COSW funding comes from voluntary donations mainly collected at the biennial meeting during the IFSW world conference. The membership structure is loose. Several Commonwealth social work associations offer informal support but there is no membership fee. Most activity is done on a voluntary basis, including travel to London by UK Board members for meetings.
COSW has remained involved with Commonwealth meetings since the launch in 1994, has ensured social work visibility at CHOGMs through the involvement of local associations (eg Malta, Nigeria, Australia, Sri Lanka, UK) and in the policy consultations convened by the Commonwealth Secretariat. COSW relies on IFSW policy documents as the basis for its advocacy work. COSW representatives have also been active in helping to shape a more coherent, joint voice by Commonwealth accredited organisations in IFCO, including taking leading roles in production of CHOGM policy submissions.
COSW successfully supported a four-month Commonwealth Professional Fellowship in 2002, funded by the Commonwealth, shadowing David N Jones in his role as a member of the Joint Review Team. This was awarded to Max Anyuru (former Hon Secretary of the Uganda association) following a call for nominations. This experience identified the significance of work with young carers as a focus for social work in developed and developing countries.
COSW has been involved in a long-term project engaging with young carers in East Africa, working with the Commonwealth Youth Programme, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Children’s Society (UK) and social work associations in the region, with additional financial support from the Noel and Thea Jones Fund. There have been four young carer ‘festivals’ in Nairobi, modelled on the annual events organised in England by the Children’s Society. The first conference in 2006 was funded by the UK Department for Children, Schools and Families with assistance from the Commonwealth Youth Programme.
The intention has been to build support and resources for a sustainable event in East Africa highlighting the needs and contributions of young carers. The Kenyan association has played a key role, with the involvement of associations in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. The event has attracted local media interest and a BBC Africa Service interview. Reports have been published in The Guardian online. These events have also enabled parallel meetings of regional social work association leaders, who had travelled with the young people, which would not have been possible without the festival funding.
The 2019 event attracted modest Commonwealth Secretariat funding to mark the 75th anniversary of the Commonwealth. The funding enabled a digital connection between young carers in Kenya, Canada and the UK with additional links with young carers in India, Nigeria and Australia. The intention was to develop a Commonwealth Young Carers Charter, drawing on consultations with young carers to be submitted to the 2020 CHOGM. Progress was disrupted by the 2020 Covid pandemic but it is hoped to make progress again towards the rescheduled 2021 CHOGM in Rwanda.
Modest funding supported a COSW Board member from India to attend the world social work conference in Korea in 2016.
COSW was an active member of Para 55, a loose network of Commonwealth associations advocating the need for improved services for people affected by HIV-AIDS.
COSW Board members and social work associations have been involved in supporting bilateral exchanges (eg Australia/Malaysia) and in contributing to Commonwealth consultations and meetings.
COSW organised its first global webinar in July 2020 focusing on social work practice during the pandemic and in particular on mental health services. There were six one-hour webinars over three days together with opening and closing presentations, with contributions from each of the Commonwealth regions – Pacific, Asia, Europe, Africa, Caribbean. This hosted by Madras Christian College and was put together at speed, thanks to the energy of several students, illustrating the strength of Commonwealth networks. The event attracted around 10,000 attendees.
COSW has played a significant role in the exchanges between Commonwealth accredited organisations, seeking to build a more coherent voice for civil society in the Commonwealth, leading to the formation of the Independent Forum of Commonwealth Organisations.