Developing Inclusive Markets Through Social Entrepreneurship in China and Emerging Economies
Tian Wei,1 Israr Qureshi,2 and Chenjian Zhang3
1Fudan University, 2The Australian National University, and 3University of Bath
Social entrepreneurship aims to address social problems, including but not limited to poverty, healthcare, renewable energy, and clean water (Qureshi, Sutter, & Bhatt, 2018; Stephan, Uhlaner, & Stride, 2015; Surie, 2017; Vickers, Lyon, Sepulveda, & McMullin, 2017). As a powerful tool to alleviate poverty, developing inclusive markets through social entrepreneurship has attracted attention from both academics and policymakers (Ansari, Munir, & Gregg, 2012; Azmat, Ferdous, & Couchman, 2015; UNDP, 2010, 2016). Market inclusivity is defined as the degree to which markets are able to engage and benefit individuals who are traditionally excluded or even exploited by prevailing market systems, such as the poor, women, and other marginalized groups (Drori, Manos, Santacreu-Vasut, Shenkar, & Shoham, 2018; George, McGahan, & Prabhu, 2012; Mair, Marti, & Ventresca, 2012). With the expertise of creating and proliferating any new market for social needs, social entrepreneurs inevitably take a critical role in extending market opportunities to a larger segment of society (Mendoza & Thelen, 2008).
Yet, this well-intended initiative often overlooks the role of local institutions (both formal and informal) in promoting or impeding social entrepreneurship (Mair et al., 2012). Emerging economies are known for their weak institutional environments and underdeveloped market-supporting institutions, including weak legal frameworks and poor enforcement capacity of formal legal institutions, referred to as institutional voids (Khanna & Palepu, 2000). Scholars have noted that institutional voids reinforce existing social inequalities and therefore impact market formation, economic growth, and development. As North (1990) and Willamson (2000) emphasized, the institutional environment changes slowly – both constitutional and legal features and norms and culture in particular. In order to develop inclusive markets, social entrepreneurs and policymakers should utilize both formal and informal institutions to overcome institutional voids in emerging economies. This is an important area for academic research.
First, facing the pressure of developing inclusive markets, governments and policymakers are in search of a legislative or regulatory ‘quick fix’, or any actionable, short-term, policy move to overcome institutional voids (Bradley, Kim, Klein, McMullen, & Wennberg, 2021). Most academics, policymakers, journalists, and the general public expect that well-designed government policies can promote social entrepreneurship (Inoue, Lazzarini, & Musacchio, 2013). However, these ‘quick fix’ regulations and policies also constrain social entrepreneurs in scaling up their business in the long term. For example, as most government policies are launched for five years in China, social entrepreneurs may not have built the necessary capabilities in market competition when policy and financial support ceases after a certain period. Based on its agenda and interests, governments have the incentive to support social enterprise but may prioritize certain projects over others (Zhang, 2021). Besides, norms of a strong role for government, misunderstood or unknown role for social enterprises, and lack of effective rules and regulations bring significant challenges for social entrepreneurship from formal institutions (Bhatt, Qureshi, & Riaz, 2019, see also Qureshi, Kistruck, & Bhatt, 2016).
Second, due to insufficient formal institutions, informal institutions (i.e., norms and values) have been argued to primarily guide business practices in emerging economies (Mair et al., 2012; Sutter, Webb, Kistruck, Ketchen, & Ireland, 2017). For example, women in many places are excluded from market-based activities because social conventions prevent market access (Qureshi et al., 2018), while poorly educated rural residents lack the skills to capture market opportunities. Scholars from both entrepreneurship and information systems have studied the potential for developing inclusive markets through informal institutions. First, entrepreneurship scholars view social intermediation (Kistruck, Beamish, Qureshi, & Sutter, 2013), market linkages (Hota, Mitra, & Qureshi, 2019), and corporate social entrepreneurship as important drivers of market inclusion (Mair et al., 2012; Wan, Wei, & Liu, 2019). Corporate entrepreneurs, if socially oriented, are expected to have more significant potential to develop inclusive market as they can leverage existing capabilities and resources (Tasavori & Sinkovics, 2010). Second, information systems scholars focus on how information and communication technology (ICT) empowers the poor by providing reliable and efficient access to market information and embracing new opportunities from market access (Jha, Pinsonneault, & Dube, 2016; Qureshi, Sutter, & Bhatt, 2018; Shalini, Parthiban, Qureshi, Bhatt, & Rakshit, 2021). Digital social innovations that leverage various ICTs have the potential to develop inclusive markets in this digital age (Parthiban, Qureshi, Bandyopadhyay, Bhatt, & Jaikumar, 2020, 2021; Qureshi, Bhatt, & Shukla, 2021a,b,c; Qureshi, Pan, & Zheng, 2021; Riaz & Qureshi, 2017). Informal institutions drive organizations and community to implement ICT projects and digital innovations (Leong, Pan, Newell, & Cui, 2016; Webb, Kistruck, Ireland, & Ketchen, 2010).
