Drifting

Paola Ometto, Johanna Winter and I published an article in Business & Society titled: “From Balancing Missions to Mission Drift: The Role of the Institutional Context, Spaces, and Compartmentalization in the Scaling of Social Enterprises“. In this article, we examine how a social enterprise in Brazil (a student organization at a private university) struggles to maintain (and ultimately fails) to maintain its mission as it scales-up. We suggest that in addition to spaces of negotiation (in our case the student organization’s assemblies a decision-making arena), herding spaces matter too (arenas allowing a social enterprise to pull support from its environment). However, we demonstrate how compartmentalization undermines these spaces as the organization scales up.

Against the backdrop of this article, I would like to note that I am increasingly fond of longitudinal studies. A mechanism in play at point X in time to prevent, say, mission drift, may not only not work at point Y, but the mechanism operating at point X may lead to unintended (or being unaware of) consequences cumulating into that mission drift at point Y. This paper is based on an empirical, longitudinal study covering a period of 13 years and leverage this rich data over time for our theorizing. If we had just ignored time or examined a shorter period (e.g., the early years of this organization), our story would be a different one (concluding that the organization can balance its missions). However, even if we assume a research question fit, it is undoubtedly neither always possible nor feasible to examine such long time spans. Nevertheless, we should ask ourselves: if we can expand the temporal horizon of studying our phenomenon of interest, what could we learn?

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