Resilience and Impact of Social Enterprises

Kim, Anna | $24,210

Quebec McGill University 2021 SSHRC

In times of social and economic crisis, social enterprises face intense challenges of surviving in the marketplace and sustaining their commitment to social mission. While social enterprises have opportunities to create benefits for those who may need them most in crisis, they are also extremely vulnerable to major shocks and disturbances given that many of them struggle with resource constraints and financial challenges even in ordinary times. Furthermore, emerging evidence suggests that social entrepreneurship may not necessarily lead to substantive benefits for target beneficiaries, calling for a critical examination of the social impact of organizational responses to ongoing challenges.

The central question that motivates the proposed research is: How do social enterprises build organizational resilience and create positive social impact during and after a crisis? It is important to investigate both organizational resilience and social impact because the resilience of social enterprises is related to, yet does not guarantee, creating positive social impact. While resilient organizations are better able to adapt in the face of adversity, such adaptations may not necessarily generate substantive benefits for target beneficiaries. I will explore how social enterprises adapt and maintain their functioning during and following adversity, as well as investigating social impact of their adaptations from the perspectives of target beneficiaries. In doing so, I will theorize processes and mechanisms that enable social enterprises to build resilience and ensure social impact in times of crisis.

This theory-building project will be grounded in qualitative field studies of fair trade organizations (FTOs) in North America (Canada, the US) and East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania) in the context of the COVID‑19 pandemic. As a part of alternative globalization movements, FTOs seek to support marginalized food and craft producers in the global South by using the consumer demand for ethical trading in the North. Many FTOs have been at the forefront of providing income for vulnerable producers during the COVID‑19 pandemic, for example by redirecting artisans’ sewing skills to produce face masks, while struggling to survive in the changing retail and wholesale landscapes. The proposed project involves three interrelated studies, each focusing on fair trade retailers in Canada, fair trade wholesalers in North America, and fair trade producers’ organizations in East Africa — thereby covering the key elements of the social value creation network of FTOs. The work of FTOs in the global South and North, as well as their relationships, provide an excellent opportunity for studying the resilience of social enterprises and their social impact during and following a major global crisis.

This research will contribute to organization and management theory by advancing the knowledge of social entrepreneurship and organizational resilience. Furthermore, the project will have significant implications for the practice of building resilient social enterprises for creating positive social impact. The research will critically evaluate the unintended consequences of conventional approaches to social entrepreneurship, such as a focus on scaling up, and suggest alternative approaches for social enterprises to survive and adapt in times of crisis based on the analysis of entrepreneurial practices and their effects on resilience and social impact. Thus, in addition to providing theoretical contributions to management research, this project is intended to generate wider organizational and social benefits by informing the practice of managers in social enterprises and policy makers who wish to support social entrepreneurship.

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