An International Agenda for Social Work: How the Local can connect to the Global and vice versa.
This essay will focus on the importance of The Global Agenda set out by the International federation of Social Workers and the impact that it has globally and locally for social workers and the support they provide. Social Work refers to ” a practice- based profession and academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people” according to the International Federation of Social Workers and the International Association of Schools of Social Work (2014). The definition offered by the IFSW and the IASSW(2014) also mentions the importance of the principles of social justice, human rights and collect responsibility and respect to social work.
The Global Agenda is a platform that advocates and works towards a ‘socially just world’ (Jones & Truell, 2017). For the purpose of this essay, the ‘Global’ will refer to the work and ideas which have been set out by the International federation of Social Workers and other social development organisations such as the International Association of Schools of Social Work and the International Council on Social Welfare. The ‘Local’ will refer to the work done on the ‘ground’ around the world by individual social workers and social practitioners in order to implement the actions set out by the ‘Global Agenda’.
This essay will give insight to the background of the Global Agenda and the International Federation of Social Workers, it will also offer insight into the commitments made through the Global Agenda by the International Federation of Social Workers, the International Association of Schools of Social Work and the International Council on Social Welfare. This essay will also look at the impact of the Global Agenda on the smaller local groupings.
Background to the Global Agenda and the International Federation of Social Workers
The International Federation of Social Work dates back to 1928, when the first International Conference on Social Work was held in Paris (Hall, 2013). At first it was known as the International Permanent Secretariat of Social Workers (IPSSW), which operated from Berlin, Prague and Geneva, until 1956 when the International Federation of Social Workers was founded in Munich (Hall, 2013). On the 9th August 1956 the International Federation of Social Workers was founded and organisations in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States took formal action to become members of the international body that is now the International federation of Social Workers (Johannesen,2013 ) . In 1959, the International Federation of Social Workers joined with the International Association of Schools of Social Work and the International Council on Social Welfare (Hall,2013). During the 1980’s the work of the IFSW was particularly significant for human rights and social justice while also being recognised by the United Nations officially. In 2012 it was recorded that the International Federation of Social Workers represented 750,000 social workers worldwide (IFSW, IASSW ; ICSW, 2012).
However it was not until 2004 that the process of developing the Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development (International Federation of Social Workers et al., 2010) began (Jones ; Truell, 2017). In June 2010, over 3000 Social Work practitioners met in Hong Kong and together they decided to launch a global movement that addresses the major challenges that societies around the world were dealing with each day (NASW, 2014). The organisations involved could see how clear the new and daunting global economic recession was and the need for action was evidently urgent (Jones ; Truell, 2017). The process was also a way to highlight and support the profile and awareness of social work, to allow for confidence in social workers to improve therefore allowing them to make a stronger contribution to policy development (Jones ; Truell, 2012). The main ideas and themes that were presented throughout the Hong Kong conference were later presented as the four pillars of the Global Agenda (Jones ; Truell, 2013). These pillars are as follows:
The Promotion of social and economic equalities, the promotion of the dignity and worth of peoples, working towards environmental sustainability and the strengthening of recognition of the importance of human relationships (IFSW, IASSW ; ICSW, 2012).
The International Federation of Social Workers, the International Association of Schools of Social Work and the International Council on Social Welfare all work together in order to implement the four pillars of the ‘Agenda’ (IFSW, IASSW, ICSW, 2012). Regular reports are provided from these organisations in order to provide updates and information on the progress made with the implementation of each of the main goals. The next report due from the Global Agenda is in 2020.
The Commitments Made by the Global Agenda
While preparing for the process of the Global Agenda, the organisations involved recognised the areas in society where problems were the most prevalent. These observations were made by social workers who supported directly those who found themselves in less well-off situations. Therefore it can be said that the work carried out by social worker locally had a direct impact in the aims and commitments that were set for the larger scale social work community. These areas were then made a primary focus of the Agenda for a period of time, to allow social workers around the world to react and engage in actions in order to allow these commitments to become a reality. As stated above, the commitments made by the Global Agenda were, the promotion of social and economic equality, the promotion of the dignity and worth of people, working toward environmental sustainability and the strengthening of the recognition of the importance of human relationships (IFSW et al., 2012). These commitments are based on observations made by social workers globally, therefore they are relevant to all regions in the world, for example Europe, Africa, Asia and Pacific, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. While the three main organisations involved in the Global Agenda are vital in order to get the project going and to raise awareness of the problems faced around the world, the Global Agenda also uses its platform to support and gain the support of other international organisations. All of these organisations are working toward the same goal of making these commitments into reality. The Global Agenda also consulted with social workers and other social practitioners to ensure that the work and goals they were setting out were relevant to the current situations that many found themselves in (IFSW et al., 2012). The Global Agenda offers a standard of what people should be receiving to improve their well-being, while also offering a guideline to social workers as to the goals they should be setting themselves to make these achievable.
