In Research


Year: 2019
Published in: Social Enterprise Journal
Cited as: Finlayson, E. and J. Roy Michael (2019). “Empowering communities? Exploring roles in facilitated social enterprise.” Social Enterprise Journal 15(1): 76-93.


States and development bodies are increasingly stimulating social enterprise activity in communities as an empowering social and economic development intervention. This type of development initiative is often facilitated by actors who are external to communities, and the role of community members is not clear. This paper aims to explore whether facilitated social enterprise benefits or disempowers communities.Design/methodology/approach The focus is a case study of a project based in Scotland designed to stimulate the creation of social enterprises involved in community growing. The case study approach involved a mix of methods, including formal (semi-structured) interviews, participant observation and analysis of documentary evidence. Analysis of findings was undertaken using Muñoz and Steinerowski’s (2012) theory of social entrepreneurial behaviour.Findings Findings suggest that social enterprise that originates outside communities and is facilitated by external actors is potentially disempowering, particularly when social enterprise development does not necessarily align with community needs. The paper reiterates findings in previous studies that certain roles in facilitated social enterprise require to be community-led. Projects that do attempt to facilitate social enterprise would benefit from community participation at the project planning stage.Originality/value If facilitated social enterprise is increasingly promoted as an empowering development intervention, this paper provides insight about how facilitated social enterprise occurs in practice and gives preliminary information about possible barriers to empowerment using this approach to development.


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Policy Makers

Policy which aims to empower excluded groups and democratise regeneration through externally stimulating and facilitating social enterprise may in practice most support actors that possess the skills and resources to build discursive legitimacy at the political level. Current policy may therefore do more to reinforce geographies of disadvantage than facilitate social inclusion (Farmer et al. 2012) as well as reinforce existing power relations. The potential for disempowerment, therefore, raises implications for decision makers about how funding programmes are experienced by social enterprise practitioners. The views of community members should be better incorporated into the funding application process, and assumptions cannot be made that actors from outside can adequately represent the needs and aspirations of a community.
Policies which encourage community organisations to become sustainable through market-based activity may end up working at odds with the values held by practitioners in the sector. This study instead suggests that developing relationships and facilitating skills exchange at the community level is crucial. One key lesson, then for policy and practice, is that imposing or insisting upon the ‘social enterprization’ of community projects without the critical backing of the communities in question is unlikely to succeed and, in fact, is far more likely to disempower and disenfranchise people instead.