The purpose of this paper is to study how a social venture perceives and constructs its identity. This study highlights the importance of a common cause and collective entrepreneurial identity when studying entrepreneurial cognition in a social entrepreneurship context. The study also introduces the concept of identity layers. These aspects have not been emphasized in previous research and, therefore, there is a lack of knowledge in this specific area. The research question that this paper sets out to explore is “What influences the identity perception of a social venture and how does the identity construction process affect organizational behavior?”.
The paper starts by presenting references to previous research in social entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial cognition and organizational identity, thereby building a theoretical context for the case study. The case chosen is the cultural heritage site Rosenlund located in Pietarsaari, Finland. The study is based on qualitative data. Previous research on entrepreneurial identity has often been based on narrative analysis and discourse analysis (Jones et al., 2008; Down and Warren, 2006). To get a different point of view, this analysis concentrates more on behavior and outcomes, but in combination with narratives. The data analysis starts out by mirroring Rosenlund in the categorization of Zahra et al. (2009) and then moves on to taking a closer look at the organizational identity and how it is constructed.
The results from the case study show that the identity perception and the identity construction process are strongly affected by the mission (i.e. the cause) of the organization. Due to limited resources, the organization needs to be flexible, but the organization is under no circumstances ready to compromise its values. To avoid this potential dilemma, the organization has created an identity consisting of many layers, where the outer layer is thinner and more inclusive, thus providing the flexibility needed. This way of constructing identity clearly impacts the way the organization works.
The results indicate that Rosenlund identity-wise perceives itself mainly as a collective actor. The entrepreneurial actions undertaken cannot be assigned to one single actor, but instead to a group of people. This does not rhyme very well with existing entrepreneurial cognition research where the focus is on the person, i.e. individual actor. To get a better understanding of social entrepreneurship, “collective entrepreneurial cognition” therefore needs to be studied. The organization studied turned out to be a social constructionist. It remains for future research to investigate if the same layers of identity can be seen in social bricoleurs and social engineers.
The results indicate the importance of identifying and communicating mission and values, i.e. defining core identity. Strategic decisions become easier when the organization has clearly defined its cause and its values, because then the organization will know when to compromise and when to say no in order not to jeopardize the cause. In the long run, this will have a positive effect on the organizational development.
One important finding is the existence of different layers in the organizational identity. This aspect has not been addressed before and can certainly deepen our understanding of social entrepreneurial ventures. Moreover, the findings show that by introducing the concepts of organizational identity and identity building, the focus of the entrepreneurial cognition debate shifts from an individual perspective to a collective perspective. This aspect has not previously been explored in entrepreneurial cognition research.
A previous draft of this paper has been presented at the Cultural Entrepreneurship Conference in Pori, Finland, on 10-11 December 2012.
Elfving, J. (2015), "Supporting the cause – a case study on social entrepreneurial identity at the Rosenlund heritage site", Journal of Enterprising Communities: People and Places in the Global Economy, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 17-30. https://doi.org/10.1108/JEC-03-2013-0007
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