Social work is an academic discipline and practice-based profession that concerns itself with individuals, families, groups, communities, and society as a whole in an effort to meet basic needs and enhance social functioning, self-determination, collective responsibility, optimal health, and overall well-being. Social functioning is defined as the ability of an individual to perform their social roles within their own self, their immediate social environment, and the society at large. Social work applies areas, such as sociology, psychology, human biology, political science, health, community development, law, and economics, to work with individuals across the lifespan, engage with client systems, conduct assessments, and develop interventions to solve social problems, personal problems, and bring about social change. Social work practice is often divided into micro-work, which involves working directly with individuals or small groups; and macro-work, which involves working with communities, and fostering change on a larger scale through social policy. Starting in the 1980s, a few universities began social work management programmes, to prepare students for the management of social and human service organisations, in addition to classical social work education.
The social work profession developed in the 19th century, with some of its roots in voluntary philanthropy and in grassroots organizing. However, responses to social needs had existed long before then, primarily from public almshouses, private charities and religious organizations. The effects of the Industrial Revolution and of the Great Depression of the 1930s placed pressure on social work to become a more defined discipline.[need quotation to verify]