Health Justice CT

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Tackling the Root Causes of Disparities through Social Enterprise

Community Spotlight is a blog series of Connecticut-based health equity profiles of community partners and organizations.

iStock_000021754365XSmallOver the past two decades social entrepreneurs have come to be recognized to be vital for the future development of health promotion, as they offer a way of tackling the social determinants of health and disease through community-based action (Catford, 1998).

In my mind the definition of social entrepreneurship has been become somewhat of the catch-all phrase for “corporate do-gooder,” and it means different things to different people. I’ve learned that it’s more than that.

The Skoll Foundation that has endowed over a billion dollars to support social entrepreneur projects since 1999 and acknowledges that there are many different definitions of what constitutes social entrepreneurship but they use a definition as good as any:

“Social Entrepreneurship is the product of individuals, organizations, and networks that challenge conventional structures causing inadequate provision or unequal distribution of social and environmental goods by addressing  these failures and identifying new opportunities for better alternatives.”

For me and other health equity advocates, a social entrepreneur represents a new kind of partner, who can be a critical part of the solution to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities. Social entrepreneurship is recognized as being an important ingredient of modern policy initiation.  A  social entrepreneur is a person that is capable “… to analyze, to envision, to communicate, to empathize, to enthuse, to advocate, to mediate, to enable and to empower” a wide range of disparate individuals and organizations.” (Catford, 1998)

In Connecticut, reSET is an organization that is committed to helping entrepreneurs leverage the power of the free market to create public good.  The organization was founded by Kate Emery, founder and CEO of Walker Systems Support, an IT and web services firm that has been transformed to meet the social enterprise business model.

“Business is a powerful force that can be used for positive things,” Emery said in Hartford Business. “That includes creating jobs that solve community problems.”

This year reSET has taken on the issue of building “healthy communities” through a series of workshops, conversations and seminars that they refer to as a “Health & Access to Healthcare Design Lab.”  The purpose of the “Design Lab” is to engage social entrepreneurs in the process of developing new, market-based solutions to Connecticut’s healthcare challenges.

Last week reSET partnered with the Connecticut Association of Directors of Health in a workshop called “Knowledge is Power: Measuring the Health of CT Communities.” Presenters shared the Health Equity Index,  a first of its kind electronic tool that profiles and measures the social determinants that affect health and their correlations through community-specific health outcome scores and GIS (Geographic Information System) maps.  While tools like the Health Equity Index continue to undergo important development, it can serve as an important source of inspiration for social entrepreneurs to address root causes of disparities.

The potential for social entrepreneurs to play an important role in addressing health disparities in Connecticut is there, but it’s clear that they will continue to need a supportive environment. reSET’s work is part of an ongoing effort to create this environment by engaging partners from the private and public sectors with the hope of seeding new ideas to move the needle on health equity in the state.

Image credit: iStock




About Heang Tan

Heang Tan is the project director and editor for HealthJusticeCT. You can find her tweeting about health equity and other random things @heangtan

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