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The Internationalization of Social Enterprises (Special Issue Call for Papers)


The Internationalization of Social Enterprises
Guest Editors:
Ilan Alon, University of Agder
Roy Mersland, University of Agder
Trond Randøy, University of Agder
Oded Shenkar, Ohio State University
Supervising Editor
Martina Musteen, San Diego State University
Across the globe, social enterprises, sometimes called hybrid organizations, are receiving
increased public and academic attention (Wang et al, 2015; Battilana and Dorado, 2010).
Whether organized as a for-profit firm or a non-profit organization, a social enterprise operates
with two logics: To be financially self-sufficient, or sustainable, and to achieve a socially desired
outcome (Sharir and Lerner, 2006; Miller et al., 2012). These can include solutions to
homelessness (McKenna, 2013), improved quality of life and inclusion for the disabled
population (Wang et al., 2015) or better treatment for those suffering from diseases, such as
tuberculosis (Lönnroth et al., 2007). Many different definitions for social enterprises have been
proposed over the years (summarized by Zahra et al., 2009). We define and differentiate social
enterprises on three dimensions:
(1) Social enterprises pursue a “double” bottom line (economic and social betterment).
Among the primary goals of a social business is social value creation, that is, addressing
or solving a social problem, sometimes at the expense of profits.
(2) Unlike philanthropic organizations depending on donations and symbolic CSR-related
activities depending on discretionary corporate philanthropy, social enterprises need to be
financially sustainable. This means that these enterprises need to earn their income by
providing the market place with products and services, and do so at a price that recoups
the cost at, or below, the prevailing market price. At a minimum, they need to survive and,
under ideal condition, grow and expand.
(3) Social enterprises fill institutional voids at the local, national and global level. They
commonly provide services, or goods, that are either unavailable or lacking through the
public or private sectors.
We see that ontological and epistemological gaps exit in the research on international social
enterprises. There is no consensus on how the performance of social enterprises should be
studied (Mair and Martí, 2006), including the trade-offs between social goals and financial goals
(Mersland, et al. 2011; Randøy et al, 2015). Although Zahra et al. (2008) highlighted a lack of
research on social enterprises, we still observe that researchers have not yet adequately addressed
social enterprise issues with empirical studies and much of the current research on social
enterprises is in the form of descriptive case studies (e.g., Wang et al. 2015).
Social enterprises often operate across different countries and contexts or have partners from
different institutional settings. The literature on social enterprises, particularly as an international
phenomenon, is underdeveloped (Sharir and Lerner, 2006) and we see a need to explicitly
examine multinational, cross-border and comparative orientations of these kinds of enterprises.
Social enterprises are prevalent in both developed and developing country contexts (Mair and
Marti, 2006; Wang et al, 2015). While many social enterprises originate in the developed world,
others, such as Bangladesh’s BRAC, dedicated to alleviating poverty, have emerged out of
developing countries. Yet, cross-country comparative research is rare (Kerlin, 2012) and, as a
result, a comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon is lacking. This special issue provides
an opportunity to introduce the social enterprise phenomenon into the international business
literature, in an effort to upgrade and cross-fertilize the two research streams. We highlight that
research on social enterprises in relation to their conceptualization (Carraher, Welsh and
Svilokos, 2016), drivers (Méndez-Picazo et al., 2015), internationalization process (Zhara et al.,
2008), placement (Mair and Schoen, 2007) modes of entry (Wang et al., 2015), and impacts
(Mersland et al., 2011) is still underexplored and provide the underlying motivation for this
Special Issue.
The internationalization of social enterprises is driven by a number of factors, including global
wealth disparity, corporate social responsibility, market failures, technological advances and
shared responsibility efforts (Zahra et al., 2008). Their international expansion is commonly
driven by the global nature of the problem addressed, such as health services, and the lack of
available local or national resources. The rapid growth of social enterprises is further fueled by a
significant increase in the capital mobilized by so-called impact investment funds, i.e. funds that
typically invest in social enterprises. For example, a recent report by J.P. Morgan and The
Global Impact Investing Network indicate that 8 billion US dollars were committed to impact
investments in 2012 and an additional 9 billion US dollars in 2013.
