Introducing ‘Project 8’

Submitting my PhD this week marked the official end of the ‘Passage from India’ project and so I have started to turn my attention to the question of ‘what next?’ Gill and I will be working on ‘Project 8’ over the next two years and sat down to talk about the specifics of work. It has has always seemed like the far off project in the distance, answers to many questions over the past couple of years have been; ‘Well that’s for project 8 to address’ and now it’s time to grapple with some of those questions…

The research conducted throughout the CommonHealth programme is designed to explore some of the concepts included in the following model (based on a paper you can find here):

conceptual model

This looks complex, but in its simplest form shows the variety of mechanisms through which a social enterprise might improve health and wellbeing. Although this is based on a variety of  existing theories and concepts, there are very few studies that relate specifically to social enterprises. As CommonHealth researchers our job is to contributeevidence to refine, develop some of the assumptions behind this model. This will be an important aspect of project 8 as we look at some of the emerging themes from projects 1, 2 and 4 and ask how these might relate to various aspects within the model.

One such theme relates to the value of work which has been an important consideration of all the projects thus far. In project 1 Gill noted that Scottish community businesses were often concerned with ‘recruiting people who had been unemployed for many years due to the economic crisis of the 1970s and dramatic changes in the infrastructure of the Scottish economy’. In his work on project 2 Bobby undertook a case study of a work integration social enterprise and interviewed people who placed a huge amount of importance on on their work, knowing that they may not find employment elsewhere. Often their answers related to a sense of purpose and belonging. In my own work on ‘Passage from India’ I have been considering the value of work and whether it lies in the monetary reward or if there are other aspects of work that make it good for health and wellbeing? Perhaps this is one of the key mechanisms by which social enterprises can impact on health and wellbeing?

Watch this space as we start to address this and other important questions about health, wellbeing and social enterprises.

Clementine Hill O’Connor

Still Living and Practicing Social Enterprise (part two)

On Friday 17th June Yunus Centre hosted a workshop ‘Still Living and Practicing Social Enterprise’ here at GCU. It was the second in what we hope will be an annual event that considers the potential for ethnography to explore questions emerging from the field of social enterprise research.We heard from: Anna Kopec, University of Northamption; Richard Hull, Goldsmiths; Aurelie Soetens, Univeristy of Liege; Iain Cairns, Glasgow Caledonian University and Juli Qermezi Huang, London School of Economics.

Thanks to all the presenters and the engaged audience that made for an interesting and inspiring day.In this blog Danielle and Clementine from the CommonHealth team reflect on a second key theme from the day that resonates with our own work which also uses ethnography.

Embracing Messiness

We’ve been mulling over one of the comments from the audience at our Ethnography and Social Enterprise event on 17th June 2016. We were encouraged to think about what is ‘unuttered’ within organisations, to observe surprises and spontaneity and to embrace that this would be an inevitably messy process. In the specific context of social enterprises it is important that researchers consider: complexities of relationships; emotional responses; policy; practice; rhetoric and reality within a whole range of different actors. The question then becomes, how do we present our findings so that they are convincing and useful?

The fieldnotes of ethnographers include typed, written and scribbled notes, photos, diagrams or physical artefacts. It can be messy and daunting for the researcher! We must then step away from the field in order to begin to explore ways to understand what we have seen and identify the best way for us to structure this for an audience.

The style of ethnographic writing allows for some of this ‘messiness’ to continue as we weave a narrative throughout our presentations, papers, articles or thesis. This was shown to great effect in a number of the presentations that relied on powerful descriptive vignettes that gave some structure to the messy data that is generated. The vignettes used highlighted the tensions and contradictions within the field, raised questions and peaked interest before delving into the significance of the events described and putting them in a wider theoretical and empirical context.

Ethnography allows us to consider the messiness of the world around us, forces us to recognise that which goes unsaid and can generate descriptive and detailed accounts of people, places, events or organisation. This is important in the field of social enterprise to allow for nuanced analysis and space for a critique. It also addresses the need to recognise the importance of a smile! Though subtle, this is an important impact, as defined by one of the social enterprises present at the recent Knowledge Exchange Forum (see here), and so we should find ways to capture and present this type of impact. Ethnography, in all its wonderful messiness, might be one such way we hope to do that!

