Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Adaptive Responsibilities: Nonlinear Interactions in Cross Sector Social Partnerships

Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Adaptive Responsibilities: Nonlinear Interactions in Cross Sector Social Partnerships

Article excerpt

This paper presents an instance of failed large scale social innovation from a cross sector social partnership even though the partnership seemed to succeed in its narrow mission. The mechanisms that led to less than complete success can shed light on the reasons behind the failure of social change mechanisms. The case study presented is between a non-profit organization and a business. It demonstrates that when the strategic intent of the social actors is prescriptive, it imprisons the possibilities for fundamental change. This limitation is due to the pre-defined relatively narrow responsibilities associated with different individual or social agents. The paper is calling to move beyond reactive and proactive responsibilities and to shift towards accepting adaptive responsibilities that require a multidimensional understanding towards all three levels of analysis, micro, meso and macro. Adaptive responsibilities is an empowering approach based on the coevolution of organizational actors. It holds the seeds of reciprocal multi-level change.


The growing intensity of relations between non-profit organizations and businesses (Gray, 1989; Young, 1999; Austin, 2000; Googins & Rochlin, 2000) due to the need for sharing both tangible and intangible resources (Seitanidi, 2007) has resulted in increased interactions across diverse social sectors. At the same time, the growing prominence of the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) (Crane & Matten, 2007; Moon, 2004) has elicited a vigorous debate regarding the responsibilities of each sector in addressing social problems (Seitanidi, 2005) as well as an increase in interactions across the sectors thereby propelling non-profit organization-business (NPO-BUS) partnerships as one of the key mechanisms for delivering solutions to social problems (Heap, 1998; Mohiddin, 1998; Folwer, 2000; Googins & Rochlin, 2000; Brehm, 2001; Drew, 2003; Hemphil & Vorontas, 2003).

The intersection of these sectors has served to create a useful test arena wherein researchers can explore the potential benefits of interactions between hybrid non-profit and for-profit business models which has important implications for social entrepreneurial projects. In the past social problems and forprofit actions were conceived mono-dimensionally and, accordingly, only the responsibility of the single sector in question. Although social problems were typically held to be the responsibility of the public sector, gradually the non-profit sector took on some of these responsibilities either proactively or as a result of the wider public sector's desire to 'hive off those responsibilities that were perceived as high risk or high cost (Bovaird et al, 2002: 421).

More recently, with the emergence of CSR as an emerging cultural norm, actors within the for-profit sector have begun to capitalise on the positive reputational benefits of taking on some of the responsibility for social problems. Indeed, the failure of single-sector solutions has made quite evident that social problems such as poverty, HIV/AIDS and environmental degradation are complex issues that often cannot be solved by social agents within one social sector alone. Instead, many social problems require multi-sector solutions which require increased levels of interactions among previously disconnected groups. Accordingly, new social processes are emerging such as cross-sector social partnerships and social entrepreneurship. This paper presents case study data from an NPO-BUS partnership in order to draw lessons for social entrepreneurship in general.

Social entrepreneurship and cross sector social partnerships as complex adaptive systems

Social entrepreneurship (SE) is a hybrid form of social process (Dees, 1998; and Trexler, in this volume) which combine the unique characteristics of the for-profit, non-profit and government sectors depending upon the situation and the history of organizing activities. …

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