Glasgow Caledonian University’s (GCU) Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health has secured a major Research Council grant worth nearly £2 million to study the impact of social enterprise on the health and well-being of people and communities.

GCU will lead a collaboration between the social enterprise community in Scotland, and a number of like-minded partner universities during the five-year study.  

Social enterprises are businesses which direct any profit back towards a social mission, rather than distributing it among owners and shareholders. Model examples in Scotland are Impact Arts, which uses art to create social change, and Aberdeen Foyer, which offers support to homeless and unemployed young people.

Social enterprises work with the private and public sectors to address various aspects of social vulnerability. However, little is known about the longer-term impacts of social enterprise on health and well-being, despite the organisations’ long history in Scotland and in other advanced economies.

The project, ‘Evidencing social enterprise as a public health and well-being intervention’, which has received £1,971,000 from funding bodies the Medical Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council (UK), will study how, and to what extent, social enterprises remedy health inequalities. It will begin in January 2014.

Professor Cam Donaldson, Yunus Chair in Social Business and Health, who will act as the project’s principal investigator said: “Health inequalities are the unfair and avoidable differences in health across societies. They are compounded by, and related to, continuing high rates of deprivation, unemployment, worklessness and financial exclusion in our poorest communities. Many parts of the UK, including Glasgow, suffer disproportionately from such challenges.

“This project is driven by recent thinking about the potential for social enterprise to operate between, and in partnership with, the traditional private and state sectors to address these persistent and widening challenges.”

With approximately 2000 social enterprises, First Minster Alex Salmond, at the Social Enterprise Exchange in February 2011, described Scotland as the most supportive environment in the world for such organisations. 

During the project researchers will conduct a systematic literature review of academic papers in the field and carry in-depth interviews with current social enterprise leaders in Scotland. They will then study a group of enterprises in rural and urban communities in Scotland, before conducting a more detailed analysis of two large social enterprises: one aimed at enhancing tenancy sustainability in young adults and social isolation in older people, and the other at improving health and educational opportunities of young adults.

The programme will also involve a twice-yearly Knowledge Exchange Forum with representation from the research team, government, the social enterprise sector, the NHS and other recognised experts in the field.

GCU’s partner universities are Stirling, Glasgow, Robert Gordon, Highlands & Islands and the Glasgow School of Art. The Collaboration also includes the Glasgow centre for Population Health and the Social Enterprise Academy.

Professor Donaldson said: “I am absolutely delighted that such important funders as the Medical and Economic and Social Research Councils have decided to back such a novel and ambitious programme of research. This project will undoubtedly position Scotland, and Glasgow Caledonian University, as one of the world’s leading centres for social enterprise research.

“In large part, the research programme is about building academic research capacity in a nascent area. In that respect, we had help in putting the grant together from two of our talented PhD students - Clementine Hill O'Conner and Michael Roy."