Clementine Hill OConnor and Danielle Kelly

Still Living and Practicing Social Enterprise

On Friday 17th June Yunus Centre hosted a workshop ‘Still Living and Practicing Social Enterprise’ here at GCU. It was the second in what we hope will be an annual event that considers the potential for ethnography to explore questions emerging from the field of social enterprise research.We heard from: Anna Kopec, University of Northamption; Richard Hull, Goldsmiths; Aurelie Soetens, Univeristy of Liege; Iain Cairns, Glasgow Caledonian University and Juli Qermezi Huang, London School of Economics.

Thanks to all the presenters and the engaged audience that made for an interesting and inspiring day.

In this blog Danielle and Clementine from the CommonHealth team reflect on one of the themes from the day that resonate with our own work which also uses ethnography.

For some reflections on the event last year click HERE

The Nature of Participation

The workshop gave us a chance to hear how individuals are engaging with social enterprises in different and interesting ways. Yet what was cross cutting was that research in this field can often require the researcher to take a central role within organisations to gain a rich understanding of cultural and relational dynamics.

The nature of social enterprise means that organisations can often rely on the goodwill of volunteers and community members to provide a workforce, skills and entrepreneurial ideas in order to survive. Social enterprises can be stretched for time, funding and staff whilst balancing social aspirations with income based activity. For that reason, we must take careful consideration of how we are engaging with organisations without becoming extra ‘baggage’.

As academic researchers we often take part in extractive research where we pitch up, collect data and then leave without a trace. Yet, ethnography can require a level of participation in groups and communities to gain a deeper understanding of their culture. Therefore the natural inclination with social enterprises may be to volunteer our services as a staff member, get involved with the day to day running, or even become a board member. In this way we are not just extracting from the social enterprise but also giving back.

Nevertheless, research presented at the workshop raised a multitude of questions for ethnography. For example, if we are busy working at the social enterprise are we missing out on other aspects of the organisation, such as service users? The answer may be that we plan to divide our time amongst different social actors, however is this something that must be negotiated? Similarly, how much of ourselves should we give to the social enterprise? It could be the case that a financial contribution is most appropriate, or that we are able to share our skills and knowledge. Yet, it must be questioned if our presence is then interfering with or influencing the cultural transactions that already exist amongst natives.

As academics we may be viewed as superior and ‘clever’ and therefore able to provide answers to business problems. Similarly, people may behave unnaturally around us, being on their best behaviour or becoming more reserved and quiet.  Yet on the other hand, we may be viewed as an inconvenience if we interrupt the daily flow of activities, or are unable to commit to working hours. What if we contribute too much? Does this mean that when we leave the field we are leaving social enterprises in uncertainty, or understaffed?

Ultimately, all of these questions will be dependent on each case and our ability to participate, yet within ethnographies of social enterprise this is an important conversation that must be continued. However what I will take away from this event is that we must always consider the effects that we may have on others, and the lasting legacy of our contribution or non-contribution.

Danielle Kelly and Clementine Hill O’Connor

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost in the supermarket? The role of big business in social enterprise

 

Reflecting on my visit to The Gathering I was reading over the notes I made and was struck by the prevalence given to the private sector in at least two of the workshops I attended. In the session run by Joseph Rowntree Foundation there was lots of discussion about how important it is to hold private companies to account as we try to tackle poverty in Scotland. This is particularly relevant with regards to banking, private rental sector and energy, the cost of which contribute to the poverty premium and contribute to the high cost of living which is partly responsible for poverty in the UK today.

The second session with a consideration of the private sector was a session called ‘From ‘Asking’ to ‘Earning’ – Opportunities for social enterprises to work in the world of retail’ which was run by Asda and Social Investment Scotland. The main thrust of the session was to highlight the new ‘Asda Social Enterprise Supplier Development Academy’ which will provide social enterprises the opportunity to ‘strengthen their understanding of supermarket retail and refine their commercial and marketing skills, with the potential to get their products on supermarket shelves in Scotland…or even beyond’. SIS and Asda were joined by Sylvia Douglas, the founder of MsMissMrs social enterprise who is applying to attend the academy.

