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Healing work

Sarah V. Suiter (Department of Human and Organizational Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA)
C. Danielle Wilfong (Department of Human and Organizational Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA)

Social Enterprise Journal

ISSN: 1750-8614

Article publication date: 4 December 2019

Issue publication date: 29 January 2020



The purpose of this paper is to explore women’s experiences in one such social enterprise, and to analyze the ways in which this social enterprise supports and/or undermines its employees’ health and well-being. Finding and keeping employment during recovery from addiction is a strong predictor of women’s ability to maintain sobriety and accomplish other important life goals. Many treatment organizations have programs that support job readiness and acquisition; however, less priority is placed on the quality of the workplaces and their consequences for continued health and well-being. Social enterprises that exist for the purpose of employing women in recovery have the potential to be health-promoting workspaces, but understanding how health is supported for this particular population is important.


This paper provides an ethnographic account of Light Collective, a social enterprise run by women in recovery from addiction. Data were collected through 2 years of participant observation, 38 interviews and 2 focus groups. Data were analysed using a grounded theory approach.


Light Collective provides a health-promoting workplace by keeping barriers to employment low and making work hours and expectations individualized and flexible. Furthermore, the organization creates a setting in which work is developmentally nurturing, provides the opportunity for meaningful mastery and serves to build community amongst women who are often marginalized and isolated in more traditional contexts.


This study contributes to literature exploring the potential for social enterprises to create health-promoting workplaces by focusing the types of workplace commitments required to support a particularly vulnerable population. This study also explores some of the challenges and contradictions inherent in trying to create health-promoting work environments vis-à-vis the constraints of broader economic systems.



The authors would like to thank Michelle Wijaya, Erin Boddy, Cary Rayson, and Keri Seay for their various and essential contributions to this study. We would also like to share the women of Light Collective who so generously shared their stories with us.

Funding details: This study was funded by a small grant from the authors’ university. The university did not play a role in any aspect of the study (design, data collect, data analysis, reporting) other than funding it.

Disclosure statement: The author does not have any conflicts of interest to disclose.

Data availability statement: Due to the sensitive nature of some of the data collected for this study and the stipulations of the IRB arrangement, data that supported this study cannot be deposited on-line. Any persons interested in obtaining access to the data set should contact the author.


Suiter, S.V. and Wilfong, C.D. (2020), "Healing work", Social Enterprise Journal, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 82-99.



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