The role of local institutions (both formal and informal) can be recognized in three identified distinct conceptual stages of social entrepreneurship in developing inclusive markets in emerging economies: opportunity recognition, resource mobilization, and social value creation (cf. Qureshi et al., 2021). In recognizing entrepreneurial opportunities, benefiting from policy and financial support from the government, social entrepreneurs have an obligation to meet government expectations (Sun, Mellahi, & Thun, 2010). Besides, social entrepreneurs must face challenges brought by informal institutions, such as customs, religious credos, and social norms (Mair et al., 2012). The ineffective formal institutions and pervasive informal institutions create institutional complexity but also provide opportunities for discretionary actions and social innovation (Cherrier, Goswami, & Ray, 2018; Liu, Zhang, & Jing, 2016). How does the institutional environment provide challenges and opportunities for social entrepreneurship and social innovation? How do social entrepreneurs interpret their environment, and navigate through and deal with complex institutional environments? How do social entrepreneurs obtain legitimacy in their embedded local environments?
After opportunity recognition, social entrepreneurs mobilize resources to exploit these opportunities. The resource mobilization process in social entrepreneurship in emerging economies includes a large variety of non-market-based actions governed through informal governance mechanisms such as social and kinship ties (Foo, Vissa, & Wu, 2020). Resource seeking and resource bricolage have been argued as two primary approaches to overcome resource constraints and exploit opportunities (Ades & Di Tella, 1997; Baker & Nelson, 2005). In emerging economies, a composition-based view has the power to understand business phenomenon in China and has the potential to reveal the nature of resource mobilization (Luo & Child, 2015). The uncertainty and dynamics in emerging markets encourage scholars to absorb the concept of resource management and resource orchestration in particular into their study (Sirmon et al., 2007; Sirmon et al., 2011). How do social entrepreneurs and social innovators understand, mobilize, and leverage resources during their venturing process to achieve their goals? How do social entrepreneurs and social innovators build and develop relationships with stakeholders such as the government, customers, investors, and collaborators?
In social value creation, social entrepreneurship has the mission of achieving both financial and social goals. Thus, social enterprises are often in the form of hybrid organization to reconcile and integrate competing market and non-market logics (Battilana & Lee, 2014; Besharov & Smith, 2014). In emerging economies, social entrepreneurs are obligated to reciprocate by achieving objectives set by the government (Okhmatovskiy, 2010; Sun et al., 2010). Administrative heritage, which refers to an organization’s way of doing things that is shaped by its founders and leaders and its organizational history (Bartlett & Ghoshal, 1989), remain active in influencing social entrepreneur’s strategy because this heritage imprints on an initial strategic direction and sets constraints on subsequent strategic development (Yiu, Hoskisson, Bruton, & Lu, 2014). In developing inclusive markets, what value and social impact do social entrepreneurship create, especially with administrative heritage from the government and organizational founders? Besides, with the aim to create market access to the disadvantaged population, whether and how do social entrepreneurs change the norms and values of local institutions? How do social entrepreneurs achieve and balance financial and social goals?
In this special issue, we would like to seek new practices and theories of social entrepreneurship in developing inclusive markets, specifically in China and other emerging economies. Given the emerging research interest in understanding entrepreneurship in emerging economies, we know little about social entrepreneurship in this important context. We would like authors to highlight how their study contributes to the social entrepreneurship and market linkages in China and other emerging markets. If the submission is on other emerging economies rather than China, a discussion of implications should be made to extend our understanding of social entrepreneurship and social innovation in China, and vice versa.