asda

Without wanting to demonise the whole of the private sector I did have some concerns about the role they might play as they develop relationships with social enterprise and aired these with my CommonHealth colleagues which resulted in an interesting debate:

On the one side of the debate is a view that reflected the discussion in the JRF session I attended- that involvement of the private sector allows social enterprises to improve the private sector, promote a stronger social conscience and hold them to account in their less ethical practices. Social enterprises will also benefit from access to a large retail market, the importance of which was emphasised by Sylvia who wanted to be able to focus her attention on delivering her social mission rather than spending valuable time and energy at small scale retail events. Despite my concerns it would be disingenuous not to consider the view from social enterprise and recognise the benefits of having an higher income in order to pursue the social aims, however, at what are the implications of receiving income from working with Asda Walmart?

The worry is that the notion of social enterprise will be ‘watered down’ once multinational corporations begin to use them as a form of corporate social responsibility. Asda, part of the Walmart Corporation does not have a positive, socially aware image, particularly in relation to the working conditions of their employees (examples here and here). If people are making an educated decision to support social enterprise in their consumer behaviour there is a risk of reduced confidence in social enterprises as they begin to compromise to fit the mould of a large scale retail supplier. This has implications for the social enterprise sector as a whole as the balance between social and enterprise is seen to tip in favour of enterprise as compromises are made that undermine wider social concerns. SIS pointed to these potential compromises as a challenge for social enterprises who might have to reconsider price points, sources of their materials and possibly outsource their production activities. In making such compromises the concern is that the ‘social’ in social enterprise becomes meaningless as enterprises are drawn into the less ethical practices of big business.

If Asda were sincere in their interest in social enterprise would they instead be considering what compromises they could make to work with social enterprises, rather than the other way around? Or would we rather that big business stays totally clear of social enterprises in order to retain some of the community based, cooperative roots of social enterprise in Scotland and baulk at the idea of Asda partnering with social enterprise?

Among the many questions that the Commonhealth research programme is attempting to address, we are trying to explore how different social enterprises manage the balance between ‘social’ and ‘enterprise’ aims, and what this means for health outcomes.

Clementine Hill OConnor

Can social enterprises successfully deliver rural services? Exploring challenges and opportunities to rural social enterprise development

In this blog Artur Steiner, Lecturer in Social Entrepreneurship at the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health shares his observations about activities of social enterprises in rural locations. Can they really deliver rural services successfully? What stops them form and, more importantly, helps them in doing so? These are some basic questions but it is important to explore them if we want to design policies and interventions supporting the development of rural social enterprises.

So far, in my academic life I had an opportunity to participate in several research projects that explored activities of both rural businesses and rural social enterprises. We all know about challenges associated with rural life. Those challenges relate, for example, to inaccessibility of goods, services and opportunities for wide social interaction. However, rurality, as a geographical context, affects not only people living there but also activities of businesses and social enterprises. As such, in relation to business development, rural locations present challenges associated with small, widely dispersed clientele, ageing population and limited human resources, physical, technical and economic barriers, and distance from service centres. Despite this (or possibly because of this!), research indicates that rural citizens are more likely to be socially orientated in their entrepreneurship than urban dwellers (Williams, 2007) and in recent years there has been a growth in community-run enterprises (see Plunkett Foundation). This might be because of strong social networks, embeddedness and social movements that are evident in rural communities (Jack and Anderson, 2002). For many years it has been argued that rural citizens draw upon such traditional rural strengths – strong mutual knowledge, sense of community and social cohesion. Moreover, social networks are denser in rural, as compared with urban settings, with resulting outcomes of high levels of trust and active civic participation. Probably because of that rural businesses are frequently closely integrated with their local community generating loyalty and stability amongst their local customer base which may help to offset some of the limitations of the rural business environment.

rural

In relation to rural social enterprise research, emerging patterns across my study results indicate that the key challenges and threats to rural social enterprise development include:

  • Rurality and the challenges of the geographical context (as highlighted earlier)
  • Mismatch between national and regional level-policies promoting social enterprise and lack of rural social enterprise policies
  • Rural social enterprise risk-aversion and change resistance
  • The complex nature of funding for social enterprise development and difficulties in accessing appropriate funding by rural social enterprises
  • Persistent grant-dependence and a lack of financial sustainability of rural social enterprises
  • Lack of entrepreneurial skills across rural social enterprises
  • The challenges of complex social enterprise ownership structures
  • Difficulties in defining and measuring the contribution of social enterprises to local development
  • Perceived pressure to replace voluntary organisations with social enterprises.