The first report of the Global Agenda, The Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development: First Report- promoting social and economic equalities (IFSW, IASSW ; ICSW, 2014) was published in 2014, and focused mainly on the first commitment of the Global Agenda which is the promotion of social and economic equalities. The report offered in-depth analysis as to the extent of the work offered by social workers and social practitioners around the world in order to lessen the divide between the wealthy and the poor in society. It is evident throughout the report that this had been chosen as one of the Global Agenda’s aims due to the increasingly large divide between the wealthy and the poor after the economic crisis that began circa 2007. Social workers, social developers and social practitioners recognised the need for action at a global level hence the inclusion of this topic in the Global Agenda. As stated in the first report, during the two years of which the promotion of social and economic equalities were at the forefront of the project and the minds of all of those involved, led to joint global actions, for example, supporting the populations of communities to have a voice for what happens in their future, advocating political structures and also encouraging community resourcefulness (IFSW et al., 2014). While after the report was published the main aim of the Agenda was switching to promoting the dignity and worth of people, the importance of promoting equality did not leave the work presented by the organisations involved.
The second report of the Global Agenda, The Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development: Second Report- Promoting the Dignity and Worth of Peoples (IFSW,IASSW & ICSW, 2016) was published in 2016, this time focusing on the promotion of peoples’ worth and dignity. This is another important theme for the Global Agenda as it has a vital implications for all of the regions globally, without a feeling of worth how is an individual going to make an impact to their community in order to give the community and opportunity to succeed? Similar to all the other themes/commitments, the work which was carried out during the two year period (2014-2016), where this was the main theme, was influenced heavily by the harsh realities that individuals faced throughout the world. Reports of these harsh realities were then fed back to the IFSW, the IASSW and the ICSW by the local social workers in each region, and a plan of action in order to lessen the burden of these problems on people. Throughout this report the professionals paid particular attention to the global crisis that was pushing many individuals into refugee status and also the lack of social protections to support populations in their hour of need (Jones ; Truell, 2017).
The third report of the Global Agenda, Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development: Third Report – Promoting Community and Environmental Sustainability (IFSW, IASSW ; ICSW, 2018) was published in 2018. This followed after two years of the Agendas focus being on the promotion of community and environmental sustainability. In recent years the importance of preserving our physical environment is vital in order to allow us to improve the well-being of those living in our communities (IFSW et al., 2018). Similar to the other reports, this report offers insight to the work being carried out by social workers in each region and also give individual reports for each regional area, offering an in-depth look into the improvements that are being made. A noticeable objective of the third report is to open up more discussion on the topic of how social work practice and policy should be influenced in order to respond to the actions being taken to fulfil the commitment of environmental sustainability (IFSW, IASSW ; ICSW, 2018). The third report also drew from the outcomes which presented themselves after the World Social Work Days which took place during 2017 and 2018 (Jones, 2018). The need for more sustainable approaches for living in our current environments is the main theme of the third report. As stated by a social worker from Africa, not many people think about the environmental side of social work until there is a problem with it, or in this case until the Global Agenda drew attention to it. It is clear how important this theme of the global agenda is in comparison to the rest, as without a sustained environment and place to live, how are individuals supposed to reach their full potential? The Global Agenda raised questions such as ‘what are the main/key/core social problems related to community and environmental sustainability affecting your country/region now?’ (IFSW et al., 2018). The answers to these questions were provided by regional social workers/social practitioners placed throughout the world, as they offered possible solutions. This is an interesting approach as it once again shows the continuous link between the global and local agendas, as they are constantly feeding each-other new findings or new arsing challenges.
