The unfolding of social entrepreneurship in the context of a developing economy

De Avillez, Maria Margarida Durão (2017) The unfolding of social entrepreneurship in the context of a developing economy. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis addresses how social entrepreneurship (SE) is being enacted in a developing economy as a means to promote poverty alleviation and sustainable development. Researching SE in developing economies is relevant considering the need to identify sustainable and innovative models for private sector engagement and civil society capacity building in contexts marked by resource constraints, institutional voids, and aid-dependency.

SE blends financial, societal and environmental benefits. It is expected to empower local communities and treat the root cause of problems, putting society ahead of the individual. A SE movement led by international elites is gaining momentum in contemporary market economies. It demands a wider ethical and socially inclusive type of capitalism. This has caused research into SE to export normative western institutional meanings across countries. However, since meanings are mediated by context, research is required to understand how SE is interpreted in ‘non-western’ contexts. In addition, there is a lack of empirical studies situating SE in developing economies. Therefore, little is known about whether SE practices in developing economies are given the same meaning. These limitations reflect the de-contextualised approach that has dominated entrepreneurship theory. There is the need to reflexively examine the boundaries of extant theories of SE by inquiring how SE is enacted in less-known contexts.

This study utilises the institutional logics perspective to examine the dynamic and recursive meanings people draw upon to undertake and legitimise SE activities in Mozambique; a country over-reliant on foreign investment and donor funding. Complex institutional environments provide an opportunity to examine how local and globalised institutional logics affect what is to be considered legitimate and who has the authority to do it. In order to shed light on the above, the following research question was devised:

How is social entrepreneurship enacted and legitimised in a developing economy through local and globalised institutional logics?

In order to address this question, the thesis adopts a practice perspective of SE. It shifts the focus of analysis from the individual entrepreneur towards entrepreneuring or the activities that people engage in to access and utilise resources in meaningful ways. Practices are useful to examine how actors understand and mobilise multiple institutional logics through everyday actions.

The research was conducted using a reflexive ethnographic methodology to observe how diverse actors mobilise multiple logics to achieve intentional outcomes. Ethnography provided a means of entering ‘natural’ social sites and the everyday activities of those being studied. Materials were collected over three fieldtrips to Maputo (including living in the country for three consecutive months) making use of: field notes; photographs; video recordings; participant observation; semi-structured interviews and informal conversations with a breath of participants ranging from the elite to the urban poor. Documents such as reports, leaflets and newspaper articles were also analysed, accounting for wider societal discourses. The utilisation of multiple methods and several data sources conferred credibility, consistency and empirical validity to the research findings.

The research suggests that different social groups draw upon contradictory logics, which mirror the institutionalised meanings they value. The mobilisation of particular logics plays a role in determining which organisational forms serve as models and how institutional expectations are conveyed in order to get legitimacy. Also, diverse interpretations of SE activities were found to result from different degrees of embeddedness in the local context. The thesis points to three main practices of SE: exogenous, endogenous and trans-cultural. Exogenous SE practices tend to reproduce western models, routines, expectations and normative assumptions. These are directed at creating a new environment. Endogenous SE practices conform to logics traditionally associated with non-western societies. These are directed at rearranging the local environment. Trans-cultural SE practices use a dual legitimacy, local and international, to transform the environment by combining and translating multiple logics.

This study furthers our understanding on how potentially conflicting logics from western and non-western cultures interplay, within the field of SE. This provides a more nuanced comprehension of the diversity of logics mobilised to give meaning to SE practices in developing economies. The research makes four further theoretical contributions. It problematises existing SE hegemonic assumptions and discourses that narrow our understanding of the SE phenomenon by emphasising western logics over others. It brings to the fore overlooked necessity-driven practices of SE undertaken informally at the grassroots. These are easily ignored for being undertaken by people who make do with what is at hand to tackle enduring poverty in contexts of subsistence. The thesis yields insights into the transformative potential of trans-cultural practices for legitimising SE. Finally, it explains the mediating effects of a ‘hybrid context’ on the enactment and legitimisation of SE in a developing economy.

By examining how SE is legitimised in the research setting, this thesis sheds light on the diverse practices through which different types of resources are mobilised to bring about change. This may assist both development policies and resourceful SE promoters to better support and convey legitimacy to change-oriented local endeavours and communities engaged in SE. The thesis contributes to practice by emphasising self-sufficiency and real empowerment. It also urges social entrepreneurs to better adapt and translate their ventures to suit the local needs of the poor. Researching how SE is enacted and legitimised in a developing economy opens up opportunities for more inclusive and pluralistic approaches to poverty alleviation and the globalisation of SE. This thesis therefore aims to contribute by engaging debate about how SE can be further contextualised and translated across borders to benefit communities across the world.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Greenman, Andrew
Soulsby, Anna M.
Keywords: social entrepreneurship, developing economies
Subjects: H Social sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > Nottingham University Business School
Item ID: 43293
Depositing User: De Avillez, Maria
Date Deposited: 25 Aug 2017 09:41
Last Modified: 26 Mar 2018 11:24

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