What is this research?

CommonHealth is a pioneering research project to develop ways of measuring the impact of social enterprises on the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities. The research protocol is available to view under Resources.

How are we doing it?

Collaboration is at the heart of this research. By involving social enterprises and a wide range of stakeholders and investigators from several disciplines in our research and activities, we will co-create measures that are relevant, effective and user-friendly.

Why are we doing it?

This research is important because:

  • Health inequalities are stubborn and widening.  It is important to explore more 'upstream' community-based initiatives to improve health, and social enterprise may be a valuable vehicle in this endeavor.
  • While we know that social enterprises do valuable work, there is no way of describing and measuring the positive impact of their activities on health and wellbeing. Through acting on various aspects of social vulnerability, almost any social enterprise could be portrayed as acting on health and wellbeing, even if 'health' is not mentioned in their missions and regardless of whether they trade in health products.
  • Having a way of communicating and sharing the health and wellbeing contributions of social enterprises is vital to support the development of individual organisations and to allow government and policy makers to have confidence in supporting the evolution and maturing of the social enterprise sector.

Who is involved?

The project is led by Professor Cam Donaldson, Yunus Chair in Social Business & Heath at Glasgow Caledonian University. Cam oversees the programme of 8 projects delivered in partnership with a range of social enterprises and a multi-disciplinary team of academics from Stirling, Glasgow, Highlands & Islands, Robert Gordon and Stirling Universities.

The project is funded by the Medical Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.

What do we mean by Social Enterprise?

Social enterprises trade for a social purpose: they make profit or surplus from selling goods or services but, unlike conventional business, the profit from trading is then reinvested in the company or the wider community in line with their mission, rather than being distributed among shareholders or owners.

Social enterprises have existed since at least the 18th century and take different forms: some have no share ownership and others take the form of employee-owned mutuals.

What do we mean by health and wellbeing?

Given that we are receiving funding from the Medical Research Council and CommonHealth is portrayed, at least in part,  as being about health inequalities, it is easier to think of health as the endpoint of the initiatives that we will be evaluating.  In this sense, we will endeavour to explore the notion of health with study subjects, and thus work with their definitions of what health means to them, but, at the same time, will use some standard scales to measure it. Such scales might be as simple as asking people self-rate their health today as ‘very good, good, neutral, poor or very poor’, such ratings being used in national surveys such as the General Household Survey.

Well-being is harder to conceptualise and measure, but likely may be of more interest to our other major funder, the Economic & Social Research Council. Is health instrumental in achieving well-being or vice versa? This is something we discuss in the team every day, and it may even be specific to whatever context an initiative is operating in. As with health, there are also lots of ways to measure wellbeing. But, once again, we will rely on a combination of participants’ definitions and standard measures hopefully to shed light on the contribution of social enterprise in this respect. 

What kind of social enterprises are we interested in?

Some social enterprises have a specific focus on improving health through, for example, offering an alternative way of delivering services. However, we are interested in the health and wellbeing impacts of social enterprises who are delivering products and services that are not directly health related. Their activities might be related to housing, employment or connecting isolated members of a community. By looking at the activities and impact of non-health-related social enterprises, we broaden the reach and understanding of the health and wellbeing benefits of social enterprises. This is what we mean by social enterprises acting on broader determinants of health.