Chapter 8: Balancing competition and collaboration: how early-stage social ventures succeed
Social entrepreneurs engage in seemingly contradictory behaviors during interactions with mission versus business stakeholders, projecting two different orientations – collaborative and competitive. Collaboration is required to effect long-term social change, and proactive competition to achieve business growth and profit goals. Social entrepreneurship research is in an embryonic stage and despite recent calls for research into the extent and form of competition and collaboration practiced by social enterprises, no empirical studies have yet been published. We conducted a qualitative study of 31 social entrepreneurs leading successful versus struggling nascent ventures to understand how they deal with the paradox of simultaneous collaborative and competitive orientations, and how their past experiences influence preferences for either. We used the conceptual lenses of stakeholder analysis and dialectical blending to map the stakeholders, understand their orientation expectations and analyze entrepreneur–stakeholder interactions. The study highlights that successful entrepreneurs consciously create diverse social identities and manage them through a sufficiently large behavioral repertoire. Although not explicit, we infer that they situate stakeholders on a mission–business continuum to inform themselves of stakeholders’ orientation expectations and proactively seek feedback. The prior experience of founders does not affect their competitive/collaborative ambidexterity. Rather, thriving ventures were distinguished by their founders’ competence in recognizing and remedying deficits of stakeholder networks and building a diverse repository of behaviors to interact with them.
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