Social work training institutions (3)

  • School of Social Work, College of Social Sciences, Addis Ababa University (1959-1974, 2004)
  • School of Social Work, Jimma University (2007)
  • Department of Social Work, University of Gondar (2010)

History of social services and social work


  • Andargatchew Tesfaye, 1986, Social Welfare programmes and social work education in Ethiopia
  • Alemayehu Gebru Gebremariam in a document available at the end of this page or here.
  1. Social services provided by families, communities and religious groups: “Social Welfare services in Ethiopia began with traditional services provided by the extended family system and religious groups. Gradually organized welfare services by voluntary and public agencies started replacing traditional services since the 1920s. Now the government is trying to make use of newly created institutions such as farmers’ and urban dwellers’ associations to extend welfare services. …the care of the indigent, the afflicted and the orphaned has always been the responsibility, first, of the extended family system and second, that of the community at large. Religion and social customs have always encouraged charity and almsgiving” (Tesfaye, 1986, p. 363). Social services including social welfare are provided by families, churches and mosques. Charity is driven by custom and religion “But, the advent of modernization in the twentieth century gradually began to erode this strong social fabric. Due to various reasons, the strong and extended family system began disintegrating. The poor, the sick and the orphans were no more fully absorbed by the community” (Tesfaye, p. 363). Modernisation includes rural-urban migration, urban bias in delivery of services, break down of and customary social welfare, salary-based social insurance (e.g. pension for government or public employees) and increased social problems. “It is unfortunate that the adoption of the new way of life did not usher in with it a system to replace the eroded social system. Formerly, no matter how imperfect the system may have been, people were either self-employed and were taken care of by the extended family system, or they were in the service of the nobility who took care of them“, (Tesfaye, p. 264).
  2. Monarchy-led social services: Increase in social problems meant that families, churches, mosques and charities failed to cope. In the 1940s, voluntary and semi-government welfare institutions were put in place. In 1955, the Haile Selassie 1 Welfare Foundation was founded as an umbrella of old people’s homes, schools for the blinds, orphanages, hospitals and clinics and sheltered factories. It was funded from its investments in property and by the state. The Ministry of National Community Development and Social Affairs was formed in 1957 and provided these services: rural and urban development (community centers), social welfare, labour welfare, youth (Training Centre and Remand Home), children programs, women programs, rehabilitation (Rehabilitation Agency for the Disabled formed in 1971) and coordinating private voluntary organisations ( registering, supervising and providing grants). Social services and welfare were provided by people who were not trained.
    • The first school of social work was established in 1959 by the Ministry of Public Health at the University College of Addis Ababa but it trained very few social workers that most services were trained by non-trained staff. A Swedish social worker called Anna Mathol was involved in the formation. The pioneers were two pioneers of the profession (Professors Seyoum Gebreselassie and Andargachew Tesfaye. The college became part of Haile Selassie 1 University in 1961 and tarted offering a degree in 1966 (Wassie Kebede, 2014).
    • The ‘soul searching’ began in the late 1960s, and culminated in a revised curriculum in 1971. The new curriculum was based on the assumption that the role of a social worker in developing countries should include “one of bringing about institutional change and organizational reform in the economic and social structures of the society in which he/she is going to work” (Selassie, 1971:97). The new curriculum was planned to go beyond the introductory courses in the social and behavioural sciences as offered earlier. To enable social workers to understand and take part in the planning and implementation of developmental and preventive programmes, they were to be offered such subjects as a deeper understanding of economics, political science, public administration, and the development of natural resources. To prepare them both for rural and urban settings, a wider coverage of rural and urban sociology was incorporated. The curriculum also stressed statistical and research methods. The aim of the new programme was clearly set down in the preamble of the curriculum of the school“, (Tesfaye, p. 372).
    • But generally, during this period, social welfare programs were not adequately supported and organized. Social problems increased and contributed to the overthrow of Haile Selassie 1.
  3. Revolution government-led social services (from 1974): The revolution led by Mengistu Haile Mariam saw the end of the monarchy and an end to control of land by the royals, nobility and Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The ideals were socialist. Rural land was nationalized without compensation. The social structure changed with the formation of Peasants Associations responsible for maintaining order, cooperative shops, health, social welfare and security at their level. The associations worked with ministries. In towns, kebeles (urban dwellers or residents associations) were formed. Their responsibilities were the same as Peasant Associations. Additional associations included the Ethiopian Women’d Association and the Ethiopian Youth Association. All associations had local, district and national structures. The idea was to make people responsible for the welfare needs but the government still played a role. The new regime recognized the need for social welfare services. The Haile Selassie 1 Welfare Foundation was nationalized. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs provided policies and services. However, due to famine (1972-4) and wars, social services were relegated with very meagre funding. Social work education was discontinued after the revolution. In fact, university education was suspended for 2 years and when it resumed, social work was no longer there but replaced by sociology and social administration.
    • The usual complaint, all over the Third World, that social welfare programmes are always given the least priority seems to be more acute in Ethiopia. Social welfare is not only given the least priority but it is also the first to suffer cutbacks in times of austerity….There is no doubt this leaves social welfare to be a poor step-child. The role of social welfare, in overall national development, has not yet been clearly understood. This will remain so as long as economists and politicians dominate the formulation of national development plans” (Tesfaye, p. 376).
  4. Re-birth of social work (2004): After social work disappeared in 1971, it reemerged as the School of Social Work at Addis Ababa University in 2004 after over 30 years. The program’s dean was Professor Abye Tasse. After some research, it was agreed to start at masters level (2004), PhDs in Social Work and Social Development (2006) and later a bachelor’s degree in 2008. University of Gondar started training social workers in 2010. When it reopened social work in 2004, the Addis Ababa University innovated with an inside-out educational strategy.
    • Inside-Out Education Strategy (Kebede, 2014) – when social work reemerged, there were some challenges of having qualified staff. To address this gap, the program started at masters level, with a few local and expatriate staff who worked part time or as visitors. Some of the masters students were involved in administering the program. From the masters program, seven students were selected to do PhDs. While doing their PhDs, they also were teaching, and administering the program as assistant and associate deans. To assist the new recruits to gain experience of teaching, co-teaching was done. When they qualified, they replaced expatriate staff. The bachelor’s degree was then introduced in 2008. This was an innovative strategy, one that could work in many communities of Africa that do not have social workers, or have inadequate social workers.
  5. Indigenisation phase: This phase is charateerised by promotion and use of African theories, literature, practices and methods in teaching, learning and practice. “Social work training, research and practice have to play dual roles. There has to be a focus on local realities in teaching, practice and research while at the same time adaptation to international standards. International experiences, research outcomes, theoretical perspectives and models of practice should be adapted to Ethiopian social, cultural, political and economic contexts. However, in a context where over 80% of the society is living in rural areas and in very poor conditions, and where there are long held values and traditions which may be specific to the Ethiopian societies, and where religions have strong influence to shape the attitude and perceptions of the society, indigenous social work perspectives and training models are of paramount importance”, (Kebede, 2014, p.164). Indigenisation means:
    • Social services provided by families, communities and religious groups are fully recognized
    • Spirituality is recognized in social work
    • The environment, land and agriculture are recognized
    • International domination is replaced with cooperation
    • Ethiopian staff are prioritized
    • African theories, curricula, methods, literature, philosophies, creativity etc are prioritised
    • African governments and agencies recognize African social work

