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The movement started with the foundation of Settlements in large cities in the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries in the late 19th century. The key idea was that people concerned about social issues can only be effective in working for improvements if they have direct experience with the existing problems, by living among people in need and ‘settling’ into their neighborhoods.



In 1873, Samuel Augustus Barnett, a 30-year old curate in the Church of England concerned with the causes of poverty, proposed the establishment of a University Settlement in his parish so that privileged students and disavantaged local residents could live as neighbors and improve their local conditions together.

In 1884 the University Settlement in London is established and named Toynbee Hall, and the same year another Settlement, Oxford House, opened in London with the idea of promoting social justice through Settlements in poor areas. The importance of the mutuality of the relationship between people from different backgrounds within the Settlement framework cannot be overstated: through direct personal encounter people were enabled to go beyond appearances and preconceptions and to get to know and value the individuality and humanity of other people, thus leading to greater respect for others and for themselves and a stronger sense of community. Several Toynbee Hall residents and visitors came from abroad and the Settlement idea spread to other industrialized countries.


In 1886, Stanton Coit founded the “Neighborhood Guild” later renamed University Settlement in the lower East Side of New York and Jane Addams and her friend Ellen Starr established “Hull House” in Chicago in 1889 to  specifically to provide services for immigrants and refugees from other countries and societies.

Today, IFS members represent thousands of local organizations in more than 30 countries, ranging from small self-help groups to large agencies. They are active across the full range of social, economic, cultural, educational and environmental needs in their communities. This great diversity of practical skills is a key strength in tackling the complex problems facing communities and individuals today.