The dark side of entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship is usually associated with the creation of economic and social wealth, but it can also have negative effects, such as the pollution of the environment and damage to local communities. Thus far, research has largely overlooked this dark side of entrepreneurship. Indeed, little is known about the reasons entrepreneurs might engage in actions that can lead to destructive outcomes. Dean Shepherd, Moses Osofero, and Joakim Wincent address this subject in their recent Journal of Business Venturing article titled “A personal adversity model of justifying the costs of entrepreneurial action: The case of oil thieves in the Niger DELTA.”
Dean explained that this study was inspired by his long-practiced approach to ideating research opportunities: “a little while ago, Johan [Wiklund] and I wrote a paper about how to come up with ideas and we talked about ‘me-search’, so writing research about your own personal background and experiences … I think an extension of that is ‘we-search’ [where] I look at who my co-authors are and what their experiences are, and so my co-author on this paper is Moses … he’s originally from Nigeria and he worked in the Niger Delta … He told me about this this thing called ‘bunkering’ in Nigeria, where people steal the oil and in order to do that … they crack the pipes and when they do that it spills oil all over the ground, and it … kills the fish and everything. And then these guys take the oil and they put it in a big pot, and they light a fire under it to catch the different chemicals as they come off, like kerosene and the different products. But, in doing so, they're creating all sorts of pollution for the environment and also dangers for themselves and for the community. So we were kind of interested in … ‘Why do people pursue opportunities that that are harmful to the environment and to other people, and even to themselves?’”
As might be expected, collecting data for this study was a challenging, but also rewarding task. According to Dean, “a lot of the research opportunities are … where it’s difficult to get the data. But that's where interesting research questions come up, so that’s how I motivated my co-authors to collect the data … He [Moses] had contacts in the Niger Delta and some of the contacts had contacts with the people who are engaging in the illegal behaviors. So those contacts … would take a phone to the bunkerers, or to the illegal entrepreneurs, and they would do the interview over the phone, so they could remain anonymous. It went only through a trustworthy broker basically, or a trustworthy contact, and therefore we were able to get it.” Dean admitted that “we were kind of surprised that we were able to get such excellent data … People were so honest and transparent about what they were doing and, knowing that it was illegal, they didn't try and deny it.”
Being able to collect this data certainly paid off. Dean described that “what we found with these guys, because they were living in an area that was resource-rich … [but] where the community wasn't getting any of the resources, they [the bunkerers] blame the government in the country and all these other external sources for their current personal adversity and they use that to try and justify engaging in this kind of illegal behavior … So what they told themselves was that ‘I had no choice, I don't have any control over my life … I’m put into this position and I’m not given any opportunities.’” Dean added that these entrepreneurs also argue that they do, in fact, do some good through their work, claiming that “‘I'm very careful in the way that I engage in my bunkering. I have to take some sort of actions that help my community.’ So, on the one hand, they said they have no agency and, on the other hand, they say that they do have a lot of agency, and they were able to weave both of those aspects into the same story, so we thought that was interesting.” As a result of their compelling study, the authors are able to shed much needed light onto entrepreneurs’ motivations to engage in destructive activities.