This fully-funded studentship aims to unpack how social enterprises and corporates form and develop sustainable growing relationships over time to realise the full potential of the underlying engagement and achieve the ultimate social goals. The work can take any shape - from qualitative case-based and ethnographic work to large-scale surveys or dataset construction in tackling some of these issues. The project is an ideal platform for those with an interest in organisational studies that have a positive social impact. Read more Read less

Social enterprises (i.e. organisations pursuing a social goal/mission enabled by an economic activity, Dacin et al., 2010) 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 value for beneficiaries (an individual or group for whom the social value is being created) while simultaneously engage in commercial activities to achieve economic viability. For instance, some social enterprises serve beneficiaries through using funds generated by regular paying customers to produce items for donation. Other social enterprises include beneficiaries into the enterprise value-creating processes (Saebi et al., 2019). These social enterprises may employ the beneficiaries in their organisations or use them in their supply chains (source from them as upstream suppliers or use them as downstream distributors of finished goods) to achieve their social goals (Sodhi and Tang, 2014).

Social enterprises often achieve their goals through attracting resources from private sector corporates (Murphy et al. 2012; Tate and Bals, 2018). Corporates 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. Corporates also benefit from developing and maintaining relationships with social enterprises through gaining legitimacy within communities (Sakarya et al., 2012).

Nonetheless, social enterprise–private sector corporate 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 corporates have different aims, values, and business assumptions, often leading to two contradictory logics of business with conflicting norms of behaviour (Alinaghian and Razmdoost, 2021). For instance, to develop a social buying culture, corporate buyers must break down the existing preconceptions regarding social enterprises and resolve paradoxes arising from competing social and environmental agendas. Similarly, they need to create new institutions such as impact measurement and management control systems to embed and further extend social buying across their organisations. Additionally, although we have witnessed the successful scaling up of social enterprises and their efforts to introduce several new product and service offerings into the market in recent years, these efforts can be enhanced to fully utilise the corporate market potential by reducing the existing capacity and capability gap. This programme of research aims to unpack how social enterprises and corporates 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 corporates 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 corporates manage the conflict of logics that exist in the relationship?
  • What are the barriers, enablers and other contextual factors impacting social enterprise-corporate relationships?
  • The study will be expected to make an original contribution that will both advance the interorganisational relationships literature and be relevant and useful for practitioners.

This study can have several managerial and policy implications:

  • it can provide a critical evaluation of the existing government policies that are set to promote social enterprise-corporate engagement and generate insights to refine these policies or create new ones,
  • it can help national associations and local capacity building efforts to focus on strategic areas through which social enterprises and corporate buyers can build social impact ecosystems,
  • the research can provide social enterprises with practical frameworks through which they can better manage their marketing, supply chain and business development activities.

Please note: In addition to meeting the entry requirements, the applicants will be required to submit a research proposal, outlining the research they would like to carry out on corporate-social enterprise relationships.

At a glance

  • Application deadline31 Oct 2021
  • Award type(s)PhD
  • Start date31 Jan 2022
  • Duration of award3 years
  • EligibilityUK, EU, Rest of World
  • Reference numberSOM0007


1st Supervisor: Dr Leila Alinaghian
2nd Supervisor: Dr Kamran Razmdoost

Entry requirements

Applicants should hold a master’s degree and first- or second-class UK honours degree or equivalent in management or social sciences such as sociology, anthropology etc.

The ideal candidate should be self-motivated, have a strong interest in doing research and excellent writing skills at a level required for publication in peer-reviewed journals, or the potential to attain this level. A background in qualitative or quantitative research methods as well as a willingness and ability to interact with practice are helpful. 

Applicants must meet English language requirements. Please note that School of Management expects an IELTS of 7.0 in order to be accepted for the PhD programme.

Please note that, in addition to meeting the entry requirements, as part of the online application, the applicants will be required to submit a research proposal – outlining the research they would like to carry out on the corporate-social enterprise relationships topic. Your proposal should demonstrate your interest and your potential to carry out independent research.

The proposal needs to:

  • Formulate and define a clear, interesting research question. 
  • Establish the relevance and value of the proposed research question in the context of current academic thinking, highlighting its originality and significance. We expect you to have read some relevant literature in the area that you are planning to research and to provide a review of this.
  • Outline the methodology you propose to use to carry out your research, including the data sources and source material you plan to use.
  • Suggest what you hope to discover at the end of your research and what new areas it might open up (your contribution).


Sponsored by Cranfield School of Management, this fully-funded studentship will provide a stipend of £15,609 (tax free) plus course fees for three years.

Cranfield Doctoral Network

Research students at Cranfield benefit from being part of a dynamic, focused and professional study environment and all become valued members of the Cranfield Doctoral Network. This network brings together both research students and staff, providing a platform for our researchers to share ideas and collaborate in a multi-disciplinary environment. It aims to encourage an effective and vibrant research culture, founded upon the diversity of activities and knowledge. A tailored programme of seminars and events, alongside our Doctoral Researchers Core Development programme (transferable skills training), provide those studying a research degree with a wealth of social and networking opportunities.

Suggested reading

Alinaghian, L., Razmdoost, K. and Daly, A. (2021). Buy Social Corporate Challenge, Social Enterprise UK Year 5 Impact report. Social Enterprise UK. July 2021. 

Alinaghian L. and Razmdoost, K. (2021). How do Social Enterprises Manage Business Relationships? A Review of the Literature and Directions for Future Research, Journal of Business Research, 136, pp. 488-498.

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.

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.

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. (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.

How to apply

For further information please contact:

Name: Dr Leila Alinaghian

If you are eligible to apply for this studentship, please complete the online application form making sure to quote reference number SOM0007 within your application.