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Managing Social-Business Tensions: A Review and Research Agenda for Social Enterprise

  • Wendy K. Smith (a1), Michael Gonin (a2) and Marya L. Besharov (a3)

In a world filled with poverty, environmental degradation, and moral injustice, social enterprises offer a ray of hope. These organizations seek to achieve social missions through business ventures. Yet social missions and business ventures are associated with divergent goals, values, norms, and identities. Attending to them simultaneously creates tensions, competing demands, and ethical dilemmas. Effectively understanding social enterprises therefore depends on insight into the nature and management of these tensions. While existing research recognizes tensions between social missions and business ventures, we lack any systematic analysis. Our paper addresses this issue. We first categorize the types of tensions that arise between social missions and business ventures, emphasizing their prevalence and variety. We then explore how four different organizational theories offer insight into these tensions, and we develop an agenda for future research. We end by arguing that a focus on social-business tensions not only expands insight into social enterprises, but also provides an opportunity for research on social enterprises to inform traditional organizational theories. Taken together, our analysis of tensions in social enterprises integrates and seeks to energize research on this expanding phenomenon.

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