While micro- and mezzo-level social work focus on individuals and families as well as small groups and organizations, respectively, macro-level social work takes a broader perspective. Macro-level social workers and social service workers fight for change at the societal level, focusing on issues of social justice, policy development (and improvement), administration and research.

Macro-level social work operates from the top down and encompasses everything from community organizing and lobbying politicians to coalition building and political engagement. The Native American Water Rights protests are a recent example of how social workers can get involved in social advocacy.

Career Paths for Macro-level Social Workers

Social work career paths for macro social workers are varied and can be guided by an individual’s particular political and social ideals. They may work as government and policy social workers, managerial social workers or social work researchers across fields as diverse as healthcare, education, LGBTQ rights or immigration reform.

Macro-level social workers effect systematic change by advocating for social policy change. They advise government and community leaders and generate public awareness about the issues that social workers at the micro level and mezzo level encounter in their work every day.

Macro-level social work includes the areas of community organizing, development, fundraising, economic development and public policy. Social workers in this field can work in a wide variety of settings including political advocacy groups, universities and other research institutions, government think tanks and non-profit organizations. Specific roles include policy advocates and analysts, community and human services specialists, program development specialists, research associates, and analysts. A Master’s of Social Work can help aspiring macro-level social workers develop the specialized knowledge typically needed to work at this big-picture level.

The Growing Call for Macro-level Social Workers

A movement to attract more macro-level social workers has gained momentum in recent years, thanks in part to nationwide movements such as the “Occupy” protests and immigrant rights actions. Such movements have added fuel to the growing awareness that there are not enough social work graduates focused on macro practice who can lead at a grassroots or policy level.

The Special Commission to Advance Macro Practice in Social Work is calling on social work organizations to make a commitment to increase macro practice with their “20 by 2020” initiative, which aims to increase the number of social work students enrolled in macro programs to 20 percent by 2020.

The two major social work professional bodies – the CSWE and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) – both promote a macro focus. The NASW’s Code of Ethics states:

“Social workers should promote the general welfare of society, from local to global levels, and the development of people, their communities, and their environments. Social workers should advocate for living conditions conducive to the fulfillment of basic human needs and should promote social, economic, political, and cultural values and institutions that are compatible with the realization of social justice.”

The Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards of the CSWE says: “Social work’s purpose is actualized through its quest for social and economic justice, the prevention of conditions that limit human rights, the elimination of poverty and the enhancement of the quality of life for all persons.”

Becoming a Macro-level Social Worker

Working at the macro level is exciting and engaging for those with a passion to create real and lasting change in society. It suits people who are interested in shaping public policy, and in political and social activism.

Veteran social worker Lorraine Gutiérrez states that: “Regardless of our setting, all social workers are engaged in work related to oppression and social injustice. We are more aware than most people of the challenges faced by children and families living in poverty, the inadequacy of our ‘safety net’ of human services, the disproportionate incarceration of men of color, and the challenges experienced by those living with disabilities.

“The United States is becoming an increasingly multiracial, multicultural, and multiethnic society. At the same time, conditions of economic inequality by gender and race have not improved. These trends in the substance and structure of society challenge our profession to evaluate how we address these demographic shifts. It is our responsibility as social workers to strategically use our position and privilege to work toward greater equality.”

Find out more about how an education in social work can help you become an agent of social change.

Article Name
Industry Spotlight: Social Work at the Macro Level
Macro-level social workers create change at the societal level through political action, organization and advocacy.