Empowering homeless people through employment? : the experience of British social enterprises and lessons for Kazakhstan
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Homelessness, particularly amongst single people, has become highly topical in major cities in Kazakhstan in recent years, but no national strategies or programmes have been developed to address the issue. However, the Kazakh Government has increasingly been emphasising access to employment as the key means of resolving these growing problems of urban homelessness. At the same time, the concept of ‘social enterprise’ has been promoted in a ‘bottom up’ fashion by not-for-profit organisations as a potentially viable means of responding to homelessness in Kazakhstan. Perhaps surprisingly, debates regarding the potential utility of promoting employment and/or social enterprise as solutions to homelessness have occurred in a parallel, and relatively unconnected, fashion. In a very different context, the UK is internationally recognised as having an especially well developed social enterprise support structure wherein successive Governments have advocated the use of social enterprise as a tool for transforming disadvantaged people’s lives, including that of homeless people. This thesis, therefore, seeks to identify potential lessons for Kazakhstan from the UK where there is substantial experience in the use of employment-based social enterprises to address issues of homelessness. 'Empowerment' is often said to be the aim of social enterprises seeking to improve the lives of homeless people and other disadvantaged people. This thesis argues that Amartya Sen's influential ‘capability’ approach - which focuses on a person's 'substantive freedom' to achieve 'valuable functionings' in key domains of their lives - provides an appropriate means of concretising and operationalising the concept of empowerment in this context. A qualitative methodology was employed in the study, and interviews were conducted with 22 key informant stakeholders from social enterprises across the UK, and detailed case studies undertaken of four social enterprises operating within the UK homelessness sector (11 service providers and 23 (ex-) homeless service users were interviewed in site visits to these four social enterprises). The key messages to emerge from this study for Kazakhstan are as follows. First, employment-focused social enterprises can facilitate the empowerment of homeless people in a number of important respects, but a multi-dimensional approach is required to enhance their capabilities in four (independently important) domains, namely: bodily empowerment; political and economic empowerment; social and emotional empowerment; and creative and intellectual empowerment. Second, the critical ingredient in effective empowerment using employment-focused models is the creation of a supportive working environment for homeless people with complex needs: such a supportive environment is far more readily found in social enterprises with a predominantly ‘social’ rather than ‘business’ orientation. Third, and contrary to political expectations and the assertions of some proponents of the social enterprise model, homeless people appeared to derive no additional ‘empowerment’ or other benefit from the employment projects in which they participated being social enterprises rather than traditional charities; in fact, the positive impacts identified were strongly associated with those social enterprises with a 'social' emphasis that closely resembles the traditional ethos of charitable organisations.