Sub-theme 4.1. Multi-stakeholder boards and institutional demands

Sub-theme 4.1. Multi-stakeholder boards and institutional demands

This sub-theme aims to examine how multi-stakeholder boards mediate the translation of different field-level institutional demands into organizational responses. More precisely, how do the different demands or logics borne by different groups of stakeholders interplay in the context of the Board and how do they influence organizational strategies?

To examine this question empirically, a qualitative study will be undertaken in two fields: work integration social enterprises (WISEs) in Belgium, and microfinance institutions in Eastern Asia. Common to both types of social enterprises is the conflicting institutional demands imposed on them by the market, by the state and by civil society. First, Belgian WISEs have to conform to a detailed regulatory framework from the regional governments in the context of employment policies. At the same time, their limited subsidies oblige them to look for other resources on the market (through selling their products and services at a market price) but also within civil society (especially in the form of voluntary work). In microfinance institutions, there seems to be an increasing market orientation legitimated by different actors such as international NGOs and institutions, and local governments. Given the limited subsidies and the pressure to conform to the same prescriptions as classical banks, many microfinance institutions evolve from nonprofit to for-profit legal forms. Hence, their governance models tend to evolve from representation of founding NGOs and other civil society actors towards a shareholder-based model. This brings evident challenges in terms of avoiding mission drift and maintaining legitimacy from different sources, especially those considering microfinance primarily as a tool for poverty alleviation.

In both fields, four case studies will be chosen that reflect different governance models. Comparative case study analysis will be used to generate theory by gaining a rich understanding of the phenomenon within its the context, and to trace over time the evolution of the phenomenon by integrating its chronological and processual dimensions. The case studies will thus also be chosen with regard to possible changes reflect broader evolutions in their environment. Empirical data will mainly consist of interviews with Board members, managers and stakeholders of the social enterprises, to understand processes and to penetrate experiences as they are lived by individuals from the inside. These data will be collected at an early stage of the research as well as at regular intervals, so as to allow regular dialectics between data collection and theoretical development. A comparison between the two fields will be made during the last year of the research.