Over the last two decades, public health and health promotion strategies have increasingly recognised the importance of redressing the social determinants of health (SDOH) inequities. Many young people (15-24 years) in Australia enjoy world-leading health status; however, significant health inequities persist for young people experiencing socio-economic disadvantage and geographic or social exclusion. Social enterprises have been identified as one upstream social innovation that may redress SDOH inequities. To date, however, evidence of whether and how social enterprises do so remains limited.
This study investigates the ways in which work integration social enterprises (WISE) affect the SDOH equity for young people in Australia experiencing disadvantage. The study examines the effects of WISE on young people and their communities, and considers the effects of WISE on micro (individual), meso (organisational and community) and meso (institutions) level SDOH. The research was based on a comparative case study design, preceded by engagement workshops with social entrepreneurs, young people and public health professionals to refine research questions and case selection. Four case WISE – two in NSW and two in Victoria – were recruited to participate.
We find that the case WISE positively influence the SDOH, particularly at the micro-level of individual factors and daily living conditions. With regard to young people specifically, we find improvements in young people’s mental health, employability (rather than employment) and housing status as a result of WISE participation. While the health and wellbeing outcomes for young people were predominantly positive, some less healthy behaviours were stimulated by WISE participation where young people were experiencing developmental transitions, and where the physical location limited access of WISE participants to external goods and services that support healthier behaviours in the workplace. WISE choice of industry also affected health and wellbeing outcomes. In particular, industry-related norms affected gender inclusivity.