The International Social Innovation Research Conference (ISIRC) came to Glasgow last week, bringing 236 delegates from 34 countries to hear 168 presentations on the latest research into social enterprise and innovation. It would be impossible to capture even a fraction of the conference in one short blog post, so I’m just going to outline one session – the CommonHealth panel (which was obviously the best session anyway…)
One of the strange things about academic conferences, even those that are focused on social innovation, is how inflexible they are in terms of structure – 20 minutes of incomprehensible powerpoint, followed by 10 minutes of questions, followed by 20 minutes of incomprehensible powerpoint, followed by…etc, etc. So it was nice to be able to break the mould just a little with the help of three social enterprises who are working with us in the CommonHealth research programme. Rather than dry academic presentations, we asked each organisation to talk a little about what they do, how they do it and why they do it – a direct and personal introduction to the reality of social enterprise in Scotland. Here’s a summary of what they said:
Firstly, Joey from Homes for Good told us how they work as a not-for-profit letting agent and landlord to give vulnerable households access to quality, affordable housing. In a world where people can wait up to 12 years to access social housing, the private rented sector is increasingly being seen as an alternative for people at risk of homelessness. But for many people private renting can be a nightmare of extortionate rent levels, poor quality housing and appalling service from letting agents and landlords. Homes for Good is trying to break that pattern by taking profit out of the equation and providing quality housing at affordable rents.
The Housing through Social Enterprise project is working closely with Homes for Good and other social enterprises in the housing sector to examine what impacts they have on tenants’ lives and wellbeing.
Secondly, Irene from Orbiston Neighbourhood Centre in Bellshill described the vast range of activities run by and in the Centre, bringing people together to tackle poverty, isolation and intolerance. From childcare to a service for older people; a food coop and café to befriending; volunteering to computer learning; not to mention providing a base for a plethora of other local groups and services, there’s not much that the Neighbourhood Centre doesn’t do. One of the big challenges for Focus 50+, the CommonHealth project which is working with the Centre and other social enterprises addressing the needs of older people, is just how to encapsulate the diversity of impacts.
Lastly, Eleanor from Wevolution talked about the work that they do to support self-reliant groups (SRGs) across Scotland. SRGs enable people to come together, build a common purpose through socialising and saving collectively, and in the long run to start a small business. From very small beginnings, SRGs are now popping up all round the country.
Eleanor also reflected on the experience of being part of the CommonHealth research programme, now that Project 4, Passage from India, is coming to a close. One of the key challenges of such research is how to build on the partnership when the initial research project has come to an end.
And if all of the excitement of hearing from social enterprises wasn’t enough, the session finished up with an open discussion of where the rest of the CommonHealth research is heading and how it can best fit into the growing body of evidence about the impacts of social enterprise. We even moved the chairs into a circle, although that level of innovation was a bit much for some people!