How Macro Social Work Can Help Inform Feminist Philanthropy

Rachel L. West of #MacroSW discusses how philanthropy can collaborate with social work to address systemic and structural problems.

Sometimes people misunderstand social workers as professionals who are not focused on impacting larger systems with their work. This mistake was brought home in philanthropy recently when the MacroSW collective, a group of social workers focused on larger social issues, had to correct the perception being given at the Nonprofit Quarterly that “You can’t social work this” as a way of saying “You can’t fix this problem with social work.”

The response from the MacroSW collective, entitled Why We Have to Social Work This, points out that many social workers commit their life’s work to addressing systemic and structural problems in society, providing leadership for policy, legislation, and community organizations. It’s called Macro Social Work — as in looking at the “macro” or bigger picture to find solutions to social problems.

Since 2014, a group of social workers has been gathering online to discuss issues of macro practice and how social workers and their allies can come together to impact big social problems like immigration, sexual harassment, and LGBTQ rights.

West described macro social work practice as the practice of focusing interventions on larger systems, such as communities and organizations. “It encompasses a broad spectrum of actions and ideas, ranging from community organizing and education to legislative advocacy and policy analysis,” said West, in a recent interview with Philanthropy Women. 

West sees social work as having unrealized potential for influencing public policy and systems change. “The social work profession is grounded in social justice,” said West. “Social workers strategize, network and collaborate to address injustice in the world, be inclusive, and plug-in politically to change policy and laws.”

West also asserted that social work is also ideally positioned to provide leadership for gender equality movements. She noted that social workers are often “in a key position to tap into an army of smart women all focused on diversity and gender equality.”

The collective of #MacroSW contains an array of chat partners in the social work realm, including Kristin Battista-Frazee, who goes by the Twitter handle @Porndaughter, and has written a book about her childhood, growing up as the daughter of Anthony Battista, who was convicted of pornography distribution for his role in disseminating Deep Throat in the 1970’s. (Battista has a funny trailer for her book that stars actor David Koechner, who plays Todd Packer in The Office).

Other members of the collective include ACOSA (Association for Community Organizing and Social Action), Stephen Cummings of the University of Iowa School of Social Work; Sunya Folayan, founder of The Empowerment Project; Pat Shelly from the University of Buffalo School of Social Work; Vilissa Thompson, a disability rights consultant and advocate; and Karen Zgoda. All of these folks get together on Twitter and talk about issues ranging from Native American heritage to the upcoming elections to #MeToo and disability rights.

Now #MacroSW is beginning to fundraise through Patreon to support its work, and is hoping that more donors will come to the table, especially progressive women who understand the added value that social workers bring with both clinical and social policy expertise.

West also invited progressive women donors to be peer collaborators with #MacroSW. “Giving money is always great, but providing mentorship and inroads for social workers to become leaders is sometimes even more important,” said West. West alluded to how this networking may help talented social workers take on challenges like running for office or scaling up a business. “We believe this is a powerful combination and social workers are natural collaborators,” added West.

#MacroSW chats have been so popular that they have increased to a weekly event happening on Thursdays at 9:00 PM EST, and are open to the public. Learn more about #MacroSW here. 

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Kiersten Marek

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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