The internationalization of social enterprises takes different forms. Some social enterprises are
born global, such as CURE, an Ohio-based non-profit dedicated to the treatment of childhood
cancer in China, and Lifenet International, based in Florida and dedicated to provide quality and
sustainable healthcare to the poor in sub-Saharan Africa. Others follow an incremental and
gradual internationalization, such as Dialogue in the Dark, which started in Germany and
expanded slowly to more than 40 countries.
Social enterprises are important to public policy as they address market imperfections and lower
the burden on governments. Thus, there is a growing interest in social enterprises as these may
reduce long term public (or private) subsidies (Zahra et al., 2009), and contribute to social
change, empowerment, and economic development (Chell, 2007). Sometimes their
internationalization is seen as politically desirable, while at other times they are faced with
hostility or mistrust (e.g., Economist, 2014).
Many social enterprises have scalable business models both across countries and across the value
chain. Recent years have seen the emergence of multinational social enterprises (MNSE). For
example, Riders for Health enables the delivery of healthcare services through vehicle fleets and
operations across more than 10 countries in Africa. The well-known Grameen Foundation
operates microfinance institutions across 36 countries and has claimed to help about 10 million
of the world’s poor. Dialogue in Social Enterprises operates three concepts in over 40 countries
to facilitate social inclusion of disabled, disadvantaged and elderly people on a global basis.
Numerous social enterprises serve a global need in multiple operating environments using
complex organizational structures. Other social enterprises are small and local providing an
opportunity for researchers to examine the scalability of these enterprises, on the one hand, and
compare these to similar organizations in other locations, on the other hand.
Several theories have been identified as promising channels for the study of the
internationalization of the social enterprises, including cosmopolitanism, pro-social,
internalization (Zahra et al. 2008), structuration theory, institutional entrepreneurship, social
capital, social movement (Mair and Marti, 2005), sustainability, non-profit, grounded theory
(Weerawardena and Mort, 2006), resource-based and network theories (Westhead et al, 2006).
We are seeking conceptual, theoretical and empirical (both quantitative and qualitative) papers
that advance the state of knowledge on internationalization of social enterprises. Topics include,
but are not limited to:
The internationalization process of social enterprises. Do extant theories apply?
Typologies of social enterprises and new theory of the multinational social enterprise
Scalability of social enterprises across diverse locations
Determinants of born global social enterprises
Comparative research among social enterprises in developed and developing countries
Market selection and modes of entry of social enterprises
International networks and stakeholders and their influence on social enterprises
The international landscape of impact investors and their influence on social enterprises
The trade-off between financial and social performance in international social enterprises
The finance of international social enterprises
International issues in microfinance, microfranchising, and the “bottom of the pyramid”
businesses and related organizations
Structure and strategy of international social enterprises
Determinants of internationalization of social enterprises, including social mission
focused businesses
Impact of social enterprises in differing market conditions
Entrepreneurial and managerial antecedents of international social networks
Internal and external antecedents of international social entrepreneurship
Submission process
Authors should submit complete manuscripts between the 1st and the 31st of January 2018 via the
JWB EVISE online submission system at To ensure
that all manuscripts are correctly identified for consideration for this special issue, it is important
that authors select SI: Int.Soc.Entr. when they reach the “Article Type” step in the online
submission process. Manuscripts should be prepared in accordance with the JWB Guide for
Authors available on the journal web page. All submitted manuscripts will be subject to the
JWB’s blind review process.
Research Data
Research data forms the backbone of research articles and provides the foundation on which
knowledge is built. Researchers are increasingly encouraged, or even mandated, to make
research data available, accessible, discoverable and usable. Although not mandatory, the
journal encourages authors to submit their data at the same time as their manuscript. Further
information can be found at:
Questions about the Special Issue may be directed to the guest editors or supervising editor:
Ilan Alon, University of Agder -
Roy Mersland, University of Agder -
Trond Randøy, University of Agder -
Oded Shenkar, Ohio State University -
Martina Musteen, San Diego State University -
Battilana, J. & Dorado, S. (2010). Building sustainable hybrid organizations: The case of
commercial microfinance organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 53 (6): 1419-
Carraher, S. M., Welsh, D.H.B., & Svilokos, A. (2016). Validation of a measure of social
entrepreneurship. European Journal of International Management, 16(4): 386-402.
