Historical perspectives on the evolution and growth dynamics of social enterprises: a comparative case analysis

Blundel, Richard K.; Lyon, Fergus and Spence, Laura J. (2010). Historical perspectives on the evolution and growth dynamics of social enterprises: a comparative case analysis. In: The 33rd Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship Annual Conference (ISBE): Looking to the Future: Economic and Social Regeneration Through Entrepreneurial Activity, 3-4 Nov 2010, London, UK.

URL: http://www.isbe.org.uk


Objectives: This working paper presents a case-based examination of the growth process in social enterprises. Its starting-point is that existing knowledge on social enterprises is lacking in historical perspective, and that insufficient attention has been paid to the distinctive long-term growth dynamics of this organisational form. The paper explores influences on the growth process and relates its initial findings to current research and policy debates.

Prior work: The case studies presented in this paper are informed by three core literatures: (1) entrepreneurial growth dynamics; (2) contemporary and historical studies of social enterprises; (3) corporate social responsibility.

Approach: The paper is based on a comparative case analysis of three social enterprises located in the United Kingdom. The study traces the unfolding relationship between economic and social imperatives in their pursuit of entrepreneurial opportunity, the bundle of resources and capabilities that each social enterprise develops, its changing network relationships, and outcomes identified at an organisational level.

Results: The case studies indicate distinct periods in the life of each organisation, and suggest how these patterns might be explained with reference to the literature. An initial cross-case comparison, structured around the concepts discussed previously, is used to identify common themes.

Implications: The case study narratives and initial analysis suggest a number of issues relevant to researchers and policy-makers. The authors call for more historically-grounded research on social enterprises. The case material is exploratory, but indicates some ways in which the scope of future studies might be broadened to address longer-term interactions and a wider range of actors.

Value: Social enterprises have sometimes been treated as an unproblematic and relatively short-term panacea to address ingrained social problems. The paper reinforces the call for social enterprises to be studied from a more historically-informed perspective that examines the longer-term implications of their continued growth.

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