Towards a theoretical framework for social enterprise in South Africa

Mnganga, Phumla
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The last 20 years have witnessed a proliferation of literature on social entrepreneurship. However, this body of work has not adequately considered the phenomenon from the perspective of social enterprise participants across different contexts. To address this shortcoming, this thesis focused on exploring an “insider view” on the rationale and nature of social enterprise in the South African context. Attention was paid to the shared experiences, evolution, resource-mobilisation strategies and overall purpose of social enterprise. What was of interest in South Africa was how social enterprises contribute to social needs, as this could provide insights into whether this phenomenon provides a complementary solution to the country’s socio-economic development backlogs. The research methodology considered appropriate to answer the research questions of the thesis was the interpretive constructivist case study which sought to understand social enterprise in terms of the subjectively-constructed reality of its actors. The empirical material consisted of four South African case studies of social enterprise in the education, healthcare, food security, and enterprise-development sectors. The four case studies were: Life College, a Gauteng-based educational project that develops psychosocial skills among disadvantaged youth nationally; Magema Gardens, a Jozini-based co-operative engaged in food security; The International Centre for Eyecare Education (name subsequently changed to the Brien Holden Vision Institute), an eye healthcare organisation focused on the prevention of avoidable blindness across Africa; and KwaXolo Crafters, an Ulundi-based co-operative that trades in traditional craft artefacts for enterprise development. A total number of 53 participants were involved in the interviews and focus groups which included the founding parties, their teams, and stakeholders. The research data sources were the document review, interviews, focus groups and field notes. The raw data from each data source was coded. The codes were then grouped into code families, and the code families were grouped into themes. During the coding process attention was paid to ensuring the v preservation of the language and voice of the research participants from the raw data through to the grouping of the themes. The themes provided the basis for within-case analysis and cross-case analysis. The outcomes of the research provided valuable insights into the nature, practice and impact of social entrepreneurship. The evolution of the social enterprises was intertwined with the socio-political and economic struggle to meet the needs of South Africans. The identified social needs remained unmet after the advent of democracy and the four social enterprises continue their social mission work. During the evolution process, the need for resource mobilisation led to innovative responses to meeting social needs. Foremost in the minds of the social actors was their aspiration of sustainable social impact. The cross-cutting themes that emerged pointed to sustainability and social impact being the prominent constructs of social entrepreneurship. Accordingly the findings on sustainability and social impact provided a basis for proposing a theoretical framework aimed at securing greater insight into the concept of social entrepreneurship, and advancing scholarly research in South African social entrepreneurship. The original contribution of the theoretical framework in this thesis is that it provides a link to and point of convergence between the subjective experience of the social entrepreneurship community and the emerging literature on social entrepreneurship. It also strengthens the theoretical underpinnings of social entrepreneurship and expands the understanding of how social entrepreneurship is experienced by its actors.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of the Witwatersrand, Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management, Graduate School of Business Administration, 2014.