Social Entrepreneurship in Religious Congregations' Efforts to Address Health Needs

Published in: American Journal of Health Promotion, v. 28, no. 4, Mar./Apr. 2014, p. 231-238

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2013

by Laura Werber, Peter Mendel, Kathryn Pitkin Derose

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PURPOSE: Examine how religious congregations engage in social entrepreneurship as they strive to meet health-related needs in their communities. DESIGN: Multiple case studies. SETTING: Los Angeles County, California. PARTICIPANTS: Purposive sample of 14 congregations representing diverse races/ethnicities (African-American, Latino, and white) and faith traditions (Jewish and various Christian). METHOD: Congregations were recruited based on screening data and consultation of a community advisory board. In each congregation, researchers conducted interviews with clergy and lay leaders (n = 57); administered a congregational questionnaire; observed health activities, worship services, and neighborhood context; and reviewed archival information. Interviews were analyzed by using a qualitative, code-based approach. RESULTS: Congregations' health-related activities tended to be episodic, small in scale, and local in scope. Trust and social capital played important roles in congregations' health initiatives, providing a safe, confidential environment and leveraging resources from—and for—faith-based and secular organizations in their community networks. Congregations also served as "incubators" for members to engage in social entrepreneurship. CONCLUSION: Although the small scale of congregations' health initiatives suggest they may not have the capacity to provide the main infrastructure for service provision, congregations can complement the efforts of health and social providers with their unique strengths. Specifically, congregations are distinctive in their ability to identify unmet local needs, and congregations' position in their communities permit them to network in productive ways.

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