Local social services all over the world are being shaped by global factors. Social workers everywhere not only help people to cope every day with the most difficult social and personal situations imaginable, but are also picking up the pieces from the financial and sovereign debt crises.
Social programmes are being devastated, especially in Europe (including the UK) and parts of the developed world, while rapid economic development in Brazil, Russia, India and China – “the Bric countries” – is stimulating provision of social services, including hundreds of new social work schools in China.
The United Nations is anticipating what should follow the millennium development goals; the failure to achieve the core poverty reduction goals is a major indictment of national governments, although there has been success with some of the goals.
Civil society is working to support the UN and other international organisations to reduce poverty. More than 50 NGOs supported the adoption of the recommendation on national social protection floors at the 101st session of the International Labour Conference earlier this month; implementation would significantly reduce poverty and inequality.
The principles of crude managerialism, which have dominated global public sector management, are losing credibility. The idea that better services are achieved by setting statistical targets and financial incentives is crude and ineffective; it is essential to focus more on quality, values and evidence-based practice.
Against this background, the second world conference on social work and social development will be held in Stockholm, Sweden, on 8-12 July 2012. Jointly promoted by the International Association of Schools of Social Work, the International Council on Social Welfare and the International Federation of Social Workers, the conference has already attracted more than 2,000 participants.
Meeting at a time of worldwide social upheaval, participants from around 100 countries include social work practitioners and managers, university teachers and social scientists and social development professionals from civil society organisations.
The conference builds on the 2010 Hong Kong conference, attended by around 3,000 people. Both conferences form part of a strategic initiative by the three international bodies to shape a new global agenda for social work and social development.
The agenda commitments were jointly launched on World Social Work Day in March. The focus is on action and impact, examining methods in practice and research, implications for social policy and social work education, and links with the broader discourse of global commitment and cooperation.
The conference will also provide opportunities to discuss everyday social work and social development issues, aiming to achieve a closer link between evidence-based practice, policy objectives and social development goals.
The biennial joint conferences and the global agenda are core elements of a global strategy to raise the profile, influence and self-confidence of social work and social development professionals, not only in relation to global bodies such as the United Nations and its agencies (such as the International Labour Organization and World Health Organization) but also regional bodies, such as the EU, and national bodies, too.
The need to strengthen the voice of social work in England was highlighted by the Social Work Task Force and the Munro Review of child protection. The need to take account of social experience is also evident in the Rio+20 process, leading to the June world conference on environmental issues. An emerging theme is that environmental sustainability is impossible without equitable social policies. Sustainable economic and environmental development must go hand-in-hand.
The three main themes of next month’s Stockholm conference now seem remarkably far-sighted: human rights and social equality, environmental change and sustainable social development, and global social transformation and social action.
Whether in South Africa or Brazil, Australia or the United Kingdom, the frontline experience of social work and social development professionals has taught us that people need to be actively involved in their own futures. This is consistent with the UK emphasis on “user-led services” and “person-centred care”.
At a time of global social crisis, Stockholm 2012 provides space for practitioners, managers, politicians and policy analysts to reflect and explore new directions. It could not be a more significant moment for social practice and policy, and the conference organisers welcome the partnership with the Guardian social care network to enrich the global debate.
This article has been published by Guardian Professional