Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Social Entrepreneurship as a Performance Landscape: The Case of 'Front Line'

Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Social Entrepreneurship as a Performance Landscape: The Case of 'Front Line'

Article excerpt

In this paper we explore how the complexity theory concepts may be applied to social entrepreneurship to generate new insights for theory and practice, along with some of the challenges that social entrepreneurship presents for complexity theorists. The first part of the paper deals with issues in the development of theories of social entrepreneurship and the case of 'Front Line' as an example of the phenomenon. The second part of the paper analyzes the case of Front Line as an 'agent' within the complex system of Human Rights NGOs using a performance landscape framework (Siggelkow & Levinthal, 2003) to draw out the implications for organizational complexity theory, while also identifying insights into the nature and dynamics of social entrepreneurship. We conclude that the performance landscape model, along with concepts from Complexity Leadership Theory (Uhl-Bien et al., 2007) could provide a solid theoretical basis for progressing research into social entrepreneurship, and we highlight future directions that this approach might take.

Introduction

Since the early 1990s, the Republic of Ireland has enjoyed sustained economic growth and development. With the transformation of the economy and the expectations of citizens as to what it can deliver, analysts have sought to explain the 'miracle'. In that process, attention has been turned to individual role models, examples of excellence and sheer good fortune-and much time has been given to understanding the phenomenon of entrepreneurship as an exercise in individual achievement. However, many voices within entrepreneurship studies caution against an exclusive focus on the individual entrepreneur and emphasize that we need to understand environment and social phenomenon as well as the individual.

If we shift our focus to the field of social entrepreneurship in general, we may argue that the term 'social entrepreneur' has entered the common discourse, at least amongst those who might see themselves as entrepreneurially engaged in a social venture. In Ireland, a support body for the development of new social ventures, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland' has been established; individual social entrepreneurs can obtain training and development and an Irish provider of venture philanthropy has launched operations. Concurrent with these developments has been a growing interest in the evaluation of the social ventures, both from within the organizations themselves and from their various stakeholders.

Nevertheless, while entrepreneurship generally has been the subject of detailed and sustained investigation and analysis in Ireland, social entrepreneurship has not. We have very limited data on the individual characteristics of social entrepreneurs or the social ventures that exist, their patterns of organizing, and the impact of the shifting institutional landscape on their development. In this paper, we propose to integrate all of these factors in a coherent and relatively new way, by applying a complex systems framework drawn from existing literature in complexity theory. To this end, we commence by defining social entrepreneurship and by teasing out the tensions that exist between a focus on the individual entrepreneur and the context from which they emerge. We then introduce and discuss a case study of Front Line, an entrepreneurially established social venture. Studying Front Line allows us to look at one case of social entrepreneurship at a time of major institutional change in the Irish context, and to establish the basic elements that will make up the subsequent complexitybased analysis. In the second half of the paper, we use a specific model of complex systems-the 'performance landscape' (Siggelkow & Levinthal, 2003)-as the lens through which to study the case of Front Line and draw out the implications for complexity theory, while also identifying insights into the nature and dynamics of social entrepreneurship. In the conclusion, we summarize what the performance landscape framework reveals about the social entrepreneurship dynamics in Front Line, as well as what the case of Front Line tells us about the strengths and limitations of the chosen complexity framework for analyzing organizing phenomena of this kind. …

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