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Dual-goal management in social enterprises: evidence from China

Juelin Yin (International Business School, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou, China)
Huan Chen (Department of Strategy, Handelshoyskolen BI, Oslo, Norway)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 18 April 2018

Issue publication date: 21 June 2019




Taking China as a research context, the purpose of this paper is to delineate how social and business tensions manifest in Chinese nascent social enterprises and to disentangle the strategies that they adopt to manage the business-social dual goals to achieve organizational viability.


A qualitative multiple-case study is used to collect and analyze data. Empirical data are drawn from in-depth semi-structured interviews with Chinese social entrepreneurs, ethnographic observation of social enterprises as well as secondary sources.


Depending on personal motivations and resource availability, social entrepreneurs’ perceptions toward pursuit of dual goals range from integration to differentiation in the short term, despite consensus on the concurrent development in the long term. The leverage of resources, image management, continuous innovation and need-based services are viable approaches that Chinese social enterprises adopt to manage the dual goals in order to create both social and economic value.

Research limitations/implications

This paper reveals understanding of the concrete tensions experienced among Chinese nascent social enterprises in pursuing business and social goals and how they manage to integrate the synergistic aspects of social and business goals to achieve survival and growth. Based primarily on qualitative case study method, the research findings are context specific and may not be ideal for generalization.

Practical implications

The authors reveal strategies by which synergistic benefits between dual goals may be achieved. Innovation (e.g. in resource utilization, in service format and content) and differentiation (e.g. in organization positioning) would be beneficial in enhancing the competitiveness of social enterprises. To enhance organizations’ credibility, quality of products and service should be monitored and organizational transparency needs to be enhanced.

Social implications

It is suggested that the government specifies legal forms and legitimates interests of social enterprises, formulates preferential policies to stimulate the development of social enterprises, and develops a set of qualification authentication system to regulate this emerging sector.


The study examines the manifestation of business and social tensions and presents dual-goal management strategies from a non-western perspective. As an original contribution to the field of social entrepreneurship, the study responds to calls for in-depth analysis of conflicting objectives and tension management in social enterprises.



The authors would like to express sincere thanks to all the interviewees from the Suzhou Industrial Park Social Innovation Development Centre for their support of the research and to the anonymous reviewers and the guest editors of the journal for their insightful and valuable comments that have substantially improved the paper. This research is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos 71672146, 71532005, 71772055, 71572016) and Research Development Fund of Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (RDF-13-02-15).


Yin, J. and Chen, H. (2019), "Dual-goal management in social enterprises: evidence from China", Management Decision, Vol. 57 No. 6, pp. 1362-1381.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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