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The Commonwealth Organisation for Social Work (COSW) and the Institute for Commonwealth Studies (ICwS), School of Advanced Study (SAS) are launching a global project to document the history and development of social work across the Commonwealth, in partnership with The University of Edinburgh and King’s College London.  We hope to develop a bid for a programme of funded research on this theme.  In preparation for this we intend to hold an online conference.  This will enable us to identify key themes and potential collaborators for the bid.  

Abstracts of proposed papers for this conference are now invited from practitioners, researchers, experts by experience, historians, social policy analysts and others.  Proposals in other formats are also welcome.

This major study of the diverse histories of social work across the Commonwealth will involve a partnership of Commonwealth universities alongside COSW and ICwS.  This webinar therefore sets the scene for this bigger project, which comes at a significant moment in social work education, as the discourse on ‘decolonising’ the social work curriculum gathers momentum.

Abstracts and proposals should be a maximum of 200 words and cover description and analysis of the history of social work in one or more Commonwealth countries.  Particularly welcome are comparative studies and material including the perspectives of experts by experience.  Material can be qualitative and include recorded oral histories as well as description from personal and documentary sources.  Presentations will last no longer than 15 minutes including time for online questions.  The organisers reserve the right to publish material on line and/or in print, with permission of the copyright holders.  Acceptance of an invitation to present acknowledges that video recording of presentations may be made available online.

Abstracts must be sent to in a Word format by Friday 7th January 2022.  Selection will be notified by Friday 28th January 2022 and presentations must be submitted to the conference organisers by Friday 25th February 2022.


The first event of this comparative histories of social work project was a global webinar on Monday 29th March 2021, as part of that year’s World Social Work Day celebrations, featuring contributions from New Zealand, Singapore, Kenya, Barbados and the UK.  The event was organised by the Social Work History Network.
The Director of ICWS, Professor Philip Murphy, identified the following themes which had emerged from the webinar and deserved detailed examination: the impact of gender and the role of women; the interface between local and informal systems of mutual aid, and the process of professionalisation – summed up in the global World Social Work Day theme of Ubuntu: ‘I am because we are’; the need to chart the diverse influences on social work practice, especially the south-south partnerships; the importance of recording oral history and securing records about the history; and the impact of the current Coronavirus pandemic on the future development of social work.

COSW Chair, Assistant Professor Sylvia Daisy Romanus, commented: ‘COSW is excited to form this partnership with ICwS and the other partners and looks forward to expanding the network to include other universities and practice settings in all regions of the Commonwealth.  Social work in Commonwealth countries has a rich and diverse history and we have a responsibility to ensure that our experience is recorded accurately.  Too often, others have recorded versions of our history and development which misrepresent what has happened.  We must also be open to honest reflection on practices which have been misguided or inappropriate.  In today’s world, we must be especially sensitive to the importance of recognising the strengths in indigenous community practices, linking professional social work with community realities.  This major project is intended to help us do this more effectively.’

Professor Philip Murphy
, Director of ICwS, commented: ‘We are delighted to be working with COSW on this important project, which seeks to enhance our understanding of how social work evolved in a genuinely global context. This strategic partnership will form an important element in the efforts the ICwS to align its activities more closely with the concerns of the contemporary Commonwealth. We hope the research produced by this international collaboration between academics and practitioners will demonstrate the value of historical self-awareness in enhancing the social welfare of the Commonwealth's 2.4 billion citizens.’

The Steering Group for the project is co-chaired by Dr David N Jones (COSW Board member and Chair of the British Association of Social Workers’ (BASW) International Committee) and Professor Philip Murphy (Director, ICwS).  Other members include: Sharon-Rose Gittens (Barbados Association of Social Workers), Prof Jill Manthorpe (King’s College London), Charles Mbugua (COSW Board member) and George Palattiyil (University of Edinburgh).