The Service Empowerment Model: A Collaborative Approach to Reducing Vulnerability

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Purpose – Service researchers have been tasked with improving the well-being of consumers experiencing vulnerability. The current research aims to demonstrate how these consumers can experience empowerment through transformative service improvements to the traditional microfinance model.

Design/methodology/approach – To ground the research in a real-world setting with consumers experiencing vulnerability, the research team worked with a nonprofit microfinance organization offering loans to communities of Indigenous women entrepreneurs. The research team worked in six communities and conducted over 25 borrower interviews and 14 staff and volunteer interviews totaling 1,200 min of recorded content.

Findings – The present investigation of a unique approach to microfinance offers a new theoretical model, the service empowerment model (SEM), which illustrates how empowerment emanates from processes and outcomes at three distinct levels: micro, meso and macro. Recognizing that change occurs individually and also at familial and societal levels begins to challenge deeply rooted structural and cultural norms involved in the services ecosystem.

Practical implications – Originating from the microfinance service setting, the SEM can be explored, tested and implemented as a pilot program in a variety of service settings that involve transformative service initiatives (e.g. homelessness, refugees, etc.).

Social implications – As society pursues solutions to the pressing problems of consumers experiencing vulnerability, the present research offers critical insights into how services should be designed.

Originality/value – The present research defines a new term, service empowerment, and creates a new theoretical model, the SEM, to aid in improving transformative service initiatives.