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Social return on investment: a women’s cooperative critique

Kai Roland Green (Independent Researcher, Copenhagen, Denmark)

Social Enterprise Journal

ISSN: 1750-8614

Article publication date: 16 May 2019

Issue publication date: 7 August 2019




Mechanisms that measure the social impact of work integration social enterprises (WISEs) activate a dialogue between the language and principles of economics and the lived-reality of marginalised groups. This paper aims to critically strengthen social impact measurement as a process by ascertaining epistemic gaps in the methodology of a dominant measure, based on an exploratory case study of a social enterprise supporting immigrant women in Sweden.


The author undertook participant observation and informal interviews with managers at Yalla Trappan – a women’s cooperative social enterprise in Malmö, Sweden – for the integration of long-term unemployed, immigrant women into the labour market. Through an interpretivist framework, themes of “social sustainability” and “feminist economics” formed a theoretical inquiry for data collection within the organisation and resulting in a critical discussion of the social return on investment (SROI) method.


The case study of women’s cooperative social enterprise is seen to challenge some systemic assumptions made by the SROI metric through its validation of knowledges and economic principles which are congruent with feminist epistemologies. The relationship between social and work life is re-configured by the organisation for the specific features of its beneficiary group (in which gender is a determining factor), with implications for intergenerational cohesion, past trauma resolution and positive postpartum practices that present challenges to a SROI measurement process.


This study applies a distinctive disciplinary understanding of feminist economics and epistemologies onto the relatively new field of social sustainability and innovation, illustrating its critique through the impact on practical steps that may be taken in the process of a dominant social impact measure (SROI).



The author would like to thank Fredrik Björk (Malmö University), Lisa Maurer Chodorkoff (Roskilde University) and Christina Merker-Siesjö (Yalla Trappan) for their support in the writing of this paper.


Green, K.R. (2019), "Social return on investment: a women’s cooperative critique", Social Enterprise Journal, Vol. 15 No. 3, pp. 320-338.



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Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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