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Squaring the Challenge

Squaring the challenge: reconciling business and ethical goals in social enterprise

PhD researcher's name: Micaela Mazzei

University/Supervisors: Durham (Ash Amin; Ray Hudson)

Partner organisation: ONE North East Regional Development Agency (announced closure in 2010 as a result of the Coalition government's reforms)

Impact highlights: Appointment as a researcher at a consultancy company; Presentations at several seminars and academic conferences; development of capacities and expertise

This PhD thesis sustains that the narrative surrounding social enterprise, both politically and theoretically, tends to emphasise a narrow definition and a set of expectations as to their role and meaning, generally reducible to organisations able to reconcile business and ethical aspirations. The assumption is that social enterprises have to be self-financing and that their developmental pathways lead to financial sustainability, generally achievable through trade. Yet, the experiences of organisations encountered contradict this view, instead highlighting the diversity characterising these organisations and the circumstantiality of their development pathways. This demonstrates that their ability to balance economic imperatives with social and environmental concerns is the product of negotiations and compromises, resulting in experimentation with what it is available in specific moments in time and place.

Micaela benefitted from this CASE Studentship in many ways:

  • Micaela has recently secured a researcher appointment at Make it Happen Consultancy - a small company specialised in income generation, social value and impact measurement - where she started in July 2013 while waiting for her Viva.
  • Throughout the course of her PhD, she presented papers at a number of conferences such as:  
    - NCVO/VSSN Researching the Voluntary Sector Conference, Leeds (2010)
    - International Social Innovation Research Conference, Skoll Centre, Oxford University (2010)
    - International Social Innovation Research Conference, London South Bank University (2011)
    - Social Enterprise Capacity Building Cluster, PhD students Summer School, Durham University (2011)
  • The CASE Studentship and close relationship with the partner organisation gave the student a more critical first-hand understanding of the meaning of social enterprise and appreciation for their diversity as organisations and their potential.
  • In March 2012 she became a trustee of Emerge 3Rs, a non-profit organisation based at Manchester

Benefits for the partner organisation from the CASE studentship:

  • Unfortunately the partner organisation (a Regional Development Agency) closed in 2010 – a year into her PhD. Had it survived the changes introduced by the new government in 2010, perhaps Micaela's research would have had more evident policy impact.  Unfortunately the external changes implied that throughout the course of this Case Studentship the main interlocutor was lost as a policy actor leaving a gap for the practical use of research findings.

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