This study examines the extent, type, and impact of social enterprise engagement in a population of social service agencies in the province of Alberta, Canada. Three theoretical perspectives framed this study and the development of an online survey instrument: resource dependency theory, institutional theory and empowerment theory. A 24 question survey was developed and distributed to 541 Alberta-based social service agencies. A descriptive study, the research design relied on survey methodology and quantitative analysis using three participation invitations and a series of incentives, yielding a 62.8% response rate.
This research study concludes that social enterprise engagement is a growing phenomenon across Alberta. The results revealed that 70.7% (n=215) of eligible respondents indicated they had experience with social enterprise, of which 72.5% (n=156) had some, but limited experience while 27.5% (n=59) had considerable experience. Considerably engaged agencies tend to be larger and older than their less experienced counterparts and view social enterprise as a tool to improve organization viability. Moreover as social enterprise engagement increases, the portion of agency revenue originating from government sources decreases. While social enterprise engagement requires additional oversight and administration, respondents did not consider it a distraction from mission related work. The results also revealed that engagement in social enterprise may also enhance an agency’s reputation in their community.
This paper will be of interest to social service providers, funders, and government agencies currently exploring social enterprise and its applicability to the charitable sector.