4EMESconf - Thematic lines

While constituting major avenues in the social enterprise research agenda, the thematic lines defined below should also be seen as various possible “entry points” to examine the development of social enterprise and discuss its contribution to global challenges such as sustainable development, social inclusion, ethics in the economy, etc.

1. Concepts and models of social enterprise

In the last two decades, research efforts have been undertaken to conceptualise the phenomenon of social enterprise/social entrepreneurship. This has been done at different levels of analysis: at the level of individuals (social entrepreneurs, volunteers, etc.), of organisations (different types of social enterprise models and legal forms, including cooperatives, non-profit organisations, etc.), of fields and sectors, etc. Yet, much remains to be theorised regarding the specific features of social enterprise, its boundaries and connections with the public, private for-profit and third sectors and its roles in the broader economy. Moreover, a considerable research agenda lies in analysing and comparing how the social enterprise concept(s) and model(s) unfold(s) in different regions of the world.

2. Social entrepreneurs, opportunities and creation processes

The profiles and motivations of individual and collective actors engaging in social entrepreneurship and the processes through which they identify and exploit social opportunities are at the heart of the literature on social entrepreneurship. Yet, beyond the description of heroic individuals, much research is still needed towards a better understanding of the rich and complex processes of social enterprise creation, which often require the collaboration of communities, volunteers, foundations, incubators and other supporting structures. This thematic line welcomes papers examining the role and contributions of one or several of these actors, the different steps from opportunity recognition to social enterprise creation and diffusion and the factors supporting social entrepreneurship in different fields and regional contexts.

3. Social innovation

Social innovation has emerged as an umbrella notion over the last years to designate innovative products or processes directed towards the achievement of social goals. It is commonly assumed that social innovation can appear across organisational boundaries in the public, private for-profit or third sectors. Yet it is not clear how social innovation, as a process or as an outcome, unfolds in each of these sectors. More attention should be paid to the role of social enterprises, whether isolated or in collaboration with other actors, and their specific approach to social innovation as the overarching concern.

4. Civil society and social movements

While a broad agreement exists on the fact that civil society and social movements often provide a background for social enterprise creation and diffusion, the social enterprise/social entrepreneurship discourses may also give birth to intense debates in the civil society. For instance, promoting market-based and business strategies to deal with deep social issues clearly raises controversial issues. Therefore in-depth research is still needed regarding how social enterprises connect with broader movements in society. This thematic line will examine issues such as the place and role of social enterprise in civil society; its contribution to social change; the links with community development, citizenship, volunteering and giving, social capital, philanthropy, etc.

5. Financing social enterprise

Social enterprises have specific and often diversified resources, which can be raised from different sources: market, state, philanthropy, etc. The funding configuration of social enterprises typically differs from that of for-profit businesses and may take a variety of forms. Numerous research questions thus emerge: composition and evolution of social enterprise resource mixes, new funding opportunities (e.g. socially responsible investment, venture philanthropy, ethical banks), roles of different funders, links with organisational governance and missions, etc.

6. Labour and employment

The specific features of social enterprises express themselves in terms of labour and employment approaches (profiles of paid and unpaid workers, behaviour on the labour market, work integration missions, etc.) as well as in their human resource management practices (recruitment, training, motivation, working conditions, remuneration policies). To address such approaches and practices, insights are required from different disciplines such as labour economics, human resource management, organisational psychology, gender theories, etc.

7. Governance of social enterprise

Social enterprises often have a number of specific governance features – search for democratic or participatory decision-making, co-production dynamics including possible participation of the “beneficiaries”, funders and other stakeholders – and, as a consequence, they demonstrate a growing trend towards multi-stakeholder governance structures. This thematic line looks at social enterprise governance in a broad sense and from different theoretical and empirical angles, including their legal forms as well as the different types of organisational and inter-organisational processes and structures that define the orientations of social enterprises, organise the interactions with different internal and external stakeholders, and evaluate the convergence of organisational processes and goals.

8. Communication and marketing

The visibility and perception of social enterprises vary across countries and cultures. Together with other factors, they shape communication and marketing challenges in a different way for each social enterprise and for the field as a whole. Despite significant promotion efforts by social enterprises, public authorities and supporting structures, the social enterprise phenomenon is still in an emerging phase and in need of a broad public adhesion. This thematic line will examine how social enterprises and their supporters communicate about their distinctive identity, values, organisational practices, missions, impact, roles, aspirations, etc., and how existing and future communication channels (including the web) are used, shaped or created in this context.

9. Performance assessment

Much of the legitimacy of social enterprises relies on their ability to achieve their mission(s). The evaluation of such an achievement is, however, particularly difficult to make, as missions are often multi-faceted and difficult to quantify. Research on social enterprise performance is still in its infancy and considerable efforts are therefore required to define performance for such organisations and to create, adapt and implement meaningful tools to assess the different components of performance (social, economic, environmental, political, etc.). This thematic line aims to digest existing efforts in this way and to stimulate new avenues by connecting researchers from different disciplines around this crucial issue.

10. Institutionalisation and public policy

Social enterprise participation in creating and shaping institutional arrangements at the society level requires much attention. Indeed, while social enterprises often play a pioneering role in meeting emergent socio-economic needs, they also develop as a part of broader policies. Their relation with public policies is a two-sided one: they induce public policies fighting unemployment, poverty and all types of social exclusion, on the one hand, while being assigned specific roles by public policies and being supported through specific legal frameworks, new legal forms (social cooperative, CIC, L3C, etc.), dedicated financial instruments and public procurement schemes, on the other hand. Moreover, social enterprises tend to play a major role in fostering private regulation schemes through collaborating with a diversity of actors from the civil society and the corporate world, as observed with the standards developed in fields such as fair trade, microfinance, organic farming, etc. This thematic line welcomes papers analysing social enterprise at the institutional level, using institutional theories in economics, sociology, political science or others, and focusing on various historical and geographical settings.

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