On the other hand, key opportunities for rural social enterprise development are:

  • Co-production of public services addressing gaps in rural service delivery
  • Turning existing rural needs into opportunities and taking advantage of emerging rural markets
  • Using advantages of the rural context (as highlighted before)
  • Creation of locally tailored solution to rural challenges
  • Benefits of ethical markets and growing recognition of social enterprises
  • Existing support structure
  • Growing awareness of the importance of being more business-like
  • Enhanced rural collaboration and networking
  • Developing self-support and a proactive approach.

So far, presented information tells us two things; first, rurality affects not only the culture, attitudes, the way how people think and support each other but also activities of social enterprises. Second, there are advantages and disadvantages associated with developing and running a social enterprise in a rural location. As such, it seems quite obvious that rural context matters. However, is this sufficiently recognised in currently policies and support structures for social enterprises?

In general, current UK policies suggest that citizens will take greater responsibility for organising services traditionally delivered by the state with communities, neighbourhood groups and community organisations doing  things ‘for themselves’ (this includes the Conservative Party, 2010 and the plans for the Community Empowerment Act that date back to 2009). Simultaneously, the UK governments have supported social enterprise through direct funding, business support and, increasingly, through procuring goods and services from social enterprises. But is this support and funding tailored well enough to address needs of rural social enterprises? Interestingly, recent Social Enterprise Census (2015) indicated that 32% of Scottish social enterprises are located in rural areas. This is substantial considering that rural Scotland is home to only 18% of Scotland’s population (Scottish Government, 2011). This would suggest that policies are efficient in supporting rural social enterprises and that social enterprises have found a fertile ground to grow. So, can social enterprises successfully deliver rural services?

My rural social enterprise research across different locations indicated that despite many potential challenges associated with the rural context, provided they have the right level of entrepreneurship, social enterprises are well placed to sustainably address local social, economic and environmental issues delivering services to local communities. Growth potential for small-scale social enterprises exists in a range of communities across rural regions. Social enterprises are well positioned to best utilise available local resources and to tackle rural challenges. Still, my research observations indicate that in order to help rural social enterprises to grow, social enterprises need tailored support that differs from the support offered in urban centres. This can include, for example, funding available at the local level aiming to build capacity and enhance the sustainability of community social enterprises, specialised practical business support that acknowledges the rural context and local characteristics, and knowledge dissemination about successful local and rural social enterprises.

Finally, in order for social enterprise to successfully deliver rural services, rural challenges and needs should be transformed into opportunities for social enterprise development. For instance, social enterprises should capitalise on the increase in consumers and businesses willing to support businesses that are ethical and socially sustainable. They should build a recognised and trusted brand, and enhance collaboration with public service markets and private businesses. Moreover, the ageing population could act as a promoter for developing the ‘silver economy’ and an incentive to set up and run social enterprises in health and care service provision. Rural social enterprises could, for example, take advantage of rural settings and become involved in food production initiatives or renewable energy projects. These aspects are especially relevant to Age Unlimited and Growth at the Edge Common Health projects that explore impacts of (rural) social enterprise on health and wellbeing of (rural) communities.

Guest Blogger: Artur Steiner

Knowledge Exchange Forum: Social Health Farago!

 

On Monday the CommonHealth team relocated to Dundee for our latest Knowledge Exchange Forum. An invited audience of 40 people associated in different ways with social enterprises in Scotland listened as 6 social enterprises briefly described their work. The attendees then split into several smaller groups and discussed the links between social enterprise and health, leading to some interesting debates and so many insights we could not fit them all into one blog! So here’s a summary of what we learned about health and social enterprise from listening, with more to follow next week on social enterprise structure and support…

Thank you to everyone who attended and shared their views!

Blog photo

There are countless ways in which social enterprises can impact on health

The groups suggested that social enterprise can have an impact on different levels of wellbeing, including safety and security, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization, for one group these impacts being most akin to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Other specific examples of social enterprises’ impact on health discussed by the groups presented us with some interesting avenues for future research. For example, arts based social enterprises were recognised within the groups for the ways in which they can decrease an individual’s stress. One group attributed this to the concentration required to engage creatively and suggested this captures the essence of mindfulness, i.e. thinking only in the present, specifically and immersively about the task in hand. Arts-based social enterprises can also be used as an outlet for emotion through various creative and visual mediums.

In other examples, some groups agreed formal employment is an important vehicle to not only improving health but also to prevent reductions in wellbeing, especially when there is payment of the living wage and sustainable security of employment is assured. Dundee has had a tumultuous job market in recent history when the famed prosperity of its ‘jam, Jute and journalism’ era came to an end, and groups touched on this and the region’s work to create a brighter economic future. For those excluded or distanced from the job market at the moment, volunteering was seen as potentially beneficial assuming it didn’t lead to burn-out or a loss of benefits. (We will be discussing this theme further in some of our up-coming blogs!)

Relationships are important when dealing with those with complex support needs

A recurring point of discussion in the KEF was the creation of social enterprises to address the limited care and support individuals received from institutions, particularly the local authority and the NHS. One of the tables expressed a desire for health and social services to be able to provide longer-term care and to develop relationships with people so that they could work through their complex needs. This was expressed in different ways amongst most groups, and by those working in local authorities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations. Practitioners on the ground know that good health doesn’t begin and end with addressing individual conditions, and are often frustrated when the work they begin with people gets cut short because they fall outside a particular scheme or funding stream. For some practitioners this frustration had become so acute that they had started their own initiatives in order to better address the needs of the individuals, families and the communities they work with. Making good use of this expertise and energy is a central challenge for health and social care in future.

Dundee and Tayside brought us marmalade, Desperate Dan and an exceptionally high level of female employment in the Jute industry before women won the right to vote. The KEF showed us that the region’s communities still continue to innovate and evolve.

Next week we will be continuing the discussion with another overview of what we learned, looking specifically at the strength and flexibility of social enterprise and how they can be best supported.

Bobby Macaulay, Clementine Hill O’Connor, Danielle Kelly, Fiona Henderson, Gill Murray

What do we value? And why?

 

Wevolution

We have talked a lot about value both on this blog and in our conversations as a research team. It has recently come up for me in the context of one of the chapters I’m working on for my PhD. I’m arguing that one of the reasons the women in self-reliant groups value their involvement is because it helps them meet the expectation set for them by the job centre and work programmes. Thus the groups become valued on these terms. My supervisor asked me whether I thought that this meant that the women had simply taken on board the values of the job centre…or is there something more going on?

I can think of many examples of ways that they want to challenge and rail against that system so my immediate answer would be ‘no’. Nevertheless I can’t ignore the fact that women are framing some of their values in these terms. The women talk about lots of other things that they value and aspire to in their lives which challenge the expectations of the job centre and other such structures. In the here and now what is important, and therefore valued by the women, is the fact that certain aspects of their involvement in the SRG will help them justify their time and experience within the terms recognised and valued by the job centre. This can, in the words of one of my respondents, ‘help get the job centre off my back’.

However, it all gets more complicated when you consider that there are times when the job centre and related institutions do not recognise the value of the SRG. Nevertheless, by framing the value of SRGs in terms of skills development and confidence building the SRG members can claim that the groups are more effective at delivering on ‘work-readiness’ than any work programme delivered by external agencies.

This means women in groups can simultaneously claim a certain amount of social worthiness (in a context where paid work is valued above any contribution they make as mothers, carers, volunteers etc.) as well as challenge some of the assumptions about what they can expect for themselves in the longer term as the recognise the potential for SRGs to create work spaces that are sociable, in which they are considered as equal and there is a sense of ownership and pride in their jobs.

If we are to measure value, whether in quantitative or qualitative terms we should be considering why certain things are valued over others and who is setting the terms. Within organisations are values set by external factors related to funding or other external pressures or do they relate to the intrinsic purpose and nature of the organisation- is it both? How do they measure it? Which values are prioritised? We should also consider the timeline or context of value- is it seen in the here and now, meeting an immediate need for money, safety, employment or might it be valued in the longer term in relation to raising aspirations, challenging a status quo or reducing inequalities.