CSR Among SMEs: What Researchers Can Agree On and What’s Missing from the Debate

CSR Among SMEs: What Researchers Can Agree On and What’s Missing from the Debate

NBS Topic Editor Dr. Laura Spence and colleagues report on the evolving research agenda for CSR and SMEs.
Laura J. Spence June 23, 2014
Sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) is arguably a final frontier of research and learning in sustainability. More knowledge is needed, with important aspects hidden under metaphorical scholarly rocks.

In London UK in April, researchers tried to identify common understandings, as well as taboos, forgotten aspects and conundrums deserving more attention.

Our meeting, “Comparative perspectives on CSR among SMEs”, is part of a series funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council. The first meeting was at the African Academy of Management conference in Botswana in January 2014.

These seminars should advance understanding of what we call “Small Business Social Responsibility (SBSR): Global Perspectives.” The particular focus is comparison of developing and developed country perspectives. More information is at www.sbsr-global.net; we’re delighted to hear from potential participants. Series co-organisers are George Frynas and Jyoti Navare (Middlesex University) and Judy Muthuri (University of Nottingham).

Here, I describe take homes from our London seminar. 

Key Themes

What’s missing?

Despite broad discussions, some themes identified in our Botswana event or in development literature were absent. We hope to explore these in our future events and welcome any comments. “Absent themes” included:

Where is the theory?

The big question at the session was “where is theory?” Speakers raised institutional theory, critical realism and political theory as starting points. One purpose of the seminar series is to develop theories relevant to local contexts. We agreed that we need to take a critical stance in applying theory; and in our understanding of structures and frameworks in the CSR and small business literature. We should apply those critically to the context studied.

Practical Implications

Identifying these topics highlights the enormous task of making meaningful practical contributions to the study of SBSR. Much of what we are learning leads to negative realisations and confronts received wisdom. For example: 
We must turn such negatives to positives, since clearly despite these privations, SBSR exists everywhere. What can be done to support SBSR in the wildly diverse set of contexts which constitute developing and emerging economies?

We don’t yet have the answers, but are looking forward to comments and feedback and future events to help us tackle such an important question. Please do contact us via the website. Future events include 19th November 2014 on governance and SMEs, and three events in the UK in 2015 on SMEs and supply chains, social entrepreneurship and finance. 

About the Seminar Series

Series website: www.sbsr-global.net. Twitter: #sbsrGlobal

First meeting in Botswana

Elgar Research Handbook on Small Business Social Responsibility: Global Perspectives (call for submissions now open)

About the Authors

Dr. Laura J. Spence is Professor of Business Ethics at Royal Holloway, University of London (UK), where she directs the Center for Research Into Sustainability (CRIS). She is a Topic Editor for NBS and tweets at @Prof_LSpence.

Dr. Judy Muthuri is Lecturer in Corporate Responsibility at Nottingham University (UK).

Dr. George Frynas is Professor of CSR and Strategic Management at Middlesex University (UK).

Dr. Jyoti Navare is Head of Department for Marketing and Enterprise at Middlesex University (UK).

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