Entrepreneurial learning and microenterprise economic sustainability: a case of women with disabilities in Uganda

Mulira, Fiona
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
The critical role of entrepreneurial learning in sustainable development has been discussed extensively in recent literature. However, little is known about the effect(s) of entrepreneurial learning on economic sustainability of microenterprises. This research seeks to answer the question of “How entrepreneurial learning facilitates the economic sustainability of microenterprises?” The study draws from social learning theory and intersectionality studies to contribute towards understanding the complexity of entrepreneurial learning and economic sustainability, focusing in particular on women with disabilities. The study contributes to literature on entrepreneurial learning by examining the rarely-researched social conditions of learning characteristic of entrepreneurial environments in emerging economies. Furthermore, unlike previous studies that adopted either a gender-or disability-only approach in explaining the entrepreneurial experiences of women with disabilities, this study considers the combined influence of gender and disability as interlocking social identities. A qualitative case study approach based on four mini-cases was adopted. These mini-cases included 36 semi-structured interviews with women entrepreneurs with disabilities operating established microenterprises in Uganda. Semi-structured interviews were also conducted with seven key informants from two national disability associations in Uganda. These interviews acted as a pilot to obtain advice on how to conduct research in a sensitive and appropriate manner that would not further marginalise women with disabilities. Data from both the key informants and these women were analysed using thematic content analysis. Findings indicate that the intersecting social identities of gender and disability of women entrepreneurs with disabilities have both favourable and unfavourable outcomes for their entrepreneurial learning and economic sustainability. These consequences have a lasting and varying impact on these women’s actions, affecting their tendencies to adapt and ingeniously imitate entrepreneurial behaviours in uncertain and resource-constrained learning environments. Furthermore, for this group, learning influences economic sustainability through the acquisition of entrepreneurial capabilities that nurture ingenious imitation practices such as self-determination, self-restraint, and social embeddedness. By contrast, the capabilities emphasised in social learning theory literature are not generally rooted in individuals’ abilities to acclimatise and overcome their limitations, and only emerge from social interactions under stable learning conditions. Results also suggest that the socio-economic context influences how economic sustainability of an enterprise is conceptualised. Women with disabilities operating microenterprises in resource-constrained contexts perceive economic sustainability as a mutually-inclusive triadic relationship between enterprise growth, sufficient livelihood, and empowerment. The key contribution of this study is that the researcher introduces the metaphor “adaptive observational learning” to explain a new form of entrepreneurial learning that occurs in social settings, particularly for women with disabilities. It involves individuals acquiring new knowledge by observing, adapting, creatively imitating, and replicating the actions of others in a way that is well suited to their abilities, and enables them to overcome their impairment limitations. The study further questions the narrow conceptions of describing economic sustainability solely as financial viability and growth; and argues for the need to include social components when classifying economically sustainable enterprises in impoverished contexts.
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. April 2018
Mulira, Fiona, (2018) Entrepreneurial learning and microenterprise economic sustainability: a case of women with disabilities in Uganda, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, https://hdl.handle.net/10539/26047