The role of legitimacy in social enterprise-corporate collaboration

The role of legitimacy in social enterprise-corporate collaboration
Document type
Huybrechts, Benjamin; Nicholls, Alex
Date of publication
1 August 2013
Social enterprise journal. Vol 9; Number 2
Small business & enterprise: the practicalities of running a small business and the theory of entrepreneurship, Management & leadership: including strategy, public sector management, operations and production
Business and management
Material type

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Purpose - This article aims to explore the role of organisational legitimacy in understanding the emergence and development of “cross-sector collaboration” between social enterprises and corporations. Design/methodology/approach - An in-depth case study of a long-standing but fragile partnership between a UK-based Fair Trade social enterprise and a large corporate retailer provides exploratory findings on the role of legitimacy at different stages of the collaboration process. Findings - The findings highlight how pragmatic and moral legitimacy are mobilised by the social enterprise to justify collaboration throughout three major stages: the very decision of cross-sector collaboration; the choice of the partner and the framing of the partnership; and the evolution of the collaboration. Research limitations/implications - While Fair Trade is not the only sector in which social enterprise-corporate partnerships take place, it has been a pioneering domain revealing the potential as well as the challenges of such partnerships. Taking into account the role of legitimacy throughout the collaborative process is crucial both for comprehensive research and for informed practice. Originality/value - Although it is documented by a single case study, this paper opens new research avenues to examine social enterprise-corporate collaborations by developing a “non-functionalist” view of such collaborations and showing the importance of legitimacy in understanding why and how they emerge, develop and sometimes fail.

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