Photo at Surprise by Mali Lazell

Social Work thinking sustainable and developmental | Study Exchange between the Hanze Hogeschool and ZHAW

Our study exchange “Exploring Social Work in Switzerland” focused on the following questions:

  • What is Social Development?
  • What is Social Sustainability?
  • How can Social Work contribute to Social Development and Sustainability?

We, as Master and Bachelor students from the ZHAW and the Hanze University in Groningen discussed these key-issues in a week long seminar among each other as well as with experts from the field. Looking for answers, we visited prominent and innovative social organizations and institutions, in Switzerland. The aim was to gain a deeper understanding of the problems these organisations and institutions are concerned with and to learn from their approaches and solutions. Unfortunately, the Dutch students could not travel to Switzerland this February due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, digital technology made it possible for them to actively participate and engage via video-livestreams in our excursions through the city.

After all the encounters in the different institutions and organisations as well as the many exchanges in our international group, we summarize that social sustainability and development is as broad as social work itself. Different fields of practice in social work cover different aspects of sustainability and social development. Social work is often about mitigating immediate social problems but also about supporting (marginalized) people to voice their needs and to be seen and heard in society. What all the visited organisations had in common was that they build connections between cultures, nationalities, social classes or groups and parties. To create lively and lived spaces for meaningful encounters is a vital part of this. Furthermore, we concluded that social workers are already integrated in social sustainability and development in many ways even though they would probably not label their work as such. Maybe this is because we most often have the ecological sphere in mind when we are talking about sustainability.

During this week of study exchange we saw many facets of what social development and social sustainability encompass but only managed to catch a glimpse of all the possibilities! The topic remains a complex one: whether the proposed solutions we did encounter can have a lasting impact on structural problems remains to be seen. In the end, we are left with a lot of valuable questions to reflect on, and we feel that there is an obligation in our professional field to keep on reflecting on this topic and to work on solutions that have lasting effects on multiple levels. The United Nations sustainable development goals (known as SDGs) for one can be useful to assess and improve newly developed approaches.

To find out more about the organisations, our discussions on problems relevant to social work as well as (possible) practical solutions to social sustainability and social development, have a look at our Padlet:

For questions and comments or if you are interested in discussing problems and solutions regarding social work (and the world in general) send an email to us via:

For more information on the social work study exchange between the ZHAW and the Hanze University send an email to the organizing lecturer at the ZHAW:

With many thanks to Jelco Caro, Jantina Ottema, Michele Pizzera, and Tim Tausendfreund as well as warmest greetings to our fellow students from the study exchange,

Céline Mulamba, Martina Tomic, Maria Dirren, and Sandra Hollenstein

Photo at Surprise by Mali Lazell

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