Social work is growing in Ethiopia and there are opportunities for further growth given that there are more applicants for social work degrees than can be accommodated by universities at the present moment. Indigenisation paradigm presents an important opportunity to make social work more relevant. and However, there are some challenges including: limited recognition of the profession, professional identity, competition from other professions, organizations not clear about the roles of social workers and a lack of capacity to train more social workers.

History of social services and social work

The information below can be cited as

Gebremariam, A. G. (2021). History of social services and social work in Ethiopia. Available at or

Gebremariam, A. G. (2021). History of social services and social work in Ethiopia. Harare: African Social Work Network (ASWNET)

Community support system

Ethiopians have the tradition of a community support system. Needy individuals, such as beggars, people with disabilities, orphans, elders, and patients have obtained support from their community. Community-based institutions like Churches, Monasteries, and Mosques were providing food, clothes, shelters, and spiritual supports to needy members of the community. Moreover, the community members always remember destitute individuals during social events and holidays. For example, the community members will share their foods during Mahber, wedding ceremonies, funeral; encourage traditional saving through Iqqub, uphold group work via Debo and Jigie and Iddir which provides funeral and traditional bereavement counsel. Though these religious and community-based traditional support systems are weakening in the urban areas, they are actively practiced in the rural part of the country.


Pioneers of social work profession in Ethiopia are Seyoum Gebreselassie and Andargachew Tesfaye. Then my instructors at Addis Abeba University, such as Wassie Kebede (PhD), Abebe Assefa (PhD), Messeret Kassahun (PhD), Debebe Ero (PhD), Zena Berhanu (PhD), Ashenafi Hagos (PhD) messay Gebremariam (PhD), Fasil Nigussie (PhD), Dessalegn Negeri (PhD), Tenagne Alemu (PhD), Mengistu Legesse (PhD), Emebet Mulugeta (PhD), Mindahun Gebretsadik (PhD), Adamnesh Atnafu (PhD), Hailemichael Tesfahun (PhD), Firehiwot Jebessa (PhD), Yania Seid-Mekiye (PhD) and Demelash Kassaye (PhD) are contributed a lot for the expansion of the profession in Ethiopia.

University education

In Jimma University, School of Social Work, Addisu Tegegn (MSW), Tulu Hajji (MSW), Wubshet Hailu (MSW), Yigermal Demssie (MSW), Ruhama Gudeta (MSW), and Hunde Doja (MA) have played the lion share in founding the school of social work in 2014 G.C.

As the current data indicates, in Ethiopia several universities have been providing social work education, such as Addis Ababa University, University of Gondar, Jimma University, Wollega University, Ambo University, Mizan Tepi University, Bahir-dar University, Jigjiga University, Arsi University, and etc. Addis Ababa and Gondar universities are the only institutions providing doctor of philosophy in the social work programs. In the Ethiopian context, Addis Ababa University takes the lead for the expansion of social work education since the emperor’s reign. During emperor Hailesellassie, I in 1959 and during EPRDF time in 2004, the social work education program was commenced in Addis Ababa University.

Professional association

The social work profession in Ethiopia has no association until recent time. However, currently, it has a newly established Ethiopian Social Worker Professional Association (ESWPA) and involves university social work instructors, practitioners, and social work students. Before the establishment of the association, interested social work professionals were engaged in the association called ESSWA (it means a joint association named as “Ethiopian Society of Sociologists, Social Workers and Social Anthropologists”).

Acknowledgements: Alemayehu Gebru Gebremariam, 2021

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