role for social work in the future. He believes that with the pace and scope of change now evident in society, social workers can help individuals to manage change and deal with life stressors. [more]

2003  l

Viewed by her peers as a leader within the social work profession, Jeanette Lewis is currently the Executive Director of the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies and has been a social worker for more than 30 years. [more]

Dr. Hugh Drouin is confident that the future of social work looks bright if social workers market their skills. [more]

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