The fourth report for the Global Agenda will not be published until 2020, however it is know that it will focus on the other main theme of the Global Agenda, Strengthening recognition of the Importance of Human Relationships (IFSW,IASSW ; ICSW, 2012). This is arguably one of the most important themes of the Global Agenda, as not only does it benefit the individuals that social workers interact with but also the relationships held between social workers. The promotion of communication and exchange of knowledge between social professionals (IFSW et al., 2012) allows for a safe and enjoyable work environment for these professionals, hence allowing them to offer the best support and ideas to the causes they work towards improving each day. This also includes benefits for the individuals they work directly with as the social professional will not feel isolated and will be able to gain support from colleagues when necessary to offer the best support to communities.
The Impact of The Global Agenda
The development of key goals for each region is vital in the effort to promote specific focus on regional needs at a global level (Jones ; Truell, 2012). This link enables social work organisations to become more visible to larger regional organisations such as the European Union (Jones ; Truell, 2012). Another unavoidable link between the global and the local, is globalization. As people migrate from a country where they may have been surrounded by family and supported by a high income job, they leave behind a caring role, which leaves the people who are left behind to fill the gaps to avoid more difficulties (Jones ; Truell, 2012). When each aspect of the Global Agenda is broken down, it becomes evident that the Global Agenda would not be the Global Agenda without its connection to the local regions. As stated by Jones and Truell (2012) “International is local”. When all of the smaller localities are combined together, collectively they form the ‘global’. Therefore when the smaller regions all take direction from the reports of the Global Agenda, they are taking direction from the local social professionals in their own regions and the issues they felt needed to be dealt with. The links that are made in order for social professionals to support their colleagues and also the links made in order to bring about social change globally that will in turn impact the local are all a part of the job of a social worker (Jones ; Truell, 2012).
The work carried out by the local social practitioners is an important aspect of keeping the Global Agenda alive and in action. The International Federation of Social Workers provides articles and journals in order to allow other members to keep up to date with the work being carried out around the globe and the progress being made to achieve the main aims of the Agenda.
The Global agenda has also had large scale implications for the way social work is taught and also now how it is practiced (Lombard, 2015). During the introductory period for the Agenda, some students who were studying social work were given the opportunity to work toward the final overview of what the Agenda would be about. The main focus of this exercise was on the local meaning and therefore the implementation of solutions to international and regional problems (Lombard, 2015). Students who took part in this exercise emphasised the importance of working together and at full potential in order to allow those who may find themselves in more vulnerable positions to use their own resources to overcome whatever it may be that was holding them back (Sims et al., 2014). While these students were from the United Kingdom, similar findings were found in the United States and South Africa, which further proves the point that the international is the global and vice versa. The concerns which were raised by students, were brought to the attention of the three main organisations behind the Global Agenda and these were factored into the final presentation of themes for the Agenda, which would set out guidelines for social professionals to follow throughout the world.
The Global Agenda has also had impacts on the everyday lives of individuals in the different regions involved with the Global Agenda. For example, in an article written by Truell (2016), he describes how social workers while working towards the Agenda were able to facilitate in rehoming those who loved on the streets in Bucharest. It was reported that over 1,000 children lived on the streets in Bucharest alone (Truell, 2016). The children found cover in dangerous areas such as tunnels and abandoned public buildings. Abandonment and neglect were the cause of so many children living on the streets and after social work had been outlawed in Romania, the profession had a lot to catch up on when it began again in 1989 (Truell, 2016). For the last 25 years, social workers have been working in order to combat this extreme poverty and are finally gaining the recognition and support they deserve which contributes to their ability to rehome these orphaned children (Truell,2016). Truell (2016) describes the role of social work in Romania as a vital part in overcoming social challenges that are the remains of a dictatorship.
The importance of the Global Agenda is somewhat indescribable. Not only does the Agenda work towards allowing social professionals to assist in improving the daily life and living standards of those less well-off but it also enables social professionals to improve the environment in which they work and the relationships they hold with not only their colleagues but also the people they work in direct contact with.
The International Federation of Social Workers, the International Association of Schools of Social Work and the International Council on Social Welfare all worked collectively in order to provide a service that embodies the entire meaning of ‘social work’. As stated above this provides inspiration for students who are thinking about studying social work and also those currently studying social work. The Agenda also sparks ambition within those already social professionals, therefore encouraging them to better themselves , allowing them to better the regions and environment around them.