Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

Organisational Learning Capabilities as Determinants of Social Innovation: An Empirical Study in South Africa

Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

Organisational Learning Capabilities as Determinants of Social Innovation: An Empirical Study in South Africa

Article excerpt


Growing interest has been placed on social entrepreneurship (SE) as an innovative way to incorporate economic activities into providing solutions for social problems, and in the process adding social value (Porter & Kramer, 2011). Indeed, both practitioners and scholars note that the pursuance of financial worth without reference to social value creation is becoming increasingly difficult (Nicholls, 2014). Several researchers and practitioners are advocating that social enterprises could pave the way to a more sustainable and fair society, built on the basis of satisfying local needs and the creation of innovative market-orientated solutions (Nicholls, 2006; Urban, 2015).

SE has gained popularity under shifting market conditions and can be viewed as a process that catalyses social change (Jiao, 2011; Mair & Marti, 2006). Social entrepreneurs, virtually by definition, are attacking social problems caused by shortcomings in existing markets and social welfare systems and seek to create systemic changes and sustainable improvements (Bacq & Janssen, 2011; Weerawardena, McDonald & Mort, 2010). They engage in a process of 'continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning; acting boldly without being limited by resources currently in hand and exhibit heightened accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created' (Dees, Emerson & Economy, 2001, p. 2).

Scholarly interest in SE has progressed beyond the early focus on definitions and context to investigate the management and performance of social enterprises (Littlewood & Holt, 2013; Urban, 2015). Prior studies have focused on how social enterprises have developed innovative strategies (Weerawardena & Mort, 2006); formulated new resource configurations (Austin, Stevenson & Wei-Skillern, 2006); found new ways to advance social change (Dees, 2007); established new business models (Michelini & Fiorentino, 2012); understood the role of power in social innovations (Dover & Lawrence, 2012); and hold the requisite mix of managerial and entrepreneurial skills (Urban, 2008).

However, a critical reading of the human resource management (HRM) literature revealed a dearth of contributions to understanding the organisational determinants and processes of SE and how these may contribute to higher levels of social innovativeness. Although innovation is a key theme in SE research it has been acknowledged that the field needs more theory-based examinations of innovativeness (Newth & Woods, 2014). SE not only has direct relevance to developed countries, but also to emerging markets, where social issues have unequivocal application since traditional government initiatives are unable to satisfy the entire social deficit (Rwigema, Urban & Venter, 2010).

The study responds directly to recent research calls to provide a much needed account of current thinking on theoretical and practical problems on innovativeness and organisational aspects of social enterprises. The problem prompting this study is that many social enterprises in developing countries do not have the time and expertise to efficiently manage all their programmes, which presents a major threat to organisational sustainability (Dacin, Dacin & Tracey, 2011; Weerawardena et al., 2010). Considering the dearth of capabilities in the African formal sector (Zoogah, Peng & Woldu, 2015), the effectiveness of African organisations is severely limited.

Insights are drawn upon from earlier work which advocates that social enterprises need to adopt market-orientated approaches and subsequently need to develop organisational learning capabilities to adapt to dynamic environments, while simultaneously creating social innovations and delivering social value (e.g. Chalmers & Balan-Vnuk, 2013). Organisational learning capability (OLC) for the purpose of this study implies experimentation through searching for innovative solutions to social challenges and requires support for creativity and tolerance for failure to enhance the social enterprises' adaptability to the external environment (Chiva & Alegre, 2009). …

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