“Evidencing social enterprise as a public health and well-being ‘intervention”

“Evidencing social enterprise as a public health and well-being ‘intervention”
Glasgow Caledonian University (Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health)

Duration: five years from 1 January 2014 Joint Funders: Medical Research Council (UK) and Economic and Social Research Council (UK) Total value: £1,971,000 Principal Investigator: Professor Cam Donaldson, Yunus Chair in Social Business and Health, Glasgow Caledonian University

This project is driven by recent thinking about the potential for social enterprise to operate between, and in partnership with, traditional private and state sectors in addressing the societal challenge of persistent and widening health inequalities.

Such inequalities are compounded by, and related to, continuing high rates of deprivation, unemployment, worklessness and financial exclusion in the poorest communities. Many parts of the UK – particularly in Scotland – suffer disproportionately from such challenges.

Despite acknowledgement of such relationships, gaps between best and worst off continue to grow.

This programme of research will seek to develop methods aimed at discovering the extent to which social enterprise can remedy this growing disparity. Social enterprises are trading organisations with a social mission, no share ownership (usually), and whose surpluses are directed back towards the mission. Despite a long history in many economies, little is known globally about longer-term impacts of social enterprise on health and well-being.

The programme will be built around the notion of ‘social enterprise as a public health and well-being intervention’. Of note, this programme would go beyond the recent focus (particularly in the context of reform of the NHS in England) on social enterprise simply as an alternative provider of health services; the cutting-edge thinking, here, being that, in addressing many aspects of social vulnerability, almost any social enterprise might claim to act on ‘upstream'(1)social determinants of health.
(1) upstream interventions mean those interventions that are intended to help people maintain or improve their health before it is compromised…… While it has often been argued that today’s health care system is threatened by the aging of the population – it is argued that it is threatened more by a failure to move “upstream” to address the factors and conditions that can prevent disease and improve health.
The programme will be structured around three main pillars:

1. theory building and creating conceptual frameworks for evaluating social enterprise in health and well-being terms.
2. applying such frameworks in empirical studies, particularly those of a longitudinal mixed-method nature, embodying quantitative and qualitative methods, permitting as rigorous an attribution of outcomes to interventions as possible.
3. addressing issues of generalisability through collaboration with a wide range of partners, including from the social enterprise sector, and creation of a Knowledge Exchange Forum to address relevance across throughout Scotland, the rest of the UK, and further afield.

Social enterprise is simply not being thought about in such a way, anywhere else in the world. This programme of research will position Scotland as a clear world leader in this emerging field.

More on the "social determinants of health" (that will be useful background material) can be found on the World Health Organisation website.