Founding and the Early Years

The International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) is the worldwide organization of schools of social work and educators. It has represented the interests of social work education and the values of the profession globally for nearly 90 years. IASSW was initiated at the first International Conference of Social Work, held in Paris in 1928. This landmark gathering, attended by over 2400 delegates from 42 countries, also resulted in the establishment of two partner organizations, the International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW) and the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW). In 1929, the first president, Alice Salomon, led an organizational meeting in Berlin; at this early meeting, seven European countries along with the International Labour Organization (ILO) were represented. Participants agreed that the organization’s purpose was to encourage the exchange of ideas and information, documentation of social work education, and organization of international conferences and seminars. These remain key purposes along with others.

The leadership group soon expanded to include North Americans; 46 schools from 10 countries agreed to be founding members. By 1939, there were 75 members in 18 countries. Accomplishments during the 1930s were participation in two international congresses (1932 in Frankfurt and 1936 in London) and an important collaboration with the ILO to establish a documentation center on social work education.

The War Years and Postwar Recovery

Progress was severely interrupted by World War II. Member schools in Germany withdrew after the IASSW leadership repeatedly rejected calls for the resignation of Alice Salomon over her partly Jewish heritage (and, no doubt, over her advocacy for pacifism and gender equality). The outbreak of war cancelled plans for a 1940 conference and disrupted most international communications. Salomon, still President, was expelled from Germany and became an exile in the United States. Many schools in Europe were destroyed, and a rebuilding period occupied social workers in the late 1940s.

By 1946, the association secretary began to reach out to former leaders to revive the organization. A major accomplishment was the granting of consultative status as an NGO with ECOSOC in 1947 in the newly established United Nations. To this day, IASSW retains its consultative status and is distinguished to be among the very first NGOs to be certified. After a modest gathering in 1948 in the U.S., the first true postwar conference was held in Paris in 1950 under the second president, Rene Sand of Belgium.

An Increasingly Global Organization

In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, IASSW moved beyond its European and North American roots. The 1956 Board included members from Australia, Guatemala, India, and Japan. By 1966, there were member schools in 46 countries and World Conferences had been held in Asia and Latin America. The first conference in Africa was held in Nairobi in 1974. With the growth in newly independent nations came recognition of the role of social work in the development and initiation of new social work training programs in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. A highlight in the 1970s was a large-scale educational project linked to family planning that involved more than 20 countries.

The move to expand around the globe has continued. Following the end of the Cold War, new member schools emerged in Eastern Europe and Russia, in many cases assisted by IASSW through training seminars. This was followed by the re-establishment of social work education in China; Chinese schools now make up one of the largest member groups. These successive developments underscore the relevance of social work education in addressing social issues faced by all countries and the enduring value of international collaboration.

Policies and Programmes

The IASSW in collaboration with IFSW has adopted a revised Global Definition of Social Work, a Declaration of Ethical Principles for Social Work and Global Standards for Education and Training of the Social Work Profession. In 2012, with both IFSW and ICSW, the IASSW committed to the Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development, a statement of policy priorities and agenda for action globally and locally. This document guides the work of the association’s representatives with the United Nations in New York and Geneva.

IASSW has fulfilled its educational mission through a number of programs. A biennial conference to share new research and practice has been held regularly since 1950. The co-sponsored journal, International Social Work, (published by Sage and now in its 60th year) disseminates global research; occasional books expand knowledge on social work education. Seminars have been held in numerous locations to assist countries in developing or strengthening social work education. IASSW was particularly active in the initiation of schools in China. A program of small grants promotes innovation and collaboration in social work education and research across the world. Applicants must include schools from several countries to work on a common issue.


The IASSW is committed to advocacy for human rights, equity, diversity, and inclusion. The main vehicle for advocacy is the team of representatives at the United Nations headquarters that has consistently participated in UN and NGO meetings since 1947. IASSW is also represented at the UN in Geneva. The Association’s Human Rights Committee combines advocacy with education for human rights. Representation of social work education in international bodies, along with the promotion of quality education and international collaboration are the enduring goals of the IASSW.

The archives of the IASSW are held at the Social Welfare History Archive at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis in the U.S.A.

— Prepared by Lynne Healy