Supervisors: Dr Leila Alinaghian and Dr Kamran Razmdoost


Social enterprises (i.e. organisations pursuing a social goal/mission enabled by an economic activity, Dacin et al., 2010; Pearce, 2003) have become increasingly relevant over the past several years, acting as one of the main channels through which societies address grand challenges (Harding, 2004). In the UK, 100,000 social enterprises contribute £60 billion to the economy and create 2 million jobs, while addressing various social issues (Social Enterprise UK, 2018).

Social enterprises adopt different business models to create social value while simultaneously engage in commercial activities to achieve economic viability. Some social enterprises may serve beneficiaries (i.e. an individual or group for whom the social value is being created) through using funds generated by regular paying customers to produce items for donation. For other social enterprises, the beneficiaries are the recipients of a product or service. In particular, these organisations strive to find innovative ways to minimise the cost of production and delivery to sell affordable goods or services to those in need. Social enterprises may also include beneficiaries into the enterprise value-creating process (Saebi et al., 2019). These social enterprises employ the beneficiaries in their organisations or use them in their supply chains to achieve their social goals (Sodhi and Tang, 2011). For instance, they may source from the beneficiaries as upstream suppliers of products or services or use them as downstream distributors of finished goods (Sodhi and Tang, 2014).

Social enterprises often achieve their goals through attracting resources from private-sector businesses (Murphy et al. 2012; Tate and Bals, 2018). Private sector businesses engage with social enterprises in different capacities such as sponsor, customer, supplier or collaborator. Social enterprises benefit from financial resources, access to market, materials, human and social capital, and knowledge and expertise that are provided by these partner businesses (Di Domenico et al. 2009; Sakarya et al. 2012). Furthermore, relationships with these businesses often help social enterprises to enhance their credibility as perceived by other organisations and increase their general political clout and perceived awareness in the market. Businesses also benefit from developing and maintaining relationships with social enterprises through gaining legitimacy within communities (Sakarya et al., 2012). Social enterprises often enjoy greater community legitimacy in that they are highly embedded in the communities they serve; they are well aware of their needs and work closely with them to address their issues (Di Domenico et al., 2009; Nwankwo et al., 2007).

Nonetheless, social enterprise–private sector business relationships could be a source of challenge wherein often conflict of business logics, power asymmetry, and the heterogeneity of practices prevail (Di Domenico et al. 2009; Nicholls and Huybrechts, 2016; Pullman et al. 2018). Specifically, social enterprises and private sector businesses often have different aims, values, and business assumptions, leading to two contradictory logics of business with conflicting norms of behaviour (i.e. market logic and the social logic of business).

Possible Research Areas

This programme of research aims to unpack how social enterprises and private sector businesses address these challenges and explore opportunities in their relationships. Within this context, potential research topics in this area could include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • How can social enterprises target potential private sector businesses (suppliers, collaborators or customers) and persuade them to form a relationship?
  • How can government policies and national initiatives (e.g. Buy Social Corporate Challenge) play a role in facilitating the formation and management of these relationships?
  • How can social enterprises and private sector businesses manage the conflict of logics that exist in the relationship?
  • What are the barriers, enablers and other contextual factors impacting social enterprise-private sector business relationships?

The work can take any shape - from in-depth qualitative case-based and ethnographic work to large-scale surveys in tackling some of these issues. The study will be expected to make an original contribution that will both advance the interorganizational relationships literature and be relevant and useful for practitioners. In particular, this study can have several managerial and policy implications. First, it can provide a critical evaluation of the existing government policies that are set to promote social enterprise-private sector engagement, and generate insights to refine these policies or create new ones. Second, it can help national associations and local capacity building efforts to focus on strategic areas through which social enterprises and private sector businesses can build social impact ecosystems. Finally, the research can provide social enterprises with practical frameworks through which they can better manage their marketing, supply chain and business development activities.

Suggested Reading

  • Dacin, P.A., Dacin, M.T. and Matear, M. (2010). Social entrepreneurship: Why we don’t need a new theory and how we move forward from here, Academy of Management Perspectives, 24(3), 37–57.
  • Di Domenico, M., Tracey, P. and Haugh, H. (2009). The Dialectic of Social Exchange: Theorizing Corporate–Social Enterprise Collaboration. Organization Studies, 30(8), 887–907.
  • Harding, R. (2004). Social enterprise: The new economic engine. Business Strategy Review, 15(4), 39-43.
  • Pearce, J. (2003). Social Enterprise in Anytown. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, London, UK.
  • Murphy, M., Perrot, F. and Rivera-Santos, M. (2012). New perspectives on learning and innovation in cross-sector collaborations. Journal of Business Research, 65(12), 1700–1709.
  • Nicholls, A. and Huybrechts, B. (2016). Sustaining inter-organizational relationships across institutional logics and power asymmetries: The case of Fair Trade. Journal of Business Ethics, 135(4), 699–714.
  • Nwankwo, E., Phillips, N. and Tracey, P. (2007). Social investment through community enterprise: The case of multinational corporations involvement in the development of Nigerian water resources. Journal of Business Ethics, 73(1), 91–101.
  • Pullman, M., Longoni, A. and Luzzini, D. (2018). Emerging discourse incubator: The roles of institutional complexity and hybridity in social impact supply chain management. Journal of Supply Chain Management, 54(2), 3–20.
  • Saebi, T., Foss, N.J. and Linder, S. (2019). Social entrepreneurship research: Past achievements and future promises. Journal of Management, 45(1), 70–95.
  • Sakarya, S., Bodur, M., Yildirim-Öktem, Ö., & Selekler-Göksen, N. (2012). Social alliances: Business and social enterprise collaboration for social transformation, Journal of Business Research, 65(12), 1710–1720.
  • Social Enterprise UK (2018). Hidden revolution: Size and scale of social enterprise in 2018.
  • Sodhi, M. S. and Tang, C.S. (2011). Social enterprises as supply-chain enablers for the poor. Socio-economic Planning Sciences, 45(4), 146–153.
  • Sodhi, M. S. and Tang, C.S. (2014). Supply-chain research opportunities with the poor as suppliers or distributors in developing countries. Production and Operations Management, 23(9), 1483–1494.
  • Tate, W. and Bals, L. (2018). Achieving shared Triple Bottom Line (TBL) value creation: Toward a Social Resource-Based View (SRBV) of the firm. Journal of Business Ethics, 152(3), 803–826.

Contact Details

The successful candidate is expected to submit a research proposal, which addresses the current state of debate in research, their proposed research questions, and the research methodologies they hope to use to address these questions. Expressions of interest alongside a CV are invited via email to Dr Leila Alinaghian ( in the first instance.