The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Social Enterprise and Its Potential for Empowerment and Enhanced Self-Esteem Among Female Bhutanese Refugees

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 2:00 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 003B River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Diane B. Mitschke, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Regina T. P. Aguirre, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Bonita B. Sharma, MSSW, PhD Student, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Background and Purpose:  Targeted microenterprise and development projects for women have increased in number and scope in recent years, particularly in the international sector.  While these projects vary and have grown to encompass a great many methods and products, female-focused international development projects most commonly have four primary objectives, including: 1) Increasing women’s economic status, 2) improving family well-being, 3) promoting gender equality, and 4) empowering women.  Several studies have demonstrated that increasing the economic earning potential of women has tangible benefits for families in poverty, particularly as it relates to food supply and adequate nutrition for children. Women-centered creative social enterprise using a group-based model has the potential for success due to certain characteristics of female leadership.  Key to empowering women is the transfer of knowledge and skills that have a tangible connection to building capacity and competence.  Women who participate in formal education to build knowledge and abilities are more likely to demonstrate autonomy, higher self-esteem, and have more control over their earned income. This presentation will discuss the implementation of an innovative social enterprise project and its resulting positive impact on the mental health and financial stability of Bhutanese refugee women.

Methods:  Extensive semi-structured interviews were conducted with twelve Bhutanese refugee women who participated in a twelve week financial education course and knitted market-quality scarves as part of the WORN project, a newly developed social enterprise strategy designed to increase the incomes of recently resettled refugee families.  Interviews were conducted and recorded in Nepalese, transcribed verbatim, and translated into English by the bilingual interviewer.  Transcripts were independently coded by a three member research team, and analysis included the creation of a culturally relevant classification system of codes, themes, and subthemes, and an ongoing discussion of developing themes until group consensus was reached.

 Results:  Women valued both purposeful financial education as well as the opportunity to participate in social enterprise.  They spoke of empowerment through renewed self-confidence and enhanced self-esteem that they attributed to knitting scarves that were sold for profit.  They also discussed culturally centered factors such as collectivism and shared experience as key to learning and growth among their community of Bhutanese refugee women. 

Conclusion and Implications:  This study provides initial insight into improving the lived experiences of recently resettled Bhutanese women and explores the potential benefits and drawbacks of social enterprise efforts among this group.  The lessons learned have implications not only for Bhutanese refugees, but for resettled women from other nations as well.  Ultimately, participating in a shared community of learning and development provides an opportunity for the women to interact and engage with one another over time, which may have a buffering effect on the stressors that develop as formal resettlement assistance services decrease.