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Sand, Rene

Abstract and Keywords

Rene Sand (1877–1953), Belgian social worker and physician, was best known in the field of social work for being co-founder of the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) in 1928, and serving as its president from 1946 to 1953.

Keywords: international conference on social work, public health, living conditions, social work education, Belgium

Rene Sand (1877–1853) was born in Brussels, Belgium, of a Belgian father and French mother. He graduated from medical school at the Free University of Brussels in 1903, and was offered a position at the same university. During his studies at the Free University, he had met and married Marie-Therese Joris, a sister of a fellow student. In the following years, they had three sons and one daughter.

Sand was very successful as a researcher in the field of medicine and he published a series of scientific and medical articles. He was especially interested in public health, including the working conditions of industrial workers and criminology. During World War I, while working for the Belgian Red Cross in London, Sand came in contact with the British Charity Organization Society (COS), which was striving to improve the living conditions of low-income people.

After World War I, he traveled to the United States and learned about their brand of social work and about the Settlement Movement. Back in Belgium, Sand observed the post-war social and economic conditions of the Belgian population who had suffered immensely during the war. He researched conditions throughout Belgium and spoke out about how social work could raise the living standards of the Belgian people.

In 1919 in Brussels, Rene Sand, along with several other Belgian leaders, founded the first institute for training social workers. In 1919 he visited the United States, where he came in contact with the National Conference of Social Work, and he participated in their annual conference.

Gradually, Sand developed the idea of an international conference on social work. He went back to the United States and presented his project at the 50th Annual Conference of the National Conference of Social Work. Members of the National Conference showed interest in his idea of an international conference, and promised their support.

Sand immediately initiated preparatory committees in countries across Europe. After a long period of preparation, the “First International Conference of Social Work” (ICSW) took place in Paris in July 1928. More than 2,500 people participated in the Paris conference, including prominent theorists, educators, and practitioners of social work, as well as political representatives from many different countries. Alice Masarykova, of the Czechoslovakian Red Cross, became president of ICSW, while Rene Sand became the general secretary.

The founding of the ICSW in 1928 also led to the founding, the same year, of the International Committee of Schools of Social Work (known today as the International Association of Schools of Social Work) with Alice Salomon, a German social work educator, as president. It also led to the founding of a third organization (initially called the International Permanent Secretariat of Social Workers), which later became the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW).

Rene Sand published an extensive edition of the 1928 conference papers in three volumes, and also wrote extensively about international social work. He continued to write throughout his life, and eventually had about 300 articles and publications to his name.

The Paris conference of ICSW was followed by a second conference in 1932 in Frankfurt, Germany, and a third ICSW conference in London in 1936. A fourth conference, planned for 1940 in Prague, could not be held because of the outbreak of World War II. The ICSW was revived after the war, and later revised its name to become the International Council on Social Welfare.

During the war, Sand worked for both the Free University of Brussels and for the Belgian ministry of health. Because of the German occupation of Belgium, Sand lost his professorship and was arrested by the Gestapo in September 1944. He then remained in prison until he was freed on April 29, 1945, by North American troops.

After the war, Alice Salomon was in exile in the United States and could not coordinate the work of ICSSW any longer. In 1946, at the first meeting of ICSSW after World War II, Sand was elected as the second president of the ICSSW and continued in this role until 1953.

The 1928 international conference on social work that Rene Sand organized led to the development of three organizations that continue today and form the basis for international cooperation in social work: the International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW), the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW), and the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW).

On August 23, 1953, at the age of 76, Rene Sand died unexpectedly from the consequences of an operation. Katherine Kendall, colleague and secretary general of the IASSW from 1971 to 1978, later wrote:

Rene Sand was a truly remarkable person—a medical doctor with a social mission and all the attributes of a Renaissance man … His faith in social work was deep and enduring; his advocacy of social work education led, directly and indirectly to the establishment of schools of social work in Europe and Latin America.