Chell, E. (2007). Social enterprise and entrepreneurship towards a convergent theory of the
entrepreneurial process. International small business journal, 25(1): 5-26.
J.P. Morgan. (2013). Perspectives on Progress: The Impact Investor Survey. J.P.Morgan and
Global Impact Investing Network. 1-28.
Kerlin, J.A. (2012). Defining Social Enterprise across Different Contexts: A Conceptual
Framework Based on Institutional Factors. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly,
42(1): 84-108.
Lönnroth, K., Aung, T., Maung, W., Kluge, H., & Uplekar, M. (2007). Social franchising of TB
care through private GPs in Myanmar: an assessment of treatment results, access, equity
and financial protection. Health Policy and Planning, 22(3): 156-166.
Mair, J. & Martí, I. (2006). Social entrepreneurship research: A source of explanation,
prediction, and delight. Journal of World Business, 41(1): 36-44.
Mair, J., & Schoen, O. (2007). Successful social entrepreneurial business models in the context
of developing economies: An explorative study. International Journal of Emerging
Markets, 2 (1), 54-68.
McKenna, G. R. (2013). Tackling labour market exclusion of homeless people: The role of social
enterprise (Doctoral dissertation, Middlesex University).
Méndez-Picazo, M. T., Ribeiro-Soriano, D., & Galindo-Martín, M. Á. N. (2015). Drivers of
social entrepreneurship. European Journal of International Management, 9 (6): 766-779.
Mersland, R., Randøy, T. & Strøm, R. Ø. (2011). The impact of international influence on
microbanks’ performance: A global survey. International Business Review, 20 (2): 163-
Miller, T.L., Grimes, M.G., McMullen, J.S., & Vogus, T.J. (2012). Venturing for others with
heart and head: How compassion encourages social entrepreneurship. Academy of
Management Review, 37(4): 616-640.
Randøy, T. Strøm, R. Ø. & Mersland, R. (2015). The Impact of entrepreneur-CEOs in
microfinance institutions: A global survey. Entrepreneurship Theory & Practice, 39 (4):
Sharir, M., & Lerner, M. (2006). Gauging the success of social ventures initiated by individual
social entrepreneurs. Journal of World Business, 41 (1): 6-20.
The Economist. (2014) Foreign Funding of NGOs: Donors: keep out. September 11 Issue:
Wang, H., Alon, I., & Kimble, C. (2015). Dialogue in the dark: Shedding light on the
development of social enterprises in China. Global Business and Organizational
Excellence, 34(4): 60-69.
Weerawardena, J., & Mort, G. S. (2006). Investigating social entrepreneurship: A
multidimensional model. Journal of World Business, 41(1): 21-35.
Westhead, P., Wright, M., & Ucbasaran, D. (2002). International market selection strategies
selected by ‘micro’and ‘small’firms. Omega, 30(1): 51-68.
Zahra, S. A., Gedajlovic, E., Neubaum, D. O., & Shulman, J. M. (2009). A typology of social
entrepreneurs: Motives, search processes and ethical challenges. Journal of Business
Venturing, 24(5): 519-532.
Zahra, S. A., Rawhouser, H. N., Bhawe, N., Neubaum, D. O., & Hayton, J. C. (2008).
Globalization of social entrepreneurship opportunities. Strategic Entrepreneurship
Journal, 2(2): 117-131.
... The first step in building the sample was adopting a working definition of ISE: as per Alon et al. (2017), ISEs are organizations that "(…) often operate across different countries and contexts or have partners from different institutional settings". This was the focus for building the sample, as prescribed by Birkinshaw, Brannen & Tung (2011). ...
... Their geographical scope was examined based on information from their websites ‡ . Approximately 15% of the 217 organizations met the proposed internationalization criterion (Alon et al., 2017), leading to 31 organizations being added to the sample (set c). By combining the results of sets (a), (b) and (c)as recommended by Birkinshaw, Brannen & Tung (2011). ...
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