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Social Enterprise and Networks

Special issue call for papers from Social Enterprise Journal

Guest Editors: Dr David Littlewood (david.littlewood@sheffield.ac.uk); Dr Zaheer Khan (khan.zaheer@gmail.com)

Networks, and their role in the entrepreneurial process, has been the subject of significant study in entrepreneurship literature (see for example Birley, 1986; Greve & Salaff, 2003; Newbert et al 2014). In contrast, and despite widespread acknowledgement of the importance of networks for social entrepreneurs (Austin et al, 2006), social enterprises (Jenner, 2016; Lyon & Fernandez, 2012), and in wider processes of social entrepreneurship and innovation (Smith & Stephens 2010; Dufays & Huybrechts, 2014), scholarship explicitly examining social enterprise and networks, and in which relationships between them are centre stage, remains limited. Similarly, there are still few examples of social enterprise literature applying network based theories, despite identification by Dacin et al (2011) of networks and social entrepreneurship as a key area of research opportunity and theory development for scholars in the field. This special issue aims to contribute towards addressing this gap in knowledge and theory about social enterprise and networks. We invite empirical and conceptual papers addressing this subject, particularly on the following topics, although this list is not exhaustive:

• In extant literature participation in networks has been linked to various positive outcomes for social enterprises, yet there remains significant scope for further enquiry. Potential research questions include: what is the role of social networks in social enterprise start-up? What role do they play later on as social enterprises grow and if they seek to upscale (Lyon & Fernandez, 2012)? What role do networks play in knowledge acquisition, capability development, and venture sustainability? How do social entrepreneurs manage their networks strategically to achieve their social objectives?

• Globally, there has been a proliferation in organisations aiming to support social enterprises but also shape the nature of the wider social entrepreneurship field e.g. Ashoka, UnLtd, the Skoll Foundation, the Social Enterprise Alliance etc. (Nicholls, 2010), yet to date these organisations themselves, and the networks and networking they enable are little studied. What role do these organisations play in building global social enterprise networks and the networks of social entrepreneurs? What is the nature of these networks and of the relationships within them? How does interaction with such support organisations and networks benefit social entrepreneurs, if at all? How do social entrepreneurs leverage these networks to carry out their work?

• Social capital theory represents another potential area of research, and lens to consider some of the questions posed previously. Papers might address questions of: how social entrepreneurs build, maintain and deploy social capital to achieve their social objectives? What is the role of trust in building social capital and how is it developed and maintained in social enterprise networks? What roles do structural, cognitive and relational social capital play in social enterprises? What are the downsides and negative implications of social capital for social enterprises?

• Theories of strong and weak ties, embeddedness and institutions offer further potential theoretical frameworks for research on social enterprise and networks. Possible research questions include: how do social entrepreneurs utilise their strong and weak ties in pursuit of their social missions? Under what conditions are each important? How are social enterprises and is social entrepreneurship and innovation locally embedded? What are the positives and negatives of local embeddedness? How do institutional factors influence the development of social enterprise networks and the social networks of social entrepreneurs?

• Papers comparing the role of networks for social enterprises versus more traditional enterprises are also welcome. Potential questions include, whether and if so how the nature of networks differ between social enterprises and traditional business ventures? Are there differences in how social capital, embeddedness, strong and weak ties and institutional influences play out in social enterprises versus traditional ventures?       

• Across the research field, work on social enterprises in developing and emerging economies remains limited (Rivera-Santos et al, 2016; Littlewood & Holt, 2015), this includes in relation to social enterprises and networks. Papers could therefore address questions of: how do social entrepreneurs under conditions of resource scarcity and institutional voids leverage their networks in start-up, to grow, and to achieve their social missions? What are the positives and negatives for developing and emerging economy social enterprises in engagement with global social enterprise support organisations and networks? Are social entrepreneurs’ social networks different in developed versus developing and emerging economies? Are there differences within and between developing and emerging economies?

• Finally, work offering more critical perspectives on social enterprises and networks, engaging with the “dark side” of social entrepreneurship and innovation, is also welcome. Questions might focus on whether and how social entrepreneurs might exploit their network positions? Or what is the nature, and implications, of unequal power relationships in social enterprise social networks?

Enquiries should be directed to the special issue editors: Dr David Littlewood david.littlewood@sheffield.ac.uk and Dr Zaheer Khan khan.zaheer@gmail.com.

The deadline for initial paper submissions is 24th January 2018. Submitted papers should follow SEJ submission guidelines (http://emeraldgrouppublishing.com/products/journals/author_guidelines.htm?id=sej) and be written in good English to be fully considered.  The submitted papers will go through the usual double blind review process as per the guidelines of the Journal. Submissions to this special issue must be made through the Social Enterprise Journal’s ScholarOne submission system (http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/sejnl). When submitting your paper, please ensure that the correct Special Issue is selected from the dropdown menu on page 4 of the submission process.

The special issue editors will also be running a special track on Social Enterprise and Networks at the 9th International Social Innovation Research Conference 13th-14th December 2017, Melbourne, Australia. Submitters to the special issue are encouraged to also submit to this session, although this is not compulsory.                   


Austin, J., Stevenson, H. & Wei-Skillern, J. (2006). Social and Commercial Entrepreneurship: Same, Different, or Both? Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 30(1): 1-22.

Birley, S. (1986). The role of networks in the entrepreneurial process. Journal of Business Venturing, 1(1): 107-117.

Dacin, TM. Dacin, PA. & Tracey, P. (2011).  Social Entrepreneurship: A Critique and Future Directions, Organization Science, 22(5): 1203-1213.  

Dufays, F. & Huybrechts, B. (2014). Connecting the Dots for Social Value: A Review on Social Networks and Social Entrepreneurship, Journal of Social Entrepreneurship, 5(2): 214-237.

Greve, A. & Salaff, JW. (2003). Social networks and entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 28(1): 1-22