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Understanding the interplay between support agencies and small and medium-sized enterprises in a conflict environment from an institutional theory perspective

Mohammad Nisar Khattak (College of Business Administration, University of Sharjah, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates)
Noor Muhammad (Brighton Business School, University of Brighton, Brighton, UK)
David Robinson (Holmes Institute, Gold Coast Campus, Surfers Paradise, Australia)

Asia-Pacific Journal of Business Administration

ISSN: 1757-4323

Article publication date: 12 February 2021

Issue publication date: 4 May 2021




This study determines the relationship between small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and their support providers during three phases: pre-conflict environment, during conflict environment, and the post-conflict (uncertain) environment with the reference to institutional theory in the northwest region of Pakistan where there is ongoing unrest between the authorities and the insurgents.


Using a qualitative approach, a total of 23 semi-structured interviews were conducted, 19 with the owner-managers of small manufacturing firms and 4 from small business support providers in the region.


The authors theorise the changing role of support agencies as differing institutional gaps, while conflict is destructive for SMEs and support agencies; paradoxically the crisis results in stronger relationships between the support providers and SMEs which was weaker in the pre-conflict environment. Such stronger relationship enhanced the cognitive pillar of institutional theory where entrepreneurship is supported by various groups including government agencies and SMEs to alleviate unemployment in the region which is one of the potential reasons of terrorism in the country.

Practical implications

The study may have value for policymakers who need to know more about how small businesses and support providers develop a support network in difficult regions and give a comprehensive framework to other conflictual regions who face similar circumstances.


This research contributes to the previous literature in several ways. First, the study reveals the impact of conflict environment on small businesses and support providers where a little research has been undertaken. Second, the study shows the support mechanism in three different intervals pre-conflict, during the conflict and post-conflict and how the Talibanization in the region has a positive impact by strengthening the support structure among small businesses and support providers. Finally, the study contributes to the growing body of literature on entrepreneurship in conflict environments.



Nisar Khattak, M., Muhammad, N. and Robinson, D. (2021), "Understanding the interplay between support agencies and small and medium-sized enterprises in a conflict environment from an institutional theory perspective", Asia-Pacific Journal of Business Administration, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 256-271.



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