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From the emancipated to the emancipator: an integrative perspective on women social entrepreneurs’ emancipation experiences

Liang Shang (Department of Sociology and Social Policy, Lingnan University, Tuen Mun, Hong Kong)

Gender in Management

ISSN: 1754-2413

Article publication date: 29 January 2024




Social entrepreneurship has been recently viewed as an emancipatory process that promotes freedom and autonomy for social entrepreneurs and those they serve. However, the mechanisms of how emancipation is enacted remain relatively underexplored. By using an integrative lens, this paper aims to explore the emancipation experiences of women social entrepreneurs and unpack the processes through which they extend their self-emancipation to facilitate the empowerment of others.


This study adopted a qualitative multiple-case study approach. Semistructured interviews were conducted with eight women social entrepreneurs from various industries in Hong Kong to understand and examine their experiences of “emancipation from” and “emancipation to” in social entrepreneurship.


This study identified a three-phase emancipatory journey of women social entrepreneurs. Specifically, the findings revealed that their emancipation experiences started with self-awareness of constraints in their surroundings, primarily due to stereotyped social norms and institutional barriers. This phase is followed by embracing social entrepreneurship as a coping strategy for navigating the perceived constraints and exploring new possibilities with increased agency. Ultimately, this transformation extends beyond their individual growth into broader social impacts as women social entrepreneurs use their newfound agency to effect meaningful social changes.


This study enriches the “entrepreneuring as emancipation” perspective by embracing an integrative lens that allows us to delve into the complex layers of emancipation experiences of women social entrepreneurs. Notably, this study differentiates various conceptions of emancipation, presenting a dual role of women social entrepreneurs as both the emancipated and the emancipator. By situating the study in Hong Kong, where women often face gendered expectations that shape their career choices and development, this study offers a nuanced and contextual understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities women social entrepreneurs encounter in their environment.



Funding: This work was partly supported by the Faculty Research Grant of LU Research Committee (the author’s previous affiliated institution) (FRG Project Number: SSFRG/21/1/6).

Since submission of this article, the following author has updated their affiliation: Liang Shang is at the Department of Social Sciences and Policy Studies, Education University of Hong Kong, Tai Po, Hong Kong.


Shang, L. (2024), "From the emancipated to the emancipator: an integrative perspective on women social entrepreneurs’ emancipation experiences", Gender in Management, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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