Buying a new T-shirt can make more than a fashion statement. Consumer choices can also make an impact, as many companies are choosing to donate portions of their profits to social causes, such as providing clean water, planting trees or funding cancer research.
But what inspires entrepreneurs to build giving back into their business model? That’s what Dr. Etayankara (Murli) Muralidharan wants to find out, with help from a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant to explore how social entrepreneurship fosters sustainability.
Murli, an associate professor in the School of Business, says social entrepreneurs contribute to a sustainable future because they are committed to an approach called the triple bottom line – equally valuing profits, people and the planet.
“Social entrepreneurs are focused on more than just societal change – they’re working towards overall sustainable development,” explains Murli. “This is essential. As businesses, we need to think about future generations.”
Social entrepreneurs in action
Edmontonians Kori Chilibeck and Matt Moreau founded Earth Group 13 years ago, with the goal of creating a sustainable business that also tackled troubling social issues. Now, the pair is taking on a new opportunity, as MacEwan’s Social Innovation Institute, in partnership with Roundhouse, named Kori and Matt the first Social Entrepreneurs in Residence.
With companies playing a crucial role in sustainability, Murli, along with his collaborator at Kansas State University, researched what specific factors lead to responsible business behaviour. After analyzing data from a number of secondary sources, and grouping the information based on country, they found that social entrepreneurship cannot exist without transformational leadership.
“A transformative leader is innovative, has a vision for the future and wants to bring about change. They're people who evolve,” says Murli. His research uncovered another fact: the long-term success of leaders not only depends on their persuasive nature, but on how much the local society actually values the leader’s goals. In other words, leadership must be culturally endorsed.
For example, Canada is often successful in supporting socially responsible entrepreneurs, explains Murli, because as a society we tend to value the environment, and in turn value leaders who push for environmental sustainability.
In developing countries that may be less focused on the environment, Murli’s research finds that social entrepreneurs must be exceptionally skilled and motivated leaders, with the vision and drive to fight for sustainability, even when their country does not value it.
Murli says he’s excited to be adding his findings to this field, because these questions have not been thoroughly explored. “The most exciting part of this research is learning to explain an ambiguous situation,” explains Murli. “Receiving a federal grant is both a reward and a challenge.”
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