Can entrepreneurship create social change?

PROFESSOR ANNE DE BRUIN - School of Economics and Finance, Massey Business School

‘We have complex social problems, and there is no one way to solve them,’ says Professor Anne de Bruin of Massey’s School of Economics and Finance. ‘We need to look at innovative ways to address these issues, and this involves collaboration across the sectors, from the community-based social nonprofit sector to businesses and local and national governments.’

This can be achieved through social innovation and entrepreneurship. Professor de Bruin is particularly interested in how entrepreneurship and innovation can create employment in disadvantaged communities and regions. Her work addresses questions such as: Why are some regions and communities more vibrant and able to offer better opportunities for younger people to reach their social, cultural and economic potential? Are they better at social innovation, developing new ways (products, services, processes, models and markets) to collaboratively address pressing social challenges? ‘We need to look at new opportunities for combining resources and co-producing progressive social change,’ Professor de Bruin says.

Her research utilises the concept of social entrepreneurial ecosystems, which encompasses the whole system of social innovation and enterprise, comprising all stakeholders, their networks, collaborations and interdependencies, to examine how social change can happen. With sociologist Dr Christine Read (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāpuhi), Professor de Bruin is also looking at the cultural aspects of social innovation. Values embedded in Māori social institutions that sustained Māori cultural practices through histories of colonisation are increasingly providing the basis of social innovation.

An example of this is the response to the Kaikoura earthquake by Kaikoura’s Takahanga Marae, with support from its iwi, Ngāi Tahu. An ecosystem of Māori social institutions, informed by values of manaakitanga (hospitality, generosity and support), rangatiratanga (chieftainship, leadership) and whanaungatanga (kinship ties), supported the marae to adapt cultural practices to deal with the post-quake crisis.

In the days following the Kaikoura earthquake, the marae opened its doors to provide food, shelter and comfort to those who were homeless and stranded. It became a distribution centre for supplies and a liaison centre for emergency services. Local whānau and hapū supported those in need, while Ngāi Tahu iwi drew on experience of the earlier Christchurch earthquakes to provide additional support. Hapū and iwi acted innovatively in using the resources to hand, drawing on traditional expressions of leadership, hospitality and social connection. Professor de Bruin and Dr Read concluded that Māori social institutions form an adaptive ecosystem of interrelationships, interactions and influence located in both place and history. This ecosystem, underpinned by cultural values, is increasingly an integral facet of social innovation in New Zealand, and can be a source of community resilience in times of crisis.

A focus on values is a theme that runs through Professor de Bruin’s research. For example, with PhD student Bruce Borquist she is investigating the link between religious values and social entrepreneurship. Religious organisations are known for their work in providing social services
and social welfare. Traditionally, this was funded largely by donations, but in today’s economic climate religious organisations are becoming more market-oriented and need to develop new revenue streams and collaborations in order to continue their social services and social welfare work. Social enterprises — hybrid organisations with an economic and social mission — are increasingly emerging to address complex social challenges and community needs.

Professor de Bruin is the founding director of Massey University’s New Zealand Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Research Centre (SIERC), an interdisciplinary hub for research in entrepreneurship and social innovation.

As well as her work in social entrepreneurship, Professor de Bruin is well known as a women’s entrepreneurship researcher. She has been on the Editorial Advisory Board of the International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship since its inception in 2008. She is also a leading member of the Diana International Network, which engages in research activities, forums and scholarship focusing on women entrepreneurs. Established by a group of US academics and then taken internationally, the Diana Project initially focused on high-growth women entrepreneurs. It has since increased significantly in scope, and covers women’s entrepreneurship research in general.

Bringing together her two main research strands, Professor de Bruin is currently researching women social entrepreneurs. The title of her co-authored article in the UK’s top entrepreneurship journal, International Small Business Journal, ‘Reconsidering capitalism: The promise of social innovation and social entrepreneurship?’ emphasises her view that both female entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship are powerful forces to reshape capitalism and provide promise for the future in today’s challenging world.

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