Social Work is Essential in Building a Just, Caring Society

By Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW

Angelo McClain

Last month, I participated in the International Federation of Social Work’s (IFSW) biennial General Assembly Meeting. As I listened to global social work leaders during the event, I was inspired by the reports of social work’s vital role in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015.

The 2030 agenda provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and well into the future. At its core are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries in a global partnership in relation to five, equally considered, dimensions of sustainability: people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership.

The SDGs build on decades of work by countries and the U.N., including the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations are inextricably linked with strategies that simultaneously improve health and education, reduce inequality, and stimulate economic growth — while confronting climate change.

The SDGs call for global solidarity and partnership. For social workers, partnership starts with respecting differences and diversity, is centered in equity, and requires listening and understanding each other. NASW promotes the sharing of knowledge and insights and working in collaboration for equitable sustainable collective impact.

For social workers, partnership to implement the five dimensions of sustainability involves working collaboratively to engage government and other key stakeholders to recognize social workers as essential partners in the SDGs; co-building urgent sustainable solutions; transforming social systems from reactive to proactive prevention systems that support communities; addressing current and historical injustices that impact people as barriers to full participation; working collaboratively with local communities to identify solutions for a more just world; and visionary leadership from national associations that create policy and direct practice initiatives grounded in the holistic human rights framework.

The SDGs theme of “no one will be left behind” is crucial to ensuring inclusive development is within reach of all people, groups, and communities. For social workers, a good society is one that includes both economic and social prosperity, social inclusiveness, is environmental-sustainable, and is well governed. In context, social workers promote the building of a good society—especially for the vulnerable sections of society that often are neglected in the process. It is our objective to understand the SDGs and elevate social work’s role in building a better society for all people.

The global social work community — through its proactive initiatives and documents on social work and social development — is facilitating a positive social work response for holistic sustainable development. It centers human rights and the environment at the heart of both human services and social justice in social work practice.

Contact Angelo McClain at

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