The Internationalization of Social Enterprises: A Systematic Review of Literature

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School of Business | Master's thesis
Degree programme
Management and International Business (MIB)
68 + 1
Social enterprises (SEs) hold the potential to solve some of the most pressing global challenges of our time, and are increasingly operating across national borders, creating transformational global movements and improving the lives of people around the world. SEs are undoubtedly be-coming important players in society, with approximately one out of four new enterprises in the European Union being an SE. However, extant research is centered on enterprises working with-in communities, regions, or countries, and there is scant empirical research examining their international operations. Furthermore, while the internationalization processes of purely com-mercial firms have been studied extensively, the understanding of how this process might differ in the case of SEs is limited. The objective of this thesis is to gain an understanding of extant knowledge of the phenome-non of the internationalization of SEs. In order to do so, I examine the state of current research at the intersection of international business and social entrepreneurship by conducting a sys-tematic literature review of 183 articles on social enterprises and social entrepreneurship in rel-evant journals. Through the systematic literature review, I synthesize and analyze extant litera-ture, uncovering the most prominent contributions and theoretical viewpoints in SE research to date. I identify institutional theory, the resource-based view and the network view as the most prominent theoretical approaches used in the literature. However, the review also reveals a dearth of knowledge of the international operations and internationalization process of SEs. Therefore, I subsequently review insights from international business literature, considering how they may shed light on the identified knowledge gaps. As the main theoretical contribution of the study, I propose a model of the internationalization process of SEs, bringing together the scholarly fields of social entrepreneurship and international business. The proposed model high-lights the role of networks of likeminded individuals and organizations, and of the innovative mobilization and use of resources, as well as the substantial influence of the guiding social goal in the internationalization process of SEs. In addition to synthesizing and analyzing current knowledge and proposing a model of the in-ternationalization process of SEs, I present two illustrative case studies, which provide empirical insights of the internationalization paths SEs may take. In addition, the illustrative case studies highlight areas in need of further research.
Thesis advisor
Ritvala, Tiina
Riikkinen, Rilana
social enterprise, social entrepreneurship, internationalization, systematic literature review
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