Scope of the Special Research Forum
We welcome a variety of topics and issues related to social entrepreneurship in developing inclusive markets, including but not limited to the roles of corporates, digital social innovators, social entrepreneurs, and rural residents; their entrepreneurship and value creation processes; and their relationship with institutions. Both quantitative and qualitative works are warmly welcomed.
Example questions are listed below, but they are not meant to be exhaustive or restrictive:
l How do various stakeholders collaborate in developing inclusive markets through social entrepreneurship in China and other emerging economies?
l How do local stakeholders, including the local government, implement market inclusivity strategies through motivating corporates, social entrepreneurs, and rural residents?
l How do social entrepreneurs overcome institutional challenges in developing inclusive markets? What are their relationships with local governments and corporates in this process?
l What are new forms of organizations and organizing emerged to develop inclusive markets? How are these new forms enacted and accomplished?
l How do corporates develop an inclusive market in a rural context by leveraging principles of social entrepreneurship? What are the challenges, and what are their solutions?
l What role does digital social innovation play in developing inclusive markets in China and other emerging economies? How do digital social innovators leverage technology to create market linkages for marginalized communities?
l How do social entrepreneurs and digital social innovators identify institutional voids to develop inclusive markets?
l Why and how do social entrepreneurs and digital social innovators engage in activities that have the potential to develop inclusive markets?
l How are social entrepreneurs and digital social innovators able to engage with local institutions yet bring change in these very same institutions?
l How do social entrepreneurs and digital social innovators structure partnerships that have the potential to develop inclusive markets?
l How do social entrepreneurs and digital social innovators catalyze and mobilize local actors to develop inclusive markets?
l How do social entrepreneurs and digital social innovators leverage local resources that have the potential to develop inclusive markets?
l What role do social structures play in facilitating or limiting social entrepreneurs and digital social innovation that have the potential to develop inclusive markets?
l How do social entrepreneurs and digital social innovators leverage technology to discover opportunities to develop inclusive markets?
l How do social entrepreneurs and digital social innovators develop inclusive markets among hard-to-reach communities?
l How do actions, strategies, and technologies work and function differently in different conditions to develop inclusive markets in China and other emerging economies?
Schedule and Timeline
1. Preliminary Proposal (deadline June 30, 2022). The preliminary proposal should specify the targeted data source, format, develop intended research questions, and justify the motivation. The initial proposal should be within five pages (single-spaced). Please submit proposals to Tian Wei (email@example.com) with the subject line: ‘Developing Inclusive Markets Through Social Entrepreneurship in China and Emerging Economies’.
2. Proposal Development Workshop (early October, location TBD): Accepted proposals will be invited to a developmental workshop to further refine the focused research questions based on the secured data source. At the end of the workshop, we will extend invitations to some promising proposals to submit a revised version of the proposal.
5. Paper Development Workshop for R&R papers (location TBD): Further revise the paper with known results and findings
6. Publication of the special issue (TBD)
Tian Wei is Professor and Vice Department Chair in the School of Management, Fudan University in China. She obtained her PhD from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. Her research interests cover cross-border acquisitions and corporate social entrepreneurship. She has published in leading management journals, including Journal of Management Studies, British Journal of Management, Management and Organization Review, International Business Review, and Journal of International Management. She serves as a Deputy Editor for Management and Organization Review, and an Associate Editor for Asian Case Research Journal.
Israr Qureshi is Professor of Social Entrepreneurship and Digital Social Innovation at the Research School of Management, Australian National University. He is currently an associated editor at three journals – MIS Quarterly, Information systems Journal (ISJ), and Business & Society. He is guest editing two special issues at ISJ: a) Digital Social Innovation and b) Social Media Induced Polarization. His research interests include social entrepreneurship, digital social innovation, and sustainable development. He has published in Information Systems Journal, Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of Management, Journal of Management Studies, MIS Quarterly, Management and Organization Review, Organization Studies, among others.
Chenjian Zhang is Associate Professor in Strategy and Entrepreneurship in Strategy and Organization Division, University of Bath, School of Management. He earned his PhD degree from University of Bremen, Germany. His research interests include institutional theory, social entrepreneurship, and social innovation. His recent publications are featured in Strategic Management Journal, Journal of International Business Studies, and Management and Organization Review. He serves as a Senior Editor for Management and Organization Review.
 United Nations Development Programme
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