The social, the transformational and the responsible? The extent to which social enterprises take responsibility into account in innovation

R.J.B. Lubberink, V. Blok, J.A.C. van Ophem, S.W.F. Omta

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Social entrepreneurs can be seen as the ‘transformational leaders’ who combine entrepreneurship with a societal vision while building bridges between business, governments and citizens (Purdue, 2001). But how do they take up this role and act as change agents for societal transitions? It is their innovation which is essential for realizing these transitions. The emerging concept of ‘Responsible Research & Innovation’ (RRI), as a transformative and constructive approach (Owen et al., 2013), can help to understand how social entrepreneurs actually stimulate and shape these transitions, since it combines social and economic goals. RRI is a transparent, interactive process where involved actors become mutually responsive to each other, aiming for the innovation process and its marketable products being adopted by society (von Schomberg, 2011). Although, RRI has the potential to understand the transformational leadership of social entrepreneurship. The problem is that the field of corporate innovation is underexposed in current RRI research (cf. Blok, 2013). This raises the question: how in fact is RRI embedded in the innovation practices of social enterprises? In the literature, various reasons are identified why SMEs can have a predisposition for engaging in responsible innovation (Rodgers, 2010 in Halme & Korpela, 2013; Scholten et al., 2013). It is for instance assumed that they are to be more adaptive and responsive to society than (larger) firms or incumbents (Scholten et al., 2013). However, it is still the question how exactly SMEs engage in RRI in practice and how they contribute to societal transitions. Social enterprises are an interesting subgroup of SMEs, and the units of analysis in this paper, because the goal to create social value through social innovations show resemblance with the goals of RRI (viz. a social, environmental and economic positive impact). Furthermore, in order to take care for the future, RRI should be for society and with society through responsive stewardship in the present (Stilgoe et al., 2013). Therefore, the aim of this paper is to answer the question: to what extent do social enterprises take responsibility into account in their innovation processes? To answer this question, we will do a content analyses on approximately 150 cases of social enterprises linked with climate change adaptation and mitigation in urban areas. The data will be obtained from the open database of Ashoka (largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide). Their platform shares elaborate case descriptions of social enterprises with regard to: the problem that the social enterprises address, the ideas that they have, the strategies to solve to problem and personal information about the social entrepreneurs. These social entrepreneurs provide information via a five step process with regard to: newness, creativity, entrepreneurial quality, social impact and ethical fibre. In order to do such a content analysis, we will first develop a theoretical framework with all the relevant elements of industrial RRI processes, based on a review of the RRI literature (e.g. goals, ethics, stakeholder involvement, technology assessment). Subsequently, we will code the case descriptions based on the operationalized indicators, which implies a deductive content analysis. Finally, we will assess to what extent the individual indicators of responsible innovation are addressed by social enterprises. Because most current work on (industrial) RRI is still conceptual or based on single case studies, this research aims to fill the knowledge gap in RRI literature with more empirical results. References: Blok, V., Hoffmans, L. (2013). Stakeholder Engagement in Companies’ responsible research and innovation processes. Working paper. Choi, N., & Majumdar, S. (2013). Social entrepreneurship as an essentially contested concept: Opening a new avenue for systematic future research. Journal of Business Venturing. Halme, M., & Korpela, M. (2013). Responsible Innovation Toward Sustainable Development in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: a Resource Perspective. Business Strategy and the Environment. Owen, R., Stilgoe, J., Macnaghten, P., Gorman, M., Fisher, E., & Guston, D. (2013). A framework for responsible innovation. Responsible Innovation: Managing the Responsible Emergence of Science and Innovation in Society, 27-50. Purdue, D. (2001). Neighbourhood governance: Leadership, trust and social capital. Urban Studies, 38(12), 2211-2224. Rodgers, C. (2010). Sustainable entrepreneurship in SMEs: a case study analysis. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 17(3), 125-132. Scholten, V., Pavie, J., Carthy, D. (2013). Responsible Innovation- A Challenge and Opportunity Nexus for SMEs. 19th ICE & IEEE-ITMC international conference on Responsible Innovation & Entrepreneurship, 24-26 June, The Hague. Stilgoe, J., Owen, R., & Macnaghten, P. (2013). Developing a framework for responsible innovation. Research Policy, 42(9), 1568-1580. von Schomberg, R. (2013). A Vision of Responsible Research and Innovation. Responsible Innovation: Managing the Responsible Emergence of Science and Innovation in Society, Wiley, London, 51-74.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventSustainability and Innovation in Chains and Networks, Capri, Italy -
Duration: 4 Jun 20146 Jun 2014


ConferenceSustainability and Innovation in Chains and Networks, Capri, Italy


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