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The roles of social enterprises in a Swedish labour market integration programme – opportunities and challenges for social innovation

Helena Kraff (Faculty of Fine Applied and Performing Arts, Academy of Art and Design, University of Gothenburg, Goteborg, Sweden)
Eva Maria Jernsand (Department of Business Administration, School of Business, Economics and Law at University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden)

Social Enterprise Journal

ISSN: 1750-8614

Article publication date: 11 September 2020

Issue publication date: 4 August 2021




The purpose of this paper is to explore the roles of work integration social enterprises (WISEs) in the Swedish establishment programme for newly arrived refugees, and how its set-up affects WISEs preconditions for social innovation.


The paper builds on a longitudinal and qualitative action research study of a WISE and its work in organising a course for labour market integration, in the context of the Swedish establishment programme. The authors were actively involved in the study as embedded researchers.


The exploration identifies a number of roles that WISEs take on in the establishment programme. It illustrates how WISEs hybrid character places participants at the centre of the innovation process, where their opinions and knowledge are considered crucial, and how this positively affects their ability to gain skills and confidence. However, the study also makes visible how issues of coordination between stakeholders in the programme lead to mismatches between course content and participant profiles, colliding activities and sporadic participation. In short, the bureaucracy embedded in labour market integration systems erodes the preconditions of WISEs to foster social innovation.


The embeddedness of the authors provides in-depth knowledge regarding how complex state systems affect WISEs in practice. Importantly, it also gives insights into the experiences of refugees, a group that is often mentioned in the literature on WISEs, although mainly in passing.



The authors’ wishes to thank the managers and staff of the social enterprise, and all participants of their program for labour market integration. The research was supported by Mistra Urban Futures, which is mainly funded by Mistra – the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research – and Sida – the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. The research is part of the project Organizing Integration (OI).


Kraff, H. and Jernsand, E.M. (2021), "The roles of social enterprises in a Swedish labour market integration programme – opportunities and challenges for social innovation", Social Enterprise Journal, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 203-219.



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