Social enterprises, work and wellbeing: Work Integrated Social Enterprises in the neoliberal care economy

Authors: Katharine Mckinnon*, La Trobe University, Melissa Kennedy, La Trobe University
Topics: Economic Geography, Social Geography, Geographic Thought
Keywords: wellbeing, diverse economies, labour, social enterprise, work
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 4:30 PM / 6:10 PM
Room: Washington 6, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Work Integrated Social Enterprises (WISE) offer supported work environments for disadvantaged or disabled members of the community. This paper reflects on a research project that is mapping the ways in which social enterprises in regional Australian cities produce wellbeing for their employees. Through supported employment programs, these organisations are transforming individual lives, helping to build a sense of self worth and purpose, and increase individuals social skills and capacities. They are also having impacts across the community as a whole. Many of the perceived benefits are associated with a belief in the innate good of work, but while these organisations might support the wellbeing of individual workers, what are the wider impacts? Using diverse economies theory, this paper explores how WISE are functioning within contemporary economies of care in which duties once undertaken by the state are now in the hands of private providers. Based upon interviews with workers in the social enterprises and their clients, it is apparent that the hopes attached to providing ‘meaningful work’ are considerable. At the same time social enterprises are required to both sell their services as employers of disabled and disadvantaged members of society while maintaining commercial viability of the enterprise. Balancing dual responsibilities of care and commercial success, these social enterprises occupy a space of ethical conflict. Using Gibson-Grahams theories of diverse economies alongside Ferguson’s call for a distributive politics, this paper argues for a need to reconsider the place of work in relation to care and wellbeing.

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