How Can Social Entrepreneurship Contribute to Social Work in the Disability Sector

Research output: Conference PapersRGC 32 - Refereed conference paper (without host publication)peer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2018


Title13th International Society for Third-Sectior Research (ISTR) International Conference
LocationVrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Period10 - 13 July 2018


Social entrepreneurship (SE) has emerged as an alternative solution to disabilities in both SE and SW fields. Existing research acknowledges that social enterprises (SEs) are generally more efficient and effective in delivering services than non-profits (Defourny & Nyssens, 2006; Linton, 2013) and human services organizations (Gray, Healy & Crofts, 2003; Savaya, et al., 2008). Although social enterprises present opportunities that can address financial challenges faced by human services organizations (Linton, 2013; Frank & Muranda, 2016; Germak & Singh, 2009), we know very little about the social value creation side of SE. Given the fact that SE practices are closely aligned with those of SW practices, mission and values – such as the promotion of social inclusion, the pursuit of social justice and the values of local (Frank & Muranda, 2016; Gray & Croft, 2002; Gray, Healy & Crofts, 2003), we could argue that SE is an extension of SW practice and research in an innovative and entrepreneurial way.One of the areas of great interest to SW research and practice but least researched in the SE field is how SEs address the problems faced by people with disabilities (PODs). Evidence suggests that people with disabilities are amongst the poorest of the poor and suffer from severe social exclusion and lack of equal rights (Issac, Dharma & Ravanan, 2010; Chan, et al., 2014). SW research shows that employment is beneficial for people with disabilities as it can provide social status, self-esteem and improved quality of life (Verdugo, et al., 2006; Parker, Renko & Caldwell, 2014). Despite the promise of SE to address the problems faced by people with disabilities (PODs) via work-integrated SEs, we do not know what SEs do and whether and how their approaches may be like or different fromcontemporary SW practices. Importantly, we do not know if the SE model generates better outcomes compared to the conventional SW approach, and if so, how.In this article, we argue that the business and social value creation aspects of SE are inter-related and support one another. That is, the design and implementation of the social value creation activities of an SE influence the business outcomes and vice versa. Therefore, successful interventions require meticulous preparation, planning and continuous learning and experimentation. But we still know very little about them. For example, should an SE engage a disabled person to do task A (cooking) or B (customer service) or C (cleaning) in a restaurant SE? What combinations of task A, B and C and others are more appropriate to enhance the outcomes? Who should become a co-worker for a disabled person and how should their relationships be like? What kinds of mentoring and counselling are needed for the disabled in the workplace? What kinds of job design and workplace design are needed to better support the disabled in the workplace? Is workplace, a natural context for reintegration into mainstream society, a better approach than one that isolates the disabled together with other disabled people? These questions are important to both SE and SW scholars and practitioners.Consequently, this article seeks to answer the following research questions:1)Are social entrepreneurs’ interventions similar to or different from conventional social work practice, and if so, how and why?2)Are SE interventions more effective than conventional social work services longitudinally, and if so, how and why?3)Which SE interventions better improve the well-being and quality of life of the disadvantaged population compared to conventional social work services?To answer the questions, this article draws insights from the theory of social development and the social role valorisation (SRV) theory from SW literature. The theory of social development helps explain the interrelation between economic and social development (Midgley & Conley, 2010; Midgley & Tang, 2001; Frank & Muranda, 2016), while the SRV theory provides important insights into SE practices in uplifting social situation of the disabled population. This article integrates developmental social work perspective and SRV in SW to identify how SE employs SW interventions in helping persons with disabilities and how SE could provide insights into SW practices and approaches.Specifically, in this article, we first employ a qualitative inductive approach to understand how SE and SW have been helping the disabled people and in what way(s) they may be similar or different and then identify how the SE’s approach may inform SW research and practices. 10 SEs and 10 human service agencies that provide services to disabled people are interviewed in Hong Kong. In the second part of the study, longitudinal studies are conducted to assess the efficacy of SE interventions compared to traditional social work practices from the clients/beneficiaries’ perspective. Disabled clients from selected social enterprises are recruited (n=20) and are compared with clients from human services agencies (n=20). This article utilizes a before-and-after research design (Creswell, 2013; Kothari, 2004) to measure the quality of life (QOL), well-being and social inclusion of persons with disabilities who receive services from SE or agencies using existing measurements, and measure impacts of SE interventions and SW interventions. Lastly, we use a quantitative survey to test factors that influence the efficacy of SE interventions versus SW practices by drawing insights from results from previous studies. This survey targets both SEs and human service agencies to better understand the success factors that predict better outcomes of SE and SW interventions in supporting disabled peopleOverall, this article makes several new contributions to the SE and SW literature. Firstly, it is one of the first studies that makes a systematic comparison between SE’s social work practices and the conventional social work practices using actual data collected from practitioners dealing with disabled people from both fields. The findings provide new contributions to the SE’s social value creation concepts and the SW literature. This article also contributes to the SE and SW literature by developing a new model about how SW practices are employed by SEs in supporting the disabled people. It is expected that this article could provide new empirical evidence to the claim that SE offers an effective alternative employment pathway that focuses on both social and economic empowerment for those people with disabilities. Finally, it offers new contributions on the mechanisms and factors that explain and predict the efficacy of interventions from the SE and SW fields for people with disabilities, and provide useful advice for social workers and social entrepreneurs in designing interventions and for policy makers and social investors in developing support programs for SEs and SWs. In terms of methodological contributions, this article is one of the first that makes an elaborate comparison of the efficacy of SE versus SW interventions for disabled people. This comparative approach is still nascent in both SW and SE. The mixed-methods (qualitative and quantitative) approach used in this article have the potential to overcome the limitations of a single study design and the excessive focus on the SE founders (not the beneficiaries) and therefore provide more comprehensive answers to the research questions.

Bibliographic Note

Research Unit(s) information for this publication is provided by the author(s) concerned.

Citation Format(s)

How Can Social Entrepreneurship Contribute to Social Work in the Disability Sector. / Chandra, Yanto; Shang, Liang.
2018. Paper presented at 13th International Society for Third-Sectior Research (ISTR) International Conference, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Research output: Conference PapersRGC 32 - Refereed conference paper (without